Newly Elected President, Vice President Hope to Empower Students
As soon as she set foot on the UT Dallas campus, Caitlynn Fortner realized she wanted to be Student Government president one day.
Sitting in Freshman Orientation, she perked up hearing then-president Liza Liberman tell incoming students about the role of Student Government representatives.
“I knew in my heart that I wanted to do that someday,” Fortner recalled thinking.
Fortner and her running mate, Grant Branam, were elected in March to succeed Brooke Knudtson and Nancy Fairbank as president and vice president of the UT Dallas student body. Their one-year terms begin May 1.
They ran unopposed on a ticket of “Empowering Students,” and have already set some goals in motion. Fortner and Branam said they hope to expand the presence of Student Government by engaging with student leaders at each club and organization on campus.
Fortner, a 2013 McDermott Scholar and an international political economy junior from Dalton, Georgia, said she wants to instill in her peers the importance of the political process, especially for those who are weary of partisan bickering.
She and a friend started a UT Dallas chapter of “No Labels,” a national organization that promotes civil discourse across party lines.
“The goal is to help people become problem solvers and stop the gridlock,” Fortner said. “The college chapters help students who have given up on partisanship.”
Fortner brings to her role experience from high school. She attended a military academy where she became immersed in leadership roles in residence life and academic council.
“I realized I’m most fulfilled and happy when I’m in leadership positions. I love the feeling of a job well done — when I can see that my efforts impact the lives of others. I’ve never regretted the time I’ve invested in people,” Fortner said.
She met Branam through their work as senators in Student Government. Together they have brainstormed on projects and goals, including raising awareness of underrepresented groups on campus. Fortner has already signed up for Safe Zone Ally Training through the Carolyn Lipshy Galerstein Women's Center.
“That meant the world to me,” Branam said. “In some cases, having an ally is lifesaving for people who have come so far to be here.”
Branam also developed leadership skills in high school, helping to change his school’s policies to provide equal rights and equal access to facilities and organizations for LGBTQ students. At UT Dallas, he wants to lobby for more family, or gender-neutral, restrooms on campus for transgendered people who are not comfortable going into men’s or a women’s rooms.
“Leadership, to me, means being the creative problem solver who not only observes issues that need to be addressed but implements solutions as well,” Branam said.
Branam, an arts and technology freshman from Fort Worth, said the new Student Government duo wanted an “incredibly diverse ticket” to reach as many students as possible and to more accurately represent the student body.
“We have people working with us from Greek life, different academic groups and different schools — from business to the sciences. It’s really neat to see all our interests come together,” Branam said.
Fortner also praised the efforts of other Student Government representatives.
“There’s a lot of attention on Grant and me, but the entire ticket and the entire Senate are incredibly important to how we shape what we want to do. It’s a great team to work with,” she said.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].