On her way to Class Councils meetings early in her college career, Natalie Parks would walk by a quote on a wall in the Memorial Student Center from the late poet Maya Angelou.
The idea that people “will forget what you did… but never forget how you made them feel” is one that Parks, now a senior communications major, held with her when she made the decision to run for student body president. Now, as the leader of the Student Government Association and one of the largest student bodies in the country, Parks has made it her goal to make all students know they belong at Texas A&M University.
“My end goal walking out of this position is to have hopefully been able to positively impact students, to remind them that they do have a place here, even though there are 70,000-plus students at this university,” she said. “They are not just a number. They have a community here that loves and supports them.”
Being just another face in the crowd was one of Parks’ initial hesitations about attending Texas A&M. The Denton native applied to 10 different colleges, mostly with the intention of staying close to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But her mother had other plans in mind.
Parks often returned home from her senior year of high school to find the A&M website pulled up on a computer.
“She would go to the Traditions page, and she would just start reading out everything on there,” Parks said.
Though she’s a first-generation Aggie, Parks said her mom wanted her to experience the community and unique traditions Texas A&M had to offer. Parks, however, worried about being able to find her place at such a large university. But when she remained undecided by the time the second semester of her senior year rolled around, Parks decided to join the Class of 2022 Facebook page.
Within minutes she was added to a group messaging app with thousands of other future Aggies, and two days later Parks attended a meetup in the D-FW area. She committed to Texas A&M the next day.
“I had never stepped foot on campus, but it was the community that brought me here,” she said. “I’m still friends with people from that GroupMe and the people I met from Fish Camp. It really does speak to the values, the traditions and the friendliness of the entire campus community.”
Parks quickly identified with the core value of selfless service, and became involved with Fish Council – the freshman level of Class Councils, the student organization that aims to unify the student body by carrying out traditions like Elephant Walk and Ring Dance. At the end of her first year on campus, she also joined the Student Government Association after successfully applying for the role of vice president of communications.
After serving as junior class president, Parks decided to seek the top student government role after careful consideration. The quote from Maya Angelou still underlies Parks’ goals today.
“Something that I’m very passionate about is hearing about other peoples’ experiences. I fully recognize that I, as one individual on this campus, do not have the experiences of every student here,” Parks said. “We come from different backgrounds, countries and walks of life. I think that aspect of diversity is so important to making sure that all voices are heard.”
This is also critical during a time when students have spent nearly two years adapting to all of the uncertainties that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Serving as a voice for the Classes of 2024 and 2025, in particular, is important to Parks.
She recalls a conversation she had with a member of the Class of ’24 last fall. When she asked how his college experience had been so far, he responded that hybrid in-person and virtual learning, social distancing, and mask-wearing was all that his peers knew of college. He didn’t have any other experience to compare it to, Parks said, which is something she has tried to keep in mind.
“I think it’s safe to say that a lot of students aren’t satisfied with that,” she said. “Thankfully, they have some time left in college to make the most of what is coming, but we are still in this COVID era. It hasn’t completely disappeared. And we’re figuring out our programming efforts and outreach to those classes to make sure their voices are heard.”
To that end, Parks encourages students to reach out to her via email or stop by her office hours, Tuesdays from 3:30 to 5 p.m. and Fridays 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Koldus Building, Room 126B. She said the Student Government Association is also working to create more opportunities to reach the campus community through both in-person and online channels.
Parks said she frequently monitors social media to understand students’ concerns, and often replies via private messages.
“Tweeting may feel like yelling into a void, and that doesn’t have to be the case,” she said. “We want to be there to help. If we can get one concern addressed and resolved, even if it’s just providing an explanation, it can resolve a lot of frustration.”
In addition to making herself available to students, another priority for Parks is reminding Aggies to continue to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. The student body needs to continue taking precautions to protect Aggieland in order to eventually return to normalcy, she said.
She also has another piece of advice for students: Make the most of your college experience in Aggieland.
“It’s crazy, but it’s crazy fun,” Parks said. “The individuals that people are going to meet will get them through the difficult times, whether it’s the pandemic or applying for jobs or a hard night of studying for a test.”