University of Minnesota
Photos by Patrick O'Leary.
Five campuses. One voice.
MSLC founder teaches other students the ins and outs of advocacy
By Bill Magdalene
It’s Chris Tastad’s last semester as an undergraduate. The biochemistry major will soon be looking to earn a master's degree in stem cell biology before attending medical school. He hopes to one day practice cardiology.
He’s busy. Yet he’s also invested much time this past year to founding the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition. The MSLC is the first body to unite students on all five U of M campuses. Its charter, which Tastad wrote, declares its mission: “To accurately and fairly reflect the voice of the students of the University of Minnesota in government.”
Chris Tastad took a moment between studying and Capitol work to talk about why he does what he does.
Q&A with Chris Tastad
How did you come to found the MSLC?
I began my work in student advocacy simply as a means to balance a heavy science focus. My work eventually grew into a leadership role where I found myself teaching other students the ins and outs of lobbying and advocacy.
Over the past year, I have been working to find every way we can grow the impact that students can have through voicing their own experiences. This led to the establishment of the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition.
What's the MSLC striving to accomplish?
We are working to unite the collective voice of students across the entire University of Minnesota system, representing all five campuses in the legislative process. This organization has put a new face on students at the U not only with University leaders but with legislators at the State Capitol.
We are working to reach out to students and constituencies across the spectrum and advocate on behalf of each of those unique needs. In doing this, we have experienced overwhelming support for this mission to further the voice of students in government and higher education.
What would you tell students who want to make a difference?
Advocacy does not require a background or knowledge of politics. Everyone has a story. I began working on this initiative with literally no experience, and I still question my credentials to this day. Regardless of that I have an impact because I speak up, and you can do the same.
It's a tumultuous time for higher education, and students are caught in the middle. Because of this, every student has a vested interest in the outcomes, and there are more opportunities than ever to take action for yourself and others. It's the right time to be an advocate.
Turning to your academic life, Why did you choose to study biochemistry?
I have always had a strong affinity for science, and the medical field has been a natural calling. A major part of my upbringing was that the impact of ones work should always be in the interest of helping people, and I feel medicine suits that philosophy well.
What do you love most about it?
I love the application of effective systems. There is a certain reliability and elegance to those systems you see in biology, and I truly enjoy having the ability to explore those unknown factors that make us work.
Why the U of M?
I come from a small town. I ended high school with large ambitions in science but with a need for a sense of community. I choose the University of Minnesota and the College of Biological Science simply because I knew I would have the resources of the world-class research institution amongst company that gave the feel of a small private college.
What’s been your biggest challenge in college?
Breaking the pre-med mold. I began my time at the University as a typical, obnoxious pre-med freshman who had life figured out in pursuit of a medical degree. With this sense of confidence I was dismissive of opportunities outside the medical field, and I chased an expectation that I saw from myself and others to “follow the checklist” of experiences.
Looking back, this limited how I grew as a person and it resulted in a strain between trying to fit the mold and trying to find meaning in my work.
What inspires you in a teacher or a fellow student?
The passion I've seen in fellow students and faculty that work to empower their respective initiatives with a sense of conviction. The enthusiasm and ambition seen around every aspect of campus have been inspiring.
Advice for freshmen?
Stop trying to pursue the image of what your career and life should be. Make a point in your time at college to find a passion that is entirely independent of your career choice. Opportunities that are completely organic outside your grad planner can provide new insight to what you really care about and how those things apply to what you end up choosing to do.
Don't feel the need to completely revamp your path, but see how new things can reshape what you expected to get out of your time at college and where you expect to land afterward.