Incoming SAI President Kaela Olsen (’22) has been passionate about Student Agencies’ mission before even starting at Cornell. Born and raised on the North Shore of Massachusetts, Kaela always had a broad range of interests and was not sure at the time what she wanted to study in college. She had already been drawn to Cornell because of its incredible breadth of academic subjects and vibrant, tight-knit community. However, upon learning about the unique experiential learning opportunities at Student Agencies during her alumni interview for Cornell with SAF Board Member Greg Thomas (A&S ’93, MBA ’10), she felt even more compelled to choose Cornell and applied during the early decision round to the College of Arts and Sciences.
As Greg had encouraged her, Kaela became involved with Student Agencies right away, applying for the position of General Manager for both Campus Promotions and Student Agencies Tutoring at the beginning of her freshman year. She was offered the role of Assistant Manager of Campus Promotions for the academic year before transitioning to General Manager of Student Agencies Tutoring over the summer. Additionally, Kaela was involved in the planning of the upcoming Student Agencies 125th Anniversary Gala Event, which will be held on November 9th, 2019, at Brasserie 8 ½ in Midtown Manhattan. While serving in various roles within Student Agencies, she also explored several academic subjects throughout the year and is now pursuing a degree in Information Science with a double major in English. Kaela is also engaged in a range of extracurricular activities related to veganism and sustainability, both of which she is passionate about as well.
Assuming the responsibility of managing a business is an experience that sparked personal growth for Kaela, and, in her words, “forced me to mature and helped me gain professional skills. From putting together a deck and sending out a call agenda before a meeting or conference call to producing high-quality deliverables, all these little things taught me how to work and act in a workplace.” She also praised the mentorship she has received from members of the professional staff including CEO Kyle Karnes (’91). “At first, I struggled with feeling like I didn’t have the authority or didn’t know enough to make certain decisions. It was difficult to act capable right from the start, especially when interacting with clients.” With the guidance and support of her superiors, however, Kaela explains that she learned that “while there may not be an easy solution or ‘right’ answer to all problems, you have to stand behind your own judgement and trust you know the best course of action through the experience you’ve accumulated and the information you have to work with.”
Through her leadership and involvement with two different Agencies as well as the planning of the Student Agencies 125th Anniversary Gala Event, Kaela gained a holistic understanding of the structure and various facets of SAI. With a broad perspective of its operations, client base, history, and alumni network, Kaela saw many opportunities to improve SAI and decided to run for the position of President. “I felt that my time at Student Agencies wasn’t over yet. While SAI has already given me more than I could’ve ever anticipated, I knew serving as President would push me to continue growing, both in a professional and personal sense. I didn’t feel ready to leave knowing I still had to a lot to gain, but more importantly that I had an opportunity to make a more profound impact on the organization, to play a bigger role in its history and to assume more responsibility.” Kaela has a strong vision for Student Agencies going forward, which is critical during what will be one of its most pivotal eras since its founding.
As president, Kaela aims to improve the manager recruitment cycle and attract even more diverse and ambitious groups of applicants. She will also be working to create a more cohesive brand image across the agencies with a larger social media presence to better engage with customers. This also includes revamping all the websites of the Agencies, as she feels the companies’ online presence is one of its most salient qualities when establishing and defining its presence and image in a community. A main goal of hers pertains to one of the core values of Student Agencies, which is to support the Cornell student community. Kaela plans to create a helpful “survival guide” for next year’s incoming freshmen to help them navigate Cornell and learn about the resources offered by Student Agencies. Alumni engagement will also be a top priority for Kaela, who is excited to connect with fellow team members and alumni this November in New York City to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Student Agencies. She plans to build off the momentum from the event and create a new platform to keep alumni engaged going forward. With the 125th Anniversary of Student Agencies and the redevelopment of 415 College Ave, Kaela feels that it is a crucial moment in Student Agencies history to redefine what the organization stands for and ensure that our mission and values is truly represented in the work we do for our community and beyond.
Kaela will be sure to turn to her predecessor, outgoing president Peter Gribizis (’21), for inspiration as she grows into the role, hiring and training a team of new managers. She spoke to his leadership abilities, describing how much she admires his willingness to helping managers. “Peter has always been available as a resource to help the Agencies brainstorm and push forward in thinking of new marketing strategies, different ways to interact with potential customers, streamlining our operations. He’s very supportive of his teammates, will drop anything to help out when the time comes, and always has their best interest at heart.” As Kaela explains, having a leader who is always there for his managers, while giving them the authority to run their businesses, “made me feel empowered to take control over the business, to make my own decisions and trust in my own ability. Peter has always looked out for us and pushed us to work our hardest and think outside the box, while also being an resource for advice and support.”