When Spencer McCloskey and Zach Blair-Andrews first stepped foot on campus, they never imagined that two years later they would be representing more than 50,000 students as the first Tampa governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, of a consolidated university.
Now, as they begin their junior years, they face the challenge of uniting the student body after COVID-19 while building the foundation of Student Government (SG) for years after they graduate.
“A big step forward in being able to accomplish our initiatives is picking the right people for the job, picking a good team,” Blair-Andrews said. “Right now we’ve been really focused on hiring in the past couple of weeks. We’ve been writing up job descriptions, changing a little bit of the structure of how the cabinet’s going to look and we are off to a great start.”
While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot on how the university operates and how the fall semester will unfold, McCloskey and Blair-Andrews are determined to overcome the challenges, including meeting students’ needs.
“Post-pandemic, I’m excited and scared,” McCloskey said. “Scared in the sense of not knowing what will happen at the University of South Florida. We’re moving forward to attending fall classes, but attending fall classes in person may mean we have six seats in between us and we have to limit class sizes … We don’t know.
“I’m excited in the sense that we have a new opportunity to pursue things in a different way … but again, the unknown is a scary thing,”
Despite holding a high position in SG, Blair-Andrews said when entering college, he faced numerous challenges with the transition.
“My biggest challenge was probably right when I got here, like freshman year, because that transition is kind of tough,” Blair-Andrews said. “I was really involved in high school and when I came to USF, I was starting over completely.
“I was still kind of finding where I was going to fit on campus and what was going to be like my home. I tried a bunch of different clubs and organizations and eventually found SG.”
Both McCloskey and Blair-Andrews got involved in Student Government in their freshman years as members of the Leaders in Training program, a program designed for incoming students when first getting involved with SG.
A few months into the program, they pulled up their sleeves and decided to take a step forward and run for Senate.
“What stands out about Zach and Spencer, in my opinion, will always be their heart,” 60th term Senate President Salud Martinez said.
“Many people come into SG for a resume filler or to get ‘power,’ but Spencer and Zach are genuine people who really want to make our campus a better place for all students. They go out of their way to really understand where people of different backgrounds come from and understand that their experience is not every USF student’s experience.”
After working closely with McCloskey and Blair-Andrews in Senate, Martinez said they are both good listeners, hard workers and “always challenge the people around them to be better.”
“Anytime I needed something to get done quickly and efficiently, they were right there ready to help,” Martinez said. “Spencer has a very out of the box way of thinking, which helps him not get caught up in doing things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done.
“Zach on the other hand is extremely passionate and always goes the extra mile to solve any problem. Zach reaches out to all the parties affected and really tries to get to the root of a problem rather than just fixing it temporarily.”
While in Senate, McCloskey found himself involved with the finance committee as vice chair and subsequently chair, as it relates to his major in business analytics and information systems.
However, he said his ultimate dream is to follow his father’s footsteps and be a pilot in the military.
“My father served in the Air Force and ever since I was in seventh grade, I wanted to be in the military like my dad,” McCloskey said. “For me, it’s home because we lived on base in Germany for five years and that’s what I know is what’s comfortable for me. And I’m also a big fan of order. I like to have things in a certain way.”
McCloskey moved to Germany when he was 11 and lived in a city called Ramstein-Miesenbach, near the United States Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base, for five years.
From learning German to being the only American on his football team, McCloskey said his experience of living in a foreign country taught him how to be more open-minded.
“I am very thankful for being given that opportunity, and it’s made me the person I am today,” McCloskey said. “The military gave my family that opportunity to move around and experience different things.
“I feel like if I stayed in one place, I would not be the person I am today, I’d probably be very closed-minded [and] ignorant to the world and things like that, so we moved to Germany in sixth grade and being there until my sophomore year [of high school], that was when I really grew.”
For Travis McCloskey, former student body vice president and Spencer’s older brother, Spencer is “extremely diligent and focused when it comes to completing tasks or accomplishing a goal.”
“He will outwork anyone and it’s representative of what he’s accomplished at his age,” Travis said. “Last year is a great example, when he committed to being the finance chair of the Senate, was running for governor and is an ROTC student. He had some long days but I firmly believe he ensured all of his commitments had the proper attention to detail and dedication.”
While McCloskey aspires to be a pilot, Blair-Andrews hopes to earn his master’s degree in public administration after graduation and work within the local or state government.
Prior to becoming lieutenant governor, Blair-Andrews worked as vice chair of the relations committee, under the leadership of former chair and current Senate President Alliyah Edwards.
When describing Blair-Andrews, Edwards said he is a go-getter and his passion for the university stands out.
“Since meeting him and him being admitted into the university, he has always shown his love for the university and getting involved,” Edwards said. “Overall, his ability to get involved in things that pertain to student success.”
Besides serving as the vice chair of the relations committee, Blair-Andrews worked as a resident assistant last year, where he learned how to manage different obligations as well as lead a large group of people.
“I really enjoyed it,” Blair-Andrews said. “My residents were awesome and I really feel like I developed some skills from them in terms of managing bills because I had to have intentional conversations with all 40 residents and I also had to check in with them, keep paperwork in terms of maintenance of the building and stuff. So I definitely developed a lot professionally and personally there.”
While they dedicated most of their time to SG, it didn’t stop McCloskey and Blair-Andrews from having other campus involvement over the years.
From working as an orientation leader to getting involved with ROTC, McCloskey said the biggest challenge he faced during his freshman year was being overly involved.
“I was trying to find that push myself in a direction that I needed to be,” McCloskey said. “I was involved in all of these things which on paper seemed great, but in all honesty, you can’t really be great at all of these things when you’re stretched too thin.
“So now I’ve kind of relooked at my priorities. I’m trying to find ways to kind of have that equal balance, whether it be in academics, ROTC or SG.”
As governor and lieutenant governor, McCloskey and Blair-Andrews share the responsibility of overseeing the Tampa campus and its programs, including Bulls Blitz, Bulls Media, SAFE Team and Computer Services.
As a way to provide more transparency to students, one of their initiatives focused on developing a new app known as “Guidebook” to provide students with important information on Senate meetings as well as ways to contact senators and SG leadership.
In addition, the app will provide detailed information on each branch’s role across all three USF campuses.
As part of their initiatives, McCloskey and Blair-Andrews are creating a “Diversity Council” to facilitate conversations and promote education on diversity within SG.
McCloskey and Blair-Andrews are also working toward connecting with students and addressing their concerns through weekly virtual town hall meetings held every Friday, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.
During his tenure, McCloskey hopes to be a voice for students while also representing their needs within the campus community.
“I’m a firm believer in transparency,” McCloskey said. “I never want to be the ‘traditional politician,’ if you will. I never want to be saying things just to ease people’s feelings about certain things. I want to say it and mean it … If we make a mistake I will own up to it. I will say, ‘yep, I did that, and here’s how we can do better.'”
Additional reporting by Jessica Edwards.