Photo courtesy of ODK

The Technique recently sat down with Casie Connolly, president of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK), about her leadership role. The fourth-year CE from Mobile, Ala., is a peer leader and is also in the running for Ms. GT.

Technique: Can you give a general overview of ODK?

Connolly: We are a national leadership society, so we have a national structure that oversees who we are, our core vision and our values. But here at Tech, we have a circle — that’s what we call our chapters. Our circle has about 40 people who are focused on creating initiatives on campus and improving campus as a whole.

Here at Georgia Tech, our ODK is kind of unique. Whereas the national structure is more about getting cool people together to be in an honors society, here at Tech we want to take that group and do things to improve campus.

We take in different people from all over campus. We have five different pillars that we pull from:  athletics, scholarship, campus involvement, performing arts and journalism. We try to get people from all different aspects of campus.

Technique: Has your recruitment process ended?

Connolly: We’re currently in the middle of it. This past week, we finished our first round of interviews. But be on the lookout … for the application next year. We recruit every year in the fall. You have to be a junior in academic standing to apply.

Technique: Can you speak more on some of the initiatives that you and your team have implemented?

Connolly: Way back when, we were a part of building and funding the first Student Center. That was an initiative that we took on where we used kind of rudimentary means, like bake sales and donation drives. This was back in the ‘50s or ‘60s. ODK is really proud of that, putting a physical building on campus: the Student Center. Now that it’s undergoing renovations, we’re really excited to watch the way it evolves.

Most recently, we’ve been passionate about mental health on campus and how to improve that. About two years ago, we had a circle conversation about mental health, the current state of mental health and what we could do to improve it.

From there, several ODK members broke out and created the Mental Health Think Tank, which was a series of conversations with faculty, administration, and students to talk about mental health and how to make changes. From that mental health think tank, they reported up to the president, up to Dean Stein, and that mental health think tank was also instrumental in becoming the chartered student organization that is the Mental Health Student Coalition. That currently functions on its own apart from ODK.

Technique: What sort of initiatives are you looking to pursue this year or in the future?

Connolly: Yes! I’m actually really excited for this, though it’s still a work in progress, as a lot of our members are really busy. I’m really excited about this; it’s something that has been my dream. I want to put a playground on campus. If you’ve had a bad day, go swing. If you’ve had a great day, go and enjoy the swings. We’re working with Dr. Suzy Herrington — she works with campus wellness, the Arts Department and capital spacing, planning and management. We’re hoping that they will let us put a playground on campus. And we’re also trying to find funding right now.

There are a lot of pieces still working, but that’s something I’m very excited about.

A lot of the other things we’re currently working on do also revolve around mental health, but we’re also looking to improve our relationship with our faculty members here. We have a set of faculty members who are honorary members of ODK. We think that they can help us when we’re trying to improve faculty-student relations across campus.

Technique: What do you find lacking in current student-faculty relationships that you’d like to improve?

Connolly: The main thing that we’re finding with faculty-student relations is that a lot of students don’t feel personally invested in by their respective faculty. It’s a big contrast from high school, where the class sizes are smaller and it’s easier to feel that personal attention. I know that if I did poorly on a test, I could go to my teacher, he would explain to me exactly what I did wrong and how I could remedy it in the future. And they were always available.

Of course, professors have a lot of other things that they’re doing. They’re researching, they have office hours for multiple different classes, and they have lives outside of the school. Often, students, if they don’t take a lot of personal initiative, like going to office hours even when it’s inconvenient or going early or staying late after class, they feel like they don’t have the individual attention.

That’s something we’re hoping to improve by talking to faculty. I feel like they might be a little removed from what it’s like to be a college student. They’ve been in a college setting for a long time, but the path of college students
has changed.

We also want to make sure faculty are upholding the same standards as students. We’re all held to an honor code, and faculty also have a set of agreements they must adhere to. For example, if your faculty member goes out of town for four weeks and then they give you a test the day they come back, that’s not cool. That’s not okay. So we want to make sure students are equipped to know when their faculty are not necessarily abiding by the same code that we all need to abide by in order for everyone here to survive and do well here
at Tech.

Technique: Can you walk readers through ODK’s hierarchy and process?

Connolly: Right, so I’m president this year — somehow they allowed me to be in charge, which is nice. Really I’m just a servant. We have a structure, but everyone really considers themselves as equal members. We have four officers: president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. We have wa larger executive board, which is nine or ten positions that function as heads for the various things that we do.

For instance, one of the largest events that we hold is the Georgia Tech Leadership Conference (GTLC) each year in the spring. We have two people in charge of planning GTLC. We have people in charge of the ODK Opinion every week. We have another person in charge of our initiatives. There are another two people in charge of bringing the ODK Opinion to life. They consider, “Is this a feasible initiative that we could take on?” and pull across resources on campus to see who could possibly help take it on. We have a faculty relations chair and a corporate relations chair as well, and that completes the executive structure. Everyone else is a general member.

Technique: What are some of the goals of the GTLC?

Connolly: GTLC is really cool. It’s basically a way for us to bring in really great speakers to show people leadership. We are a leadership honor society after all, so we want to build leaders on campus from freshman all the way up to seniors. GTLC is a way for us to model the ODK Opinion on a larger scale. We have conversations with different faculty members or different people from outside of campus. They come in and lead case studies, lectures and in general help explore what leadership is and what it means for different aspects of life.

Technique: How do you come up with the topics for your ODK opinions?

Connolly: It depends. Sometimes we’re very proactive, and we have something planned weeks in advance. Other times we’re very reactive. We can change our topic if something happens on campus; it doesn’t have to be totally planned. Like last year, when there was lots of racial tension on campus, our next ODK Opinion addressed that.

We do try and take on really big topics. Sometimes they’re intangible. Last week we talked about the Zero Suicide Initiative. The week before that, we talked about safe spaces on campus.

Technique: Have certain topics ever gridlocked your discussions?

Connolly: That’s a really interesting question. I always see the opinion pieces in the Technique, and you guys come to a consensus on an issue. But there’s always the caveat, like “this reflects the majority opinion of the Technique.” And it’s sort of like that.

I strongly believe that we should all have different opinions. That’s okay, it’s okay to have those differing opinions. When we write up the ODK Opinion, we actually have a majority and a minority opinion. Sometimes it’s a 50-50 split. I can’t think of anything that’s really gridlocked us though.

Sometimes things will get heated, usually when we discuss racial issues or the Greek system. Often we’re able to come to a pretty good consensus. There’s always at least one thing we all agree on.

For example, when we talked about having a physical, designated safe space on campus. Our majority opinion agreed that no, we did not really need a designated physical place. The minority opinion disagreed, believing that was something we probably should have.

However, all of us could agree that the biggest thing was that people should just simply not be jerks. You need to be a good human being; that’s how you can actually make a safe space on campus. We usually agree on what the issue specifically is but not always on the way to address it. We don’t always agree on the way that we want to take things.

Technique: How do you de-escalate these situations if they become heated?

Connolly: We haven’t run into that issue so much this semester yet. The biggest thing that we all usually do … we all kind of realize what’s happening.  We all kind of step back. Like “Guys, come on. Let’s all take a chill pill for a second and think about this again. Where did we start from? What was the basis for this conversation? Where did we want to go with this?” Often things get heated when you’re just complaining. When you’re just saying, “This stinks, so does this. This really also stinks,” that’s not a fruitful conversation. Complaining for an hour is the opposite of what I want the ODK Opinion to be. It needs to be targeted. Understanding these emotions first and then trying to change things usually directs our conversation to a productive place, rather than people just yapping at each other.

I also personally make an effort to make sure that people who may usually be talked over also get the chance to speak. We have people who are super extraverted — they have their opinions and want to say them. I’m not that way; I like to hold back in a conversation. Sometimes I’ll call people out when I see that they haven’t spoken. And sometimes members will still have several things to say, which I understand, but it’s important to hear someone else’s opinion. Otherwise that’s how it can turn from the ODK Opinion to the “Oh just kidding, that’s just me” Opinion, not our circle’s opinion. … We usually de-escalate by making the discussion less complaining, more productive.

We want ODK to be at the service of the school. If people need something or they have a question about something we want them to come to us. We’re not this be-all, end-all, do-anything organization, but we do want to be at the service of others. So if there’s something that you think ODK can help you with, I want people to feel comfortable reaching out to me or another member they may know.

Technique: What if students don’t know an ODK member? What’s the next best way to get your attention?

Connolly: Well, we have a website, odk.gatech.edu. Our officer emails are listed there, and we have a Facebook page which people can message us on. This is another thing that we’ve really wanted to take on. We want to know what the issues are. We’re limited, and we realize we’re limited in our scope because we are leaders and we really want to reach out to people who might not be connected.

I have a heart for those who are … on the periphery, you might say. They go to class, they go back to their dorm, that’s it. I interact with them as a PL, but it would be better to interact with them through this body of leaders.