For the Sarasota-Manatee governor and lieutenant governor, Joshua Ghansiam and Melisa Escobar, running for office was a matter of responsibility.
“For me, running for governor was a no-brainer,” Ghansiam said.
He felt that the Sarasota-Manatee campus was his home and wanted to make sure that the students on campus were being looked out for by Student Government (SG).
Though slightly apprehensive, Escobar also felt called to serve her campus.
“When Josh approached me and asked me if I was interested in running with him, I took a little bit to think over it. I felt it was a lot to take on,” Escobar said. “Talking with advisers and friends helped me realize that this job is something that I am passionate about and I will succeed in.”
Escobar and Ghanisam’s passion for representing their campus’ students effectively solidified their partnership, they said.
“Since it’s the first term that USF is consolidated, I just want to make sure that our students are being represented,” Escobar said. “There are a lot of people in Tampa, just population-wise, I just want to make sure that we are getting a voice and that we are getting what we deserve to be getting.”
While Escobar and Ghansiam both strive to support their constituents, their childhoods were very different. While Escobar was raised in Argentina and moved to Florida at a young age, Ghansiam’s family taught him to raise cattle in Sarasota.
“When I was young, my parents had cattle. We still have cattle and that’s what we mainly do now,” Ghansiam said.
Inspired by his entrepreneur parents, Ghanisam started selling lambs. He said that from the ages of 14 to 18 he raised and sold 100-120 lambs each year. In doing this, Ghansiam said that he discovered something about himself that contributed to his decision to join SG.
“I realized that I enjoyed the interaction with people more than I did raising the animals. I learned that I loved working with people.”
Escobar also attributes much of her character and drive to her childhood.
“I’m really happy with how I was raised,” Escobar said. “If I was raised in Argentina, my life would be completely different. People are more open-minded here and, as a woman, I can have my opinion without being told that it is wrong.”
She said her parents came from Argentina, and her family moved around Florida a lot when she was a child. Escobar values close friendships because she did not have many family members in Florida to turn to for support.
When she started college, she said that she struggled to make friends and it was difficult for her to be without those close friendships that she was used to.
“Here [at USF] I had to work at being social,” she said. “In high school, I would see friends every day. Here, I had to work for them.”
She would visit the SG office with a high school friend, Kavi Saravanan, who now serves as chief judge for Sarasota-Manatee.
“[The SG members] all knew each other very well, so I felt kind of weird any time I went into the office,” Escobar said. “Slowly over time, I realized how friendly and open they are.”
After visiting the office with Saravanan several times, an associate justice position opened up. Escobar decided to apply and her journey with SG began.
Ghansiam’s pathway to joining SG was a little different than Escobar’s.
“Within two months of joining college, I had already applied to be in Student Government,” Ghansiam said.
He spent the following three years as a member of the judicial branch, serving as an associate judge as well as a chief judge. It was there that he met Escobar and they began their partnership.
“When I decided to run for governor, she was one of the first people I asked to run with me,” Ghansiam said. “We had such great goals and similar initiatives and we had a similar outlook on how we wanted the university to look for future students.”
The main initiative that Ghansiam and Escobar shared was getting the students of the Sarasota-Manatee campus a place to congregate.
“We want to make sure we are pushing administration to become more motivated to make the student center,” Escobar said.
According to Ghansiam, the center has been talked about for six to eight years. Escobar and Ghansiam both said that “this is the year that action needs to be taken.”
Along with the construction of a student center, Escobar and Ghansiam had several other initiatives that they were passionate about completing.
“We have our own on-campus café, and one of the biggest concerns students had in the past was too long of wait times,” Ghansiam said.
In order to combat this, SG worked with Pinnacle, the Point of Sale system for the café, to develop a mobile ordering app that will shorten the infamous wait times. According to Ghansiam, it was set to launch in the fall, but had to be moved to spring due to COVID-19 concerns.
The pair also started working on a snack program for lab students who must work off campus at Mote Marine Aquarium.
They have also begun working with local high school SG associations in order to inspire others to get involved with college SGs.
Escobar and Ghansiam have even made physical changes to their campus.
“On our campus, we have charging stations for our students, it is like a locker system and has about eight ports,” Ghansiam said. “We are upgrading each of those ports to be UVC sanitizing. While your phone charges, it is being sanitized.”
Escobar is thrilled with the changes they are making.
“Being able to push for certain initiatives, even for smaller initiatives, is really cool,” she said. “In each meeting, it feels like we are making a difference.”
According to friends of both Ghansiam and Escobar, their drive is what sets them apart from the rest and allows them to achieve as much as they have.
“In my opinion, what drives Melisa is her goals,” senior Hannah Dornas said. “I think that she is very dedicated to everything she does and wants to do her best always. She has this drive for helping people and being there even if she is not required to. There could not have been a better person for the position.”
“Josh’s relationships are definitely what drives him,” junior and campus council member Carter Bedinghaus said. “He genuinely cares about how everyone he comes into contact with is doing and enjoys seeing others succeed as much as he does himself.”
In the fall, both Ghansiam and Escobar intend to apply to USF’s Morsani College of Medicine. Ghansiam hopes to open multiple family medical practices in the area and Escobar wants to become a surgeon.
“I want to be a doctor for obvious reasons, I want to help people,” she said.
After years of practicing family medicine, Ghansiam hopes to return to USF as the president of the consolidated university. He said that he wants to give back to the university in a way that no alumnus has before.
“Once a Bull, always a Bull,” he said.