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Former student government leaders credit time at ASU for public policy careers

While the physical feel, look and vibe of campus may have shifted, students still face the same issues and USG leaders are elected to advocate for them

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Former USG presidents have gone on to work in Arizona politics.

Some Arizona politicians still connect their political roots to leading the Undergraduate Student Government at ASU.

Former Tempe mayor Neil Giuliano and former GOP gubernatorial primary candidate Karrin Taylor Robson were the presidents of USG in 1982-83 and 1987-88, respectively. 

Giuliano said the campus has changed since his tenure in the early '80s, with ASU having just one campus in Tempe with around 28,000 students. Taylor Robson said while the physical feel, look and vibe of campus may have shifted since her time as a Sun Devil, the issues among students have largely stayed the same. 

Giuliano and Taylor Robson also said student government provided them invaluable experience heading into careers in public policy and government.

"The whole opportunity to be involved with student government was a real tremendous leadership and learning opportunity for me and it laid the foundation for a lot of what I've done later in life," Giuliano said.

He said the experience as USG president made him learn to listen to multiple perspectives on certain issues, and that his ideas weren't always "going to be the best." Taylor Robson said the only way forward for current student leaders is to listen to one another and advocate for each other. 

Giuliano said gathering as much information as possible and having a good understanding of any governmental process before making and implementing a decision is critical. He said it's a way to be a good leader.

"You have to be the one that ensures a fair process ... and the leader has to be aware of managing and coordinating both the process, the flow of content and the issues that get brought forward," Giuliano said. "So if you're just really good at process, then you're just a facilitator, nobody needs you to lead anything."

One of Giuliano's most memorable experiences was beginning a student leadership program called Ensuring Tomorrow, which no longer is running. He said the program would invite guests to talk to share experiences with student leaders in small groups. 

Giuliano's administration also began the Safety Escort service on campus from Lot 59, when it was a larger parking lot to the Memorial Union in the middle of campus. But, he said most of his job was being a voice for the student body.

"Other things were staying in touch with the University administration, being a voice for students at the table when administrators were meeting," Giuliano said. "Somebody had to represent the student voice, and that's your job."

For Taylor Robson, she said she was scheduled to graduate, but was talked into running for president by some of her friends. She ran against five other male students that went into a runoff. 

During her tenure, Taylor Robson led the student body through negotiations of stadium use when the Arizona Cardinals, then the Phoenix Cardinals moved from St. Louis to the Valley. 

"It was just a great learning experience for me," Taylor Robson said. "(When I was president,) I'd go to all the (Arizona) Board of Regents meetings and they would deliver these binders and it was so much information. As a student, you're kind of drinking from a firehose trying to understand what the board does."

Taylor Robson said those early board meetings were good preparation for her later years on the board. Appointed by former Gov. Doug Ducey, Taylor Robson served as an ABOR member from 2017 until 2021. ABOR is the governing board overseeing and directing the state's three public universities. She resigned from the board to run what was eventually an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for governor.

"It was all good leadership training ground and networking," Taylor Robson said. "A lot of the people I work with today in Arizona politics and policy I met during my time as a student leader."

Ducey's wife, Angela Ducey, was Taylor Robson's suitemate and sorority sister and the three met during their freshman year at the University. 

Taylor Robson said student leadership is about more than making connections and building a personal network. Some of the issues she worked to solve with other members of USG are the same as the ones of today, including tuition, recreation fees and building physical locations to house student services.

"If we don't figure out how to work together, and appreciate differing opinions, we're going to perish together as fools," Taylor Robson said. "It's incumbent on our student leaders, our leaders in the greater community to model that behavior."

Giuliano said humility is essential for student government leaders. He said they cannot be the "end-all-be-all" of student government, and discernment is a necessary skill.

"There are a lot of different views out there, and it's a big, complex community that you've been elected to be the voice for that community," he said.

Edited by Jasmine Kabiri and Grace Copperthite.

Reach the reporters at and and follow @piperjhansen and @shanebrennan36 on Twitter.

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Piper HansenDigital Editor-in-Chief

Piper Hansen is the digital editor-in-chief at The State Press, overseeing all digital content. Joining SP in Spring 2020, she has covered student government, housing and COVID-19. She has previously written about state politics for The Arizona Republic and the Arizona Capitol Times and covers social justice for Cronkite News.

Shane BrennanEditor-in-Chief

Shane Brennan is the Editor-in-Chief at The State Press. He was a sports and politics reporter, before becoming the editor of the politics desk. He has covered local and state politics for the Arizona Capitol Times and Cronkite News.

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