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Madame President: WHS grad Haffield heads MSUM Student Association for second term

Mariah Haffield breaks for a photo Friday in the lobby of Prairie Justice Center in Worthington. (Jesse Trelstad/Daily Globe)1 / 4
Mariah Haffield is shown being sworn in as the 83rd Minnesota State University, Mankato, Student Association President by the outgoing vice president. (Lenny Koupal, Centennial Student Union at Minnesota State University, Mankato)2 / 4
Several senators, including Haffield, pose with Minnesota State University, Mankato, President Richard Davenport. (Lenny Koupal, Centennial Student Union at Minnesota State University, Mankato)3 / 4
Mariah Haffield gives a speech during a Minnesota State University, Mankato, 2014 homecoming event. (Submitted photo)4 / 4

WORTHINGTON — At Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSUM), it’s extraordinary for a student to serve two terms as the Student Association president.

It’s rarer yet for a repeat president to be a woman.

But Worthington native Mariah Haffield, a 2012 Worthington High School (WHS) graduate and the daughter of Carol and Dwayne Haffield, has experienced uncommon success in her time at MSUM, particularly in the student government arena.

As she prepares to return to Mankato for her senior year (she’s majoring in pre-law and human resource management, with a minor in political science), Haffield confidently faces the responsibilities that come with being the primary student representative for a diverse university population of nearly 16,000.

After all, it’s her second term in office.

Getting started

Haffield’s track record at WHS laid the groundwork for the leadership and scholarship she has capably demonstrated to date in her MSUM career.

“All of the activities I was in during high school have helped me,” said Haffield, who was a captain of the WHS mock trial team from her sophomore through senior years.

Additionally, she was in the WHS band, student council and National Honor Society and participated in golf, cross country and high school musicals.

“Mock trial definitely taught me how to stand up in front of a group and carry out an argument, and gave me confidence as a student speaker,” she said.

“Now I have to speak in front of groups quite often, either as president or in classrooms.”

Haffield, who is enrolled in the MSUM Honors program and is part of the Minnesota State University Pre-Law Society and a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority, Epsilon Rho Chapter, says choosing MSUM was key.

“One of the best decisions I ever made was to attend MSUM,” Haffield stated. “I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”

Still, Haffield didn’t immerse herself in the MSUM student association as a freshman.

“But I became friends with several students who were active members,” Haffield explained.”

So at the end of her first year, Haffield ran for a position as an off-campus student senator and was elected for the 2013-14 academic year.

“After I got involved, I saw some things that frustrated me and decided I wanted to try to make more changes,” Haffield said.

“I became really passionate about it and felt I could do more as president. People really supported me and encouraged me to run, so I decided to try it and see what would happen.”

Electoral success

Haffield freely admits her election wasn’t a given, nor an easy road.

With over 15,000 students at MSUM (including an international student population of 1,000 from 90 different countries), Haffield was one of four candidates for the Student Association president position.

“It was absolutely scary,” she confided. “There were three other very competent candidates, and when it was time for the election results to come in, I was so nervous I was shaking.

“I remember pacing back and forth in front of the office where they post election results — it was nerve wracking.”

But Haffield got the nod, and last fall she plunged into her position with energy and enthusiasm.

“First and foremost, the Student Association president represents all students at the institutional level, in the community and at the MnSCU level,” said Haffield, who is the 83rd MSUM Student Association president.

She is also the first woman to serve as Student Association president at MSUM since 2000 — and it’s been 25 years since a student earned the right to a second term in the office. This past spring, Haffield won re-election with only one opponent contesting her.

Another primary responsibility Haffield bears is appointing other students to the more than 200 MSUM student organization committees. In addition, she oversees a student government budget of more than $1 million.

“There are committees on the status of women, on diversity, for allocations — you name it, and the president is responsible for appointing appropriate students to each of these,” said Haffield.

“There are literally hundreds of appointments that need to be made, and I already have a list of names for various committee appointments this fall.”

Haffield also serves as the Mankato representative to the Board of Directors for the Minnesota State University Student Association (MSUSA).

“It’s a nonprofit organization that lobbies for and represents the seven universities in the MnSCU system,” she explained.

Fortunately, Haffield has an important supporter on her side: MSUM President Richard Davenport, who took the reins at MSUM in July 2002.

“I feel so lucky to get to work with him,” attested Haffield. “He cares about the students and is a wonderful person. He’s so passionate about what he does and about the university.

“It’s great working with him.”

Presidential ties to Worthington, seal of approval

Davenport similarly has high praise for Haffield — not to mention shared Worthington roots.

“I never lived in Worthington, but my grandparents, parents and an aunt did,” Davenport said.

Still, Davenport left his Grand Island, Neb., home to spend several summers of his youth visiting his Grandpa Vestrem in Worthington, fishing “every lake within 25 to 30 miles” of Worthington.

“As a kid, the fish seemed twice as big as they probably were,” he joked.

“I’m now on my fifth three-year contract as MSUM president, and I’m having a lot of fun — it’s a fabulous university with excellent students, and Mariah happens to be one of those,” Davenport credited.

“She’s done an outstanding job in her leadership role and has met some huge challenges as well.”

Davenport is quick to cite a “crucial role” Haffield played on the MSUSA board last year.

“She had to take a very strong stand against inappropriate student behavior at some other universities,” Davenport shared.

“It’s all rather complex, but Mariah actually stood up and exposed a nasty ring of students, going out on a limb herself in that regard — and she prevailed.

“It took a lot of courage, and it was highly stressful, but we guided her through it, and she gained the full support of the MNSCU board of trustees, who totally backed her.”

Davenport said Haffield has also “been very instrumental in creating a safe environment for students on campus.”

Although Davenport’s own responsibilities are extremely broad and demanding (ranging from fundraising to relationship building to working with bargaining groups and unions and more), he appreciates that Haffield, while maintaining her personal academic progress, has ably handled her student presidential duties.

“She’s a very hard worker, and I can highly recommend her to anyone when she continues with her career after college,” he affirmed.

Aspiring lawyer

While keeping up with her presidential work and classes (including a Civil Liberties course she called “fascinating” and an integrated business experience program in which she developed a business from top to bottom), Haffield has also made time for friends (she was secretary of her sorority in 2013), fun and pizza.

“Mankato is a great pizza town,” she smiled. “I love all kinds of pizza, from Domino’s to Pagliai’s to Jake’s.”

During the summers, Haffield has returned to her hometown to continue employment as the Nobles County Attorney’s Office’s summer assistant, a job she gained following her high school graduation.

“I love the experience I’m getting there, and I want to become a lawyer,” Haffield expressed.

“Not only do I get to do the filing, but I get into the meat and bones of law, including writing probable cause complaints.

“It’s practical experience for when I’m in law school.”

Haffield took the LSAT in June and plans to begin applying to law schools this fall, with the hope of beginning her legal studies in 2016.

“I’d like to work in criminal law and be a prosecutor,” she said.

Despite her heady goals, Haffield easily slips into her chair as a clarinetist in the “Amazing” Worthington City Band each June, and she enjoys snowboarding at Mount Kato in the winter and golfing at Prairie View.

“Being MSUM Student Association President is a lot of responsibility, but I enjoy it and wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she assured.

“I’m grateful to my friends, to my parents for their support and encouragement, and to President Davenport, who has been a great role model in how he maintains relationships and works with people — it’s very admirable.”

Davenport, for his part, is delighted to have a competent student like Haffield at the MSUM student helm for another year.

“Mariah has emerged as a statewide leader in student government for the seven MNSCU universities,” said Davenport. “Her role is more challenging than most people would realize.

“I compliment Worthington and its schools for turning out such an outstanding young woman as Mariah.”