“Who is Liam Collins?” Student trustee tells his story


Photo by Josh Meredith

Liam Collins, student trustee, speaks at the Board of Trustees DI vote. Collins made the motion to move university athletics from Division II to Division I.

Tegan Ruhl, Staff Writer

Liam Collins, a junior nursing major, was sworn in as the student trustee for the University of Southern Indiana’s board of trustees on July 1, 2021. 

When Collins first came to USI, he never imagined he would become a part of the governing body responsible for all major decisions at the university. In fact, he did not even know the Board of Trustees existed until his sophomore year. One of his nursing professors emailed him about the opportunity to become a student trustee. 

“She emailed me and asked, ‘Hey, would you like to try out for this? There’s an interview process.’ And I said, ‘I don’t even know what this is. Let me read a little bit about it.’ Later that day, I emailed her and said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it’ and here we are,” said Collins. “Why not throw my name out there in a pool of applicants. And then I ended up having an interview with the university committee because I was selected by the university for an interview. Then I moved forward to the governor’s office for two interviews and then ended up being appointed by Governor Hogan. It just happened to be a process I said, ‘Why not try?’” 



THE BEGINNING OF THE TRUSTEE: Collins began his two-year term on July 1, 2021, his “training day” as a student trustee. He described his first day as “being thrown right into the fire.” Having only a brief Zoom meeting with the members of the board beforehand, Collins said the atmosphere was “a little intimidating.” 

“It was the annual retreat where all the trustees get together and we get some briefing and some education, and then we have our first board meeting. It was a pretty long day of about eight hours. I was surrounded by all these people who totally knew what was going on and I was in a new environment,” said Collins. “But I was accepted right away and was able to give input on different things and we were able to move towards what the plan was for this year and moving forward was going to look like.” 

Although Collins was thrown in right away, he expressed having a positive first experience on the board and says it has continued to be positive so far.

While many would expect tension between the student trustee and the rest of the board, Collins described his first interactions with the board members as “welcoming.” 

“As soon as I walked in, everybody was like, ‘Liam, nice to meet you.’ Everybody. They were excited for me to be there.” he said. “At first, it took some time to just listen and figure out what the flow was, but I in no way felt like there was tension like I was the new guy or anything like that. I definitely was able to contribute right from the rip and move forward, inserting my perspective and student perspective into what we were doing right from the start in July.” 

Notably, some of the most welcoming members on the board for Collins have been W. Harold Calloway and Ron Romain. 

Collins’ responsibility on the board is to bring the student’s perspective to the table, making sure the student body’s voice is heard as well as making decisions that will benefit the student body. 

“I always think first thing – how does this affect students?” said Collins. “We were debating the budget this year, and there are a lot of things that I heard. For example, raising some costs for meal plans to mitigate increasing labor costs just in general in the world. And I was like, ‘You know what? This needs to happen so that we can get more options, more dining options. We increased the counseling fee by $10 to get more staffing at the Counseling Center. These are things that we can do to improve the student experience.” 

Collins’ work does not end outside of the board meetings, however. He always tries to communicate with students on campus to hear their perspectives on ways to improve the university. He also does his own independent research to prepare for board meetings, which includes what impacts student costs as well as statistics regarding student enrollment. 

“I get to act as an advocate,” Collins said. “I’m a nursing major, and part of being a nurse is we have to advocate for patients. We advocate for patient interests, patients’ wants with different things. I get to serve in that role for the student body and be a representative at the big stage for what the budget looks like, what programs are going to be sponsored. We just got a new doctor of Occupational Therapy Program. I got to be a part of making that happen so that way we get students in our Occupational Therapy program to have the opportunity to be here and earn their doctorate, so I’d say that’s just my favorite thing, to be able to act as an advocate for students and student interest.” 

With every major decision to be made, Collins has found there will always be a group of people that disagree. 

“There is always going to be a little bit of rejection of whatever decision you make,” he said.  “The goal is to please as many people as you can, but the hardest part is knowing that sometimes not every decision that’s made is going to be popular. I’d say that’s just the most difficult part.”



DI ANNOUNCEMENT: With the semester just beginning, the announcement that the university was looking into transitioning to Division I was made on Sept. 27, 2021, three months after Collins began his position as the student trustee. He never imagined he would get to partake in a decision like this, to say the least. 

“We got the call that this was on the table, and I was like, ‘No way. This is something that I get to be a part of, regardless of what the vote ended up being,’” he said. “Even when we were in our deliberation, I had a few moments of epiphany where I was like, ‘Man, I’m involved in this.’” And that I had the honor just to be here and represent the students. This is not something that I pictured myself doing when I signed my acceptance letter to USI or even when going through the process to be a student trustee. This was not something that was in my visual scope to be a part of, but definitely, something that when I signed up I felt like I was ready for if it were to happen. But once the task actually happened, I was like, ‘Wait, I’m here. This is happening. They’re asking for what my input is.’ Now, moving forward, having the opportunity to make the motion to go Division I and not just be a part of the process, it’s just been an honor. A privilege to be a part of this experience so far and continuing forward.” 

The board meeting that has stood out the most to Collins so far was the Jan.13 meeting leading into the DI decision. 

“That one stood out to me with the transparency and just the involvement with everyone. Being a part of this process as a whole has been a standout. That one and probably the very first meeting where I was just thrown right in and didn’t really know what the flow was going to be. I just saw that like, ‘Oh, my name tag is somewhere. Okay, I guess I’ll sit here.’ But I guess those two would stand out in my head as the most influential for my perspective as a trustee.”

While everyone knew the DI decision would be a grueling process, Collins has been amazed by the amount of transparency and community involvement that has been incorporated over the past few months. 

“This is the most community-involved process that I’ve gotten to be a part of. There’s been a lot that has had to be deliberated. It’s been a very careful process of looking at how each asset has readiness. How are we affected by that? What do we need to do if we were to make this move? Now that we have, what are our next steps? My experience is that from the student body perspective, not only has my perspective been welcomed, but it’s been pulled multiple times in Executive Session and in our meetings and deliberations. I’ve been asked, ‘Liam, you’re a student, what do you think? What are the students saying? What’s the student gossip?’ My opinion has been pulled because the board is wanting to know what students think from the student representative. It’s been a grueling process. Definitely, it’s been stressful. My take on the matter has changed over time in terms of being delivered new information. But overall, coming together, being the one to make the motion, I definitely feel that all concerns of mine were heard or concerns with the board were heard and addressed. This unanimous vote from the board happened from me making the motion. I feel like the experience coming together has been just transparent with the community representation and feedback, and with the highest level of due diligence, we could make the decision. 

On Feb. 7, 2022, Collins made the motion to move to Division I at the executive meeting. 

“Ron Romaine briefly brought the idea to me that I might get to make the motion on the seventh. I approached him a day before the meeting and talked to him about what the process was going to be like. I said, ‘I know a motion needs to be made. Can I make it?’ and he said, ‘you absolutely can make it.’ Having the opportunity to be able to do that and speak for the board like, ‘Hey, this is what I want us to do,’ it was just honestly cool that I was able to do it. I was absolutely honored to be able to make this motion for the university to go DI.” 



THE FUTURE OF USI: The DI decision is the first of many decisions that Collins hopes to make to improve the legacy of USI. 

“There are legacy students here whose parents went here or all their family members come here. I want to leave this university as a place where I would want to send my kids to in 20 years knowing that the work I’ve done has made this university a better place. I feel that through different decisions, coming to bring the student perspective before the board, especially with this Division I decision, I hope that the work that I’ve gotten to do representing students has made the university a better place so that my kids would consider the university after that.” 

Collins hopes that the example he is setting now will emphasize the student perspective and set a good example for future trustees. 

“I hope to set the example that the student perspective is important, and you are chosen to be a part of this. My processor told me before my first day, ‘You were chosen to be here. That among that pool of applicants, you were appointed to be in this position. You are representative of the student body, and you need to give that representation because there’s a student on this board for that purpose. You are that person, you are chosen to be that person. So go be that person, and remember that you are as much of a vote as any other member on that board.’ I would continue this advice onto the next student trustee. When I make my vote, I’m one of nine. Remember that your vote counts just as much as everybody else’s, and so does your opinion. It matters because you are speaking of the opinion of the student body and the whole university community. It’s an important job to represent students, but you were chosen to do it. So go do it. That would be my message to trustees or whoever the trustee would be after me and trustees after them.” 

With everything said, Collins is excited for the future of USI and hopes that campus will be thriving with livelihood soon. 

“I’m excited to see this campus come back alive. I feel like with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, in general, just the mood of campus life has been in decline with people not being on campus because of virtual classes or with different events that you have to social distance at, that type of thing. I was here freshman year 2019-2020, and I got to see a little bit of what USI life was like pre-COVID. I’m excited to see the life on campus be rejuvenated. With the DI decision made on Monday, I was just walking around campus total like, ‘Wow. There are a lot of people on campus. Campus is alive.’ I’m excited for the future of campus to be alive again. For students to be walking around, having conversations, for the life of campus to be bolstered, for the student experience to just be fulfilled, for engagement and student activities to just happen and for students to really get involved in their school and to invest in it. That’s what I’m excited for. I feel like once we start to figure out what this new normal is, then we can really start to see campus alive again.”

THE EFFECT ON HIS LIFE: In his brief experience as the student trustee so far, Collins has described the experience as “fulfilling.” 

“I would say this has been fulfilling and enlightening in terms of seeing what the behind the scenes of the university look like, how decisions get made, different angles, and things that need to be looked at. Parts and pieces that as a student going to class, you don’t get to see. So it’s been enlightening to be a part of that, and it’s been an honor just to be at the table with these decisions, to be a student’s voice and to represent the student body before this board. It’s just been an honor and really enlightening to be in this experience.” 

Since Collins has become a trustee, his life has actually not changed dramatically. In fact, being a student trustee has positively impacted him in more ways than one. 

“I would say academically, it has influenced my relationships with professors in terms of I feel a little bit closer with them because I can talk with them about things outside of the classroom related to the university. I don’t think it has had any effect on my actual academic performance in any way, shape or form. As far as social life, I can now bring the student trustee perspective to the conversation. I’ve had other people approach me about different things. It’s increased network, but otherwise, I feel like everything else when it doesn’t involve being a trustee is pretty normal. I don’t feel like every single day, there’s some drastic change if that makes sense. I can still be myself on campus. There is a little added element of ‘Oh, hey. You are the trustee.’ I had a student who I’ve never had a conversation with just Snapchat me last night asking, ‘Hey, you’re the person to ask about this. What exactly is the tuition raise for this Division I move going to be? I’ve heard crazy numbers, you’re the guy to ask.’ So I gave him that information, and he was like, ‘Oh, wow. It’s not as bad as I thought because some people had reported way higher numbers in that recording sense.’ So I was able to have that with him. But on a day-to-day basis, life is pretty normal from what I’m used to.” 

Collins has been very appreciative of the opportunity he has had to be the student trustee for USI. With the honor behind his title, Collins strives to approach his work with the most upright respect possible. He’s grown to appreciate the university so much that he actually might come back and work for USI in the future. 

“I absolutely think my position will influence me to come back and work for the university. I’ve got a lot of appreciation for this school. I knew USI was a good school when I chose to come here because I value my education. I wanted to come from the best institution, and for the nursing program, USI is number one in the state. So I knew coming here that this is going to be a good school. But seeing from the behind-the-scenes perspective of how this university functions on a big picture level and what goes into making this university the best and how much the administrative team, the faculty and everyone involved just care for students and for the well-being of the institution. It definitely would make me consider really continuing my affiliation with the university as an alumni and continuing to give back because of how much the university has given me.” 



FINAL COMMENTS: While the idea of being both a regular university student and a member of the governing body responsible for major university decisions is a little strange, Collins has enjoyed being a part of the board of trustees. 

“It feels cool just to know that the student perspective is valuable enough to be at the table, and that there is representation and that I get to be that representation. I had a friend watch the livestream for the Division I meeting. One thing he told me was, ‘Man, you’re up there with all the bigwigs like Romain, Fuquay, they have their names on this university and you’re at the same table. I just think that’s pretty cool, and it’s an honor to be there honestly.’” 

To close Collins’ thoughts on his role as a board member, he wants to emphasize to all students that he is a resource that they are free to contact at any time. He prioritizes making positive changes to USI and wants the student body to be a part of that. 

“I just want to add that I do act as the student representative before the board. You can search for my name and USI email address. Please do feel free to email me if you see me on campus. Feel free to have a conversion with me. It is my goal to represent student concerns and to ensure that students feel their opinions are heard, valued, respected and brought before and come to me with solutions as well because I bring those ideas forward. If I hear about different concerns, those concerns get brought forward. If I hear solutions, I take all the ideas from the student perspective and bring them forward before the board. So yeah, feel free to use me as an advocate because that is my goal. If you feel that there is a concern that you have, talk to me, email me. You can search Liam Collins, and my email is going to come up. So don’t hesitate to use me as a resource because I act as representation for the board.” 

Collins’ term as student trustee will end on June 30, 2023.