Claire Mitchell and Gustavo Spangher met just a few days before stepping onstage at the Feb. 24 presidential debate. With little time for formalities, those days were spent on the phone setting up their platform and developing the dynamic that would eventually guarantee their win in March.
While Mitchell has two years of experience in Student Government (SG) as a senator, Spangher is making his mark in SG for the first time. Together, though, they are navigating how to lead as the first student body president and vice president of a consolidated USF.
“Honestly, it turned out so well because we’re a great team at this point,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell and Spangher were a surprise ticket late in the game as Mitchell was supposed to be second-in-command to former presidential candidate Yusuf Fattah when he left the campaign, citing personal reasons. As the default presidential candidate, Mitchell knew she had to quickly devise a plan to stay in the race.
“When I found out that, of course, they weren’t able to complete the election, then … my role in accepting that job as the vice president would have been to step up into the president position if the president had to resign for any reason,” said Mitchell. “Which is why I decided just to continue on with the election and I found Gustavo who graciously accepted to be my vice president to run for the remainder of the election, which was amazing.”
When Spangher decided to join Mitchell as the vice president, it was only three days before the presidential debate — having no prior experience in SG, he took those three days to learn as much as he could about it.
“The reason that I accepted it, I heard good things from Claire as well, but I was very involved my first two years. I was [a resident assistant (RA)], an [orientation leader], the president of the [International Student Association] and I did a lot of things overall and I had a lot of different perspectives from students,” said Spangher. “I was really excited to bring that to Student Government, that outside perspective.”
Little did they know when they were elected they would be entering their first term having to adapt their plans to fit the new consolidated community created by the pandemic.
“I was expecting to see a lot of faces of students, both in the [Marshall Student Center] and the other campuses. We were planning on traveling a lot to St. Pete and Sarasota and to be able to connect with students there,” said Spangher. “So the fact that we haven’t even sat in our office ever, and we’re just being completely online kind of changes everything.”
It has been difficult to adapt these plans to the virtual world of campus activities, according to Mitchell. She has attended many virtual events from all three campuses after her term as president began and has noticed a lack of engagement from participants.
“Most people when they join an event or meeting it’s cameras off, microphones off, muted,” said Mitchell. “So you don’t have that dialogue that you get if you’re just in person talking to someone.”
As the first student body president and vice president, Mitchell and Spangher are building the foundation of how their roles might look in future years. Regardless of the uncertainties around COVID-19, Spangher said they’ve been focused on representing the students’ concerns to USF administration.
“Our roles turned out to be more of the intermediaries between the local student government and students and administration,” said Spangher. “Claire sits on the Board of Trustees, we meet with the higher administration, more often [recently], the Board of Directors, the Alumni Association. So I think our role is different than we expected.”
The pair’s leadership skills have been and continue to be shaped by their families’ values and support.
For Mitchell’s mother, Jennifer, her capacity to connect with people is what makes her stand out.
“Claire is highly personable,” said Jennifer. “She has a natural, genuine interest in others.”
Spangher’s father, Aldo, can attest to his son’s equally strong compassion for helping people.
“Gustavo is generous, loyal and attentive to everyone,” said Aldo. “His relationships are guided by sincerity and honesty, which is why he is so dear, not only to his family, but also to all his friends and acquaintances inside and outside Brazil.”
Mitchell and Spangher are also known by friends for their ambitious goals in work and in life. Mitchell’s sorority sister from Tri Delta, Gray Ford, a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences, applauded her for this diligence.
“Claire never fails to amaze me with her work ethic. She takes on so many different things while also being an amazing student,” said Ford. “When she commits to something she gets it done with no doubt.”
It only makes sense that an aspiring doctor would have the kind of dedication that Mitchell’s friends take note of.
“I hope to be a doctor,” said Mitchell. “That’s my big hope and goal. I want to get involved with research and oncology. Well, my primary profession I would like to be neurology. But looking into oncology is also something I’m passionate about. So doing research with cancers I think would be really interesting.”
While Spangher deals with a busy SG schedule, his friend and fraternity brother Rajay Dockery said he still makes time to work on himself as well as help others grow.
“I think what stands out about him is that he not only works for the betterment of himself but he also works just as hard to motivate and assist in the success of those around him,” said Dockery. “He doesn’t keep his best practices to himself and he’s always open to learning from those he interacts with on a daily basis.
“I would describe him as a pleasantly simple individual… who still wants the best that life has to offer. He loves reading and talking about the books he has read, [he’s] a big eater and an all-round amazing guy who leads by example.”
Family is also an important part of Spangher’s life. One person that has been the most influential in his life is his mother, who passed away from breast cancer around five years ago.
“I was talking to my family the other day, and I finally realized the amount of stuff my mom did, that as a kid I didn’t really realize,” said Spangher. “She was raising us all while working full time, while facing breast cancer for a second time and she always had a smile on her face. She was like the happiest person in any situation.
“I know sometimes our team in SG, they say I’m peppy, I’m optimistic and always trying to be positive, but I learned that from her.”
For Aldo, he’s proud of the person that Spangher has become.
“I admire many things about him,” said Aldo. “What I’m most proud of is seeing the quality of the human being that he is.
“Since very early, Gustavo has given us many satisfactions and, again, I am not just referring only to his school performance, which has always been exceptional, but mainly outside school, on a daily basis, with his family, friends and relatives he was always admired for his kindness and generosity.”
Mitchell also shares a close companionship with her father, who has been one of her biggest role models.
“He’s so optimistic in everything that he does, so that’s something that I love and I try to think about what he does in every situation, finding the good in that,” said Mitchell. “That’s been something that’s been amazing to see throughout my life.”
The two are keeping up this kind of optimism as they continue their tasks with consolidation. Although they’ve had to adjust, Mitchell and Spangher are still glad to see some of their initiatives come to life.
“One of our initiatives that we were able to accomplish a little differently, but we were able to do it was the advisory board,” said Spangher. “So initially, we called it ‘Task Force,’ but to be able to sell it to students a little bit more, we changed the name to ‘Advisory Board.’ And basically, we opened applications for all campuses — Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota — and we’re looking for very involved student leaders here at USF.”
One of the biggest things they’ve learned about their new positions is how they serve as a channel between SGs across campuses rather than a commanding force.
“We ran with a platform, with a lot of goals that we wanted to achieve,” said Spangher. “But we noticed that we have to adapt to what the governors want to do as well. We’re not their supervisors or anything — we have to work collaboratively.”