It’s a story Mia Kagianas probably has told more times than she can count. During her first year as a Sacramento State student, unsure how to make friends, she sat at a table outside the campus Starbucks with a sign reading “Free conversations,” waiting for someone to join her.
Eventually, as she was packing up to leave, another student finally took her up on the offer. The conversation was awkward, she says, but it gave her enough confidence to walk to the University Union and sign up to host a radio show on KSSU, an action that set off a chain of events culminating in her election as Associated Students Inc. president for the 2017-18 school year.
“Being able to express myself through KSSU, even if there wasn’t anyone listening, was my chance to share what my experience had been and let out some of the struggles I was facing,” Kagianas says. “That’s when I first realized the power of sharing student stories, what we face each day.”
Sharing student stories will remain at the center of Kagianas’ life in the weeks and months ahead: She recently was elected president of the California State Student Association (CSSA) and will spend her final year at Sacramento State advocating on behalf of students across the CSU.
“It’s important that students’ voices are heard because (ours are) the lived experiences,” Kagianas says, adding that challenges students face such as housing insecurity and loan debt can have a ripple effect throughout the entire regional economy. “We can be the representation and symbols behind whether a system is working properly.”
As ASI president, she focused especially on fostering a “caring campus” at Sacramento State. The topic hits home for Kagianas, who came to the University from a small suburb outside Chicago knowing very few people and unable, because of work obligations, to devote any time to extracurricular activities. She felt isolated. Faculty and even Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen were there for her in her time of need, offering support and directing her to campus resources.
Over the previous year, she worked to make ASI and its programming more accessible to students, changing election bylaws so more students can participate, improving communication to students, and raising the visibility of ASI programs such as Peak Adventures, the Aquatic Center, and the weekly food pantry.
“We’ve redefined what it means to belong,” she says. “We have experiences on campus that are available to students, but maybe students are timid or they don’t feel like it’s for them. Sacramento State and the people on this campus try to tear down those ideas of ‘You can’t do this’ and make it, ‘You can do this, this place is for you.’ ”
Creating a more caring campus is a goal that has been shared with Nelsen, with whom Kagianas has developed a strong relationship and considers a mentor.
“I’ve learned a lot from (Nelsen) and how he leads, which has inspired my leadership,” she says. “But he also trusts me with decisions. Before he makes certain university decisions, he’ll ask me what my perspective is. I feel really empowered by that trust.”
Nelsen praised Kagianas’ commitment to her fellow Hornets and her work to promote a caring campus.
“It has been my absolute privilege to get to know Mia over the past few years, and to work so closely with her during her presidential term,” he says. “Mia’s heart for her fellow students and her tireless efforts to make Sac State a place of belonging are outstanding. I look forward to seeing her over the next year while she completes her degree, and then to watch her journey after she leaves Sac State.”
Though she came from out of state, Sacramento was not completely foreign to Kagianas. It’s where her father spent much of his childhood, and where she visited often as a kid to see family and to go skiing in Tahoe. Growing up in a family of small business owners, she knew she wanted to major in a business-related field, eventually settling on human resources management and entrepreneurship as concentrations, the latter of which she had been interested in since it was the result she got after taking a careers test in the sixth grade.
“I was really thankful Sacramento State offered a concentration in entrepreneurship because it’s becoming more and more relevant in our society and not that many colleges have it as an emphasis,” she says.
Sixth grade also was where she began her time in student government, becoming elected to her middle school student council. In high school, she broke the mold by serving as the student body president all four years. At Sacramento State, she previously served with ASI as director of undeclared students and director of business administration, as well as vice president of finance for the CSSA.
“This is a campus where I’ve found who I am, I’ve found what my passions are, and I found a family that will be very, very hard for me to leave,” she says. “I hope to always be very strongly connected to it no matter where I am or what I’m doing in my life.”