“In what has been an unprecedented Jepson Student Government Association (JSGA) presidential election, you have tied – AGAIN – in the presidential run-off.” So read the first line in an email from Kerstin Soderlund, associate dean of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, to Julie Ball, ’19, and Emma Thomas, ’19, who were running for JSGA president in March 2018.

Soderlund offered the two leadership studies students a choice: Hold another run-off election or share the presidency—a would-be first in JSGA history. Ball and Thomas opted for a co-presidency.

A year later, they agree they made the right decision.

“You feel a lot of responsibility as the leader of the Leadership School,” Thomas said. “We share the weight of the job.”

Ball, who also co-captains the Women’s Lacrosse Team with two teammates, is a fan of co-leadership. “With leadership comes a lot of decision making,” she said. “It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off others.”

Ball and Thomas lead the Jepson School’s official student governing body in enhancing the academic and social lives of leadership studies students. At the invitation of vice president of student development Steve Bisese, they also attend Presidents Council meetings with leaders of other student organizations. There they learn how they can support campus-wide initiatives.

“This year, Dr. Bisese wants to bring a University-wide focus to mental health,” Thomas said. The issue excited Thomas, who is pursuing a second major in psychology through the Science Leadership Scholars Program, and she looked for ways to involve the JSGA.

“I invited Pete LeViness, director of the Counseling and Psychological Services, and Tom Roberts, associate vice president of health and well-being, to speak to the JSGA about mental health awareness and resources on campus,” she said. “Every JSGA senator participated in the University’s Mental Health Week, which kicked off March 18.”

JSGA senators are also working hard on other projects, including promoting the Jepson at Cambridge Summer Program and the Science Leadership Scholars Program and hosting a panel discussion featuring students who attended leadership conferences at the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Texas Austin.

“Emma and I are serious about how we run the JSGA meetings and projects,” Ball said. “We’ve been raising the standards by asking more from our JSGA senators, and they’ve been delivering. By making small changes now, we are building a stronger JSGA for the future.

“We focus on servant leadership. Leading should not be about power or position, but about helping others.”

In addition to their shared governance of JSGA, Ball and Thomas have several other things in common: They hail from the suburbs of Chicago where they attended rival high schools, and they share a love children.

Ball will move to Denver following graduation to become a preschool teacher with Teach for America.

“I’ve always been interested in education,” she said. “My leadership class Education and Equity with Dr. Shields exposed me to education inequities. I hope to make a difference for underserved preschool children during the most developmentally important time in their lives.”

For her part, Thomas plans to study pediatric psychology in graduate school in a few years. “I want to work on children’s mental health in a clinical setting,” she said.

But for at least the next month, Ball and Thomas will continue their JSGA collaboration.

“Two JSGA senators want to run as co-presidents next year,” Ball said. “So we are considering making a constitutional change to the JSGA bylaws to make this possible.”

Photo: Emma Thomas, left, and Julie Ball, right, are co-presidents of the Jepson Student Government Association.