Leader of the Pack

Meet the first female ASSU president in more than a decade

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
September 29, 2011

Katie Wieliczkiewicz, the new president of the Associated Students of Seattle University (ASSU), aims to stir up the way the campus community thinks and operates.

Wieliczkiewicz (hear Katie pronounce her last name) knows how to both breathe fire and tame the flames. Yet she is quick to add that she doesn’t want to overstep bounds.

“I’m lucky I can figure out where that line is,” she says.

With Katie W. at the helm of ASSU, it’s going to be a lively ride, the kind where the unexpected lurks around the next curve. This active student and rugby player is part stand-up comic with serious insight and plenty of sass.

“I chose this university because it’s liberal in terms of its Catholicism, but I think we’ve strayed from that. It shocked me that Catholic students at SU can be uncomfortable about their Catholicism.

“I want to bring back the core values,” Wieliczkiewicz says. “I’m not talking about sitting around and praying the rosary, but showing your identity in your Catholicism. Why not say, ‘I’m Catholic and…’ instead of ‘I’m Catholic, but…’?”

Mike Bayard, S.J., got to know Wieliczkiewicz a couple of years ago through Campus Ministry and her involvement in the 9 p.m. Sunday liturgy.

“I appreciate Katie’s leadership. She is bold. She holds to what she believes. She has a vision for an engaged campus at SU,” Father Bayard says. “I saw this vision actualized with her hard work last fall in organizing a very successful Hallympics.”

The Hallympics is a competition among campus residence halls that features a range of activities to test various forms of “athleticism,” from a Frisbee toss to a pie-eating contest. During the last event she cajoled Fr. Bayard and Pat Kelly, S.J., to play Mario Kart Wii in the Bellarmine Hall lobby and convinced Eric Watson, S.J., to play volleyball.

Wieliczkiewicz has an uncanny knack for evoking hearty laughter from the campus Jesuits. “That is not an easy feat to pull off,” Fr. Bayard concedes.

“I want to bring back the core values. I’m not talking about sitting around and saying the rosary, but showing your identity in your Catholicism.”

The new ASSU leader is one of 14 SU students invited to the Ignatian Leadership Honor Society for the 2011–12 academic year. The honor society recognizes students “for their demonstrated integration of personal, spiritual and academic leadership during their SU career.”

Another noteworthy aspect of Wieliczkiewicz’s presidency: she is the first female ASSU president in the past 13 years. (Coincidentally, the last one also was named Katie.)

On the agenda for Wieliczkiewicz as the leader of ASSU: student engagement, a revamped social media plan and more involvement in student-run clubs.

She knows something about the value of being active on campus. Prior to becoming ASSU president, she served as Residence Hall Association (RHA) president the past two years. Alvin Mangosing, former associate director for residential education who served as the RHA co-adviser, says Wieliczkiewicz balances fun, professionalism and assertiveness in her work.

“She is very upfront with her opinions and at the same time values the ideas that others bring to the table,” he says. “Katie has rebranded RHA and strengthened the development of the Hall Councils under her leadership.”

Politics has been a part of Wieliczkiewicz’s life before she was elected president of ASSU. In 2008 she was a summer intern for the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), the year he was indicted for corruption. She recalls how he gathered his staff and professed his innocence.

“I’ve never forgotten how honest he was with his staff,” she recalls. “A lot of people didn’t like him, but you knew Ted Stevens was looking out for Alaska. It was Ted Stevens who shaped me to be a public servant and not a politician.”

No stranger to hard work, she has spent two summers in her home state at a job sealing road cracks.

Buzzwords such as “rebranding” that Wieliczkiewicz drops in conversation are a clue she’s a major in strategic communications, with a second major in public affairs. Wieliczkiewicz spent the summer in a paid urban planning internship in Palmer, Alaska, near her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, home of former governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Post SU, she is eyeing possible grad schools on the East Coast. She says she hopes to return to her home state for a career as a public servant after graduate studies. Both her parents are originally from Boston, so living on the East Coast for grad school holds magnetic appeal.

“I want some of that East Coast, Type A hustle and bustle before I go back to Alaska,” she says.

It’s her compassion and authentic drive to get things done for all the right reasons that makes Wieliczkiewicz a rare leader, says Zach Gerdes, ’11. The two came to know each other three years ago through Campus Ministry activities.

“These good intentions and her ability to create positive change are a few of the traits that make Katie so special,” Gerdes says. “…I know I can count on not only her professional abilities and charisma but also her moral foundation to do what is right because it is right."

Katie Wieliczkiewicz is the first female ASSU president in 13 years.