By Billi London-Gray, University Marketing
First-generation college student rises to serve, hopes to bring changes to Texas politics
One look at her corner office tells you that Mel Ferrari is a woman driven to do big things. Plaques and awards, a couch and chairs, and stacks of documents hint at the central role she performs from this room. Perched on the fourth floor of the LBJ Student Center at Texas State University, her view of the campus is almost as expansive as her passion for serving her fellow students.
Ferrari, a senior majoring in public relations, is the president of Associated Student Government. As the top undergraduate leader on campus, she coordinates student-led initiatives, performs executive functions for ASG, and represents the student body on many boards and committees.
But the petite dynamo says she considers herself “a student first” and does not think she has a native aptitude for leadership.
“I don’t believe that leaders are born,” Ferrari says. “Everyone has a leader inside of them. That’s what I try to do every day, to show that. You’ve got to believe in things to do anything in life, and the No. 1 thing you’ve got to believe in is yourself. Everything you do should be for a reason.”
Finding Her Place
Even as a child, Ferrari had that belief. Neither her parents nor her grandparents had college educations, but she never doubted that her path would head toward higher education.
“I’m a first-generation college student. I always knew I wanted to get a college degree,” Ferrari says.
Born in Brownsville, Ferrari was raised by her single mother in the small town of Devine.
“It’s your typical very small town: quiet, conservative, not a lot of change,” Ferrari says. “My freshman class at Texas State was larger than my entire hometown.”
A quiet student through most of her childhood in that quiet town, Ferrari did not take on leadership roles until she was diagnosed with a heart condition when she was 17 years old.
“Before that, I would always sit in the back. I wouldn’t speak up to share my opinions,” Ferrari says. But the diagnosis prompted her to consider the mortal nature of her ideas: “I realized that if I wouldn’t let my voice be heard, no one was going to do it for me.”
That year, Ferrari decided to run for and was elected to a state-level position as an officer in the Future Farmers of America. During an FFA convention at Texas State the summer before her senior year of high school, Ferrari determined the university would be the perfect place to broaden her horizons.
“It really made me feel like I was home,” Ferrari says. “Texas State is the first place I really felt like I belonged.”
Choosing to Serve
As soon as she started her freshman year at Texas State, Ferrari wanted to be involved on campus. She was elected president of her hall council that year and served as Residence Hall Association vice president the following year. As a junior, Ferrari was named RHA President of the Year among all university hall councils in the five-state Southwest Affiliate of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls.
“She has been passionate about Texas State and our students since the first day she stepped on campus,” says Lisa Furler, an advisor and communication studies professor who has worked with Ferrari since her freshman year. “She is one of the few students who understands and practices inclusiveness and honestly desires for each student to find their way and their voice at Texas State.”
Her sophomore year, in addition to becoming vice president of RHA, Ferrari got involved with ASG, PAWS Preview and New Student Orientation. She also joined Student Foundation, an organization that develops student leaders. By the end of that spring semester, Ferrari says she already knew she wanted to run for ASG president.
“I wanted the span of my work to go out to all students, not just those who lived on campus,” Ferrari says, in explaining why she wanted to branch out from her heavy involvement with RHA.
She found a like-minded running mate in Colter Ray, a fellow public relations major active in student government. Ferrari and Ray launched a long campaign based on a platform of building Bobcat pride. Their efforts culminated in a tight election during the spring of Ferrari’s junior year.
“I knew entering the election, if I won, I would be the first woman in a decade to be president,” Ferrari says. “Running for this job was the second-best decision I ever made — the best being to go to Texas State in the first place.”
A Simple Agenda: Make Things Better
Ferrari and Ray went to work fine-tuning the agenda of their administration as soon as they took office. Their ambitious plan set forth 23 initiatives, including creation of the Freshmen Council in ASG, increased conservation efforts on campus, starting the Bobcat Bricks program, and promoting the relationship of the university to the City of San Marcos. Their goal was simple: They wanted to improve the experience of every Texas State student.
“One of my favorite sayings is from Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Ferrari says. “Well, I want to be the change I wish to see in our university. I want to make the lives of students here better.”
With that kind of change in mind, Ferrari and Ray adopted the slogan, “It's a new day in Bobcat country.” So far, Ferrari and her administration have implemented 11 of the 23 campus initiatives. One of her administration’s most ambitious projects is the orchestration of a leadership conference for Hays and Caldwell County high schools in February 2011. The conference will reach out to high-achieving high school students and allow Texas State student leaders to gain valuable experience.
“I try to reach out to everyone and empower them,” Ferrari says. “I believe every friend is worth having and every person worth knowing. Everyone can play a role. I recognize that we can do more for our university together than we can apart.”
Ray says Ferrari is true to her own idealism in all she does. “Mel is a tireless worker who is completely devoted to doing anything and everything in her power to make Texas State a better place for current and future Bobcats. “
Ferrari’s faculty advisors recognize her ability to unite other students and move a group to action. They also appreciate her inexhaustible enthusiasm for getting everyone involved.
“I am very proud of Mel and all of her accomplishments and what she is doing for our students and university,” says Ferrari’s academic advisor, Kathleen Harris. “Mel is someone who will always put others before herself. I’m excited about what great things she’ll do with ASG.”
The Biggest Room in the World
Ferrari has a farsighted vision for her future. As she pursues her own dreams, she is undoubtedly on a mission to inspire others to strive for their personal best.
“In high school my principal once said — and it has stuck with me ever since — ‘The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.’ I think it’s important to always keep that perspective,” Ferrari says. “Finding that challenge is what makes life awesome!”
Ferrari is focused on doing all she can for Texas State students in the time before she graduates in May 2012. She is applying to become a governor-appointed student regent for the 2011-2012 school year. If appointed, she would represent students at all nine universities in The Texas State University System as a non-voting member of the Board of Regents.
Rebekah Ross-Fountain, Ferrari’s philosophy professor, says Ferrari understands the connections between virtue, choice and community. She sees Ferrari as an up-and-coming leader who can “engage in conversations about what it means to be good and what it means to think critically.”
After graduation, Ferrari plans to go straight to graduate school for a master’s degree in strategic communication. While she is confident that she will start her career working in corporate public relations, she has ambition to continue her public service through political office or university administration.
“I’ve thought of going into politics. I think I could help a lot of people by bringing my philosophy to it, to just do what’s right and show that one of the most important things you can do is serve,” Ferrari says. “My dream is to be president of Texas State University or the vice president of Student Affairs. Another dream of mine is to be a U.S. senator for Texas.”
Ferrari’s big dreams are future realities, according to Harry Bowers, the coordinator of advising for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and one of Ferrari’s academic advisors
“Based upon Mel’s drive, passion and ability to cultivate opportunities, the sky — or maybe more appropriately the stars — are well within Mel’s future endeavors,” says Bowers.
Ferrari recognizes that her drive to catalyze change can be intimidating, but she says, unapologetically, it’s just part of who she has become in her time at Texas State.
“People sometimes tell me, ‘Mel, you’re just so intense.’ But I think being intense can be a good thing. It’s because I care so much about what I do,” Ferrari says. “In my heart, I am a Bobcat forever.”