When Jacob Chang, a fourth-year student from Nanjing, China, first arrived at Ohio State, he never could have imagined how the next few years would unfold. Chang started as a computer science and engineering student. But now, he’s one year away from graduating with two degrees – psychology and political science – and just finished his one-year term as president of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), becoming the first international student to be elected to the position.
Joining USG – and especially becoming the president – wasn’t part of Chang’s original plan. But, after meeting fellow international student and friend Lei Guo, who was involved in USG, he decided to check it out. It wasn’t much longer until he launched his first USG campaign: #EmbraceTheDifference.
#EmbraceTheDifference aims to create mutual respect among students by celebrating everyone’s differences. Chang helped organize several events with international students to share their stories – one of which had over 300 attendees where students could ask international students about their identities.
By the end of his sophomore year, people started asking Chang, “have you thought about running for USG president?”
Developing the path forward
“The reason why I eventually decided I wanted to run is the idea that my VP candidate, Anna [Valerius], and I put together a campaign called ‘Pave Your Path.’ My path at Ohio State was completely uncharted,” Chang said.
As a first-generation student 7,000 miles from home, Chang was unsure how his journey at Ohio State would look. After finding his place on campus, he saw his potential at Ohio State and wanted to help students realize that they’re able to achieve goals they never imagined.
“That was what prompted me to run. I wanted to be the first international student body president, I wanted to represent students and I wanted to make sure our voices were heard while, at the same time, being a champion for other marginalized voices here at Ohio State and helping elevate them,” Chang said.
Throughout their time as USG president and vice president, it was important for Chang and Valerius to keep their four pillars top of mind: create long-lasting change, prioritize student initiatives, center the community and strengthen accountability.
Lifting international students’ voices was crucial to Chang. From living in a country where English may not be their first language to navigating immigration requirements and a new culture, international students face unique challenges while studying in the United States.
“It’s challenging for international students to exist on campus,” Chang said.
One of Chang’s proudest accomplishments as USG president is his partnership with Vice Provost for Global Strategies and International Affairs Gil Latz and the International Student Experience Committee. Comprised of representatives from the Offices of International Affairs, Institutional Equity, Student Academic Success and Student Life, this team aims to find solutions for issues that international students face.
By working with President Kristina M. Johnson, Senior Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers and offices around campus, Chang and Valerius were able to address issues important to the campus community.
They helped make strides in campus safety by working with the Office of Administration and Planning to create the new campus crime map, install new light poles in the off-campus area, develop Buckeye Block Watch and more.
Besides campus safety, Chang also is proud of the work he and Valerius accomplished to increase mental health resources, increase student dining workers’ wages and increase the USG budget to help address their four-pillar mantra.
Every challenge and triumph led Chang to where he is now. He credits the people, friends and mentors he met along the way for allowing him to grow into the person he is today.
“They will help me think about what kind of a person I want to become in the future and how much out-of-the-box thinking I can do to do things that I probably have never imagined before,” Chang said.
Now that Chang’s presidency is over, he’s setting his sights on the future. This summer, he will intern for the Ohio Attorney General. In Spring 2023, Chang will participate in the Washington Academic Internship Program with the John Glenn College of Public Affairs before graduating.
When Chang came to Ohio State, he dealt with imposter syndrome and expected to fail. He could never have envisioned that the people he met would be able to support him and realize his potential and his next step: law school with the goal to become a civil defense attorney.
“I came to Ohio State with shaky English. I could barely hold a conversation with Americans – I didn’t dare to talk to them. They would hardly think I’ll become a lawyer,” Chang said.
“It’s beyond your wildest dream.”