Righting the ship

By Lawrence Bailey

Alcoholics have “rock bottom,” the Progressive Conservatives have the 1993 federal election and the Students’ Union has the 2001–02 year. Fortunately, SU President Matt Stambaugh has experience handling large, unruly vessels.

The 21-year-old former naval officer has a lot of work to do, repairing both the SU’s image at large as well as the fissures within the organization. Have no fear though, this is a position he’s spent his entire life preparing for.

"My family is very politicized," he smiles at what may well be the understatement of the century. "When I was younger we would often go to the family farm just outside of Edmonton. Always present were my uncle, an NDP supporter through and through, my grandfather, a hardcore Canadian Alliance backer, and my father, the centrist voice of reason. Factor in that my great grandfather was a Liberal senator and it’s clear my upbringing was highly political.

"I was about ten when I started joining them around the kitchen table. Maybe younger."

And so it began.

Born in Edmonton, Stambaugh split the bulk of his teen years between the two mountain towns of Banff and Canmore and has a certain small town sincerity and friendliness about him. He values the simple joy of face-to-face interaction and has learned that while business must get done, balance is a necessity.

"My father is my biggest influence, hands down," the president explains. "He’s an extremely rational and logical person-business is business and play is play. At play he’s all about rock’n’roll and having fun, but in business and in politics everything must be rational and logical. I like to think I’ve inherited a lot of that from him.

"At work, my emotions don’t play a large role, I keep them separate from what I do. That’s at work. At play, well, those are stories likely better told over a pint at the Den than in print."

But what of the discipline? What of the rigid regimentation and constant vigilance? Where does the Canadian Navy fit into this pleasant tale of family values and sleepy mountain towns?

"It all started with Top Gun," he explains excitedly, setting up his naval tale. "Top Gun was my favorite show in the ’80s, hands down. I’ve seen it an unfathomable number of times.

"One summer, I was sick of general physical labour, so I walked into the Canadian Forces recruiting office and said: ‘What have you got for me?’ Now, at first I wanted to be a pilot, but they didn’t have Air Force reservists. The Navy was it. Next thing you know, I spent that summer driving ships."

Stambaugh spent nearly three years as a naval reservist before his original passion for flight got the better of him and he left the Navy, taking the summer to earn his pilot’s license. However, he did gain a plethora of skills while in the service of our country, skills he feels prepare him well for the task that lies ahead.

"My military background gives me an interesting perspective on things. For skills such as stress management and decision making under pressure, my time spent in the Navy is invaluable. You get to know what the big issues are, you learn what to get stressed out about and what isn’t as important."

This isn’t the Navy though, and President Stambaugh has to navigate more than just the high seas. There’s an organization’s battered image, a bureaucracy’s tenuous relationship and a campus’ apathetic masses to contend with. The fact that these problems come up year after year speaks to the difficulty of his position. Stambaugh’s solutions? Leading by example and remembering he’s a student first, not a politician.

"More than anything I want to foster pride in the institution and a sense of community," he states, excitedly firing off the first point of his presidential manifesto. "I want people to feel as though they are a part of the school, not just attending it. There’s so much here for you if you want it.

"I want to lead by example," he continues, "I want to go to Dinos games with my face painted, wearing a cape, just being the goof that I am. No matter how much work this job may be and no matter how stressful it may be, I want to show that executives and commissioners can have fun, that we’re still just students."

Then there’s the student perception of the union.

"I think the biggest key for me in mending the image of the SU and the presidency is to keep in touch with the student body. When it’s business time I have to put on a suit, rub shoulders with the politicians and take care of the business side," explains Stambaugh, a smile beginning to creep over his face. "But when I’m at the Den, when I’m out of my dress clothes, I’m a student just like everyone else. I’m the first one drinking out of my pitcher and I’m just there enjoying myself. I can never lose sight of the fact that I’m a 21-year-old university student. I’m not a corporate businessman, I’m just a student politician here to enjoy myself while getting the job done."

The overall student experience, particularly life in Residence, is still the most important thing to Stambaugh. He understands that it must be heightened and its glories need to be made apparent to a greater number of people.

"I’ve learned ten per cent of what I know in class, 90 per cent out of it and most of that was in Rez," he reminisces on his pre-presidential days. "There have been nights where a group of us were watching Jackass and the next thing I know, I’m in a shopping cart getting pushed down 24th Ave with Richard ‘Krafty’ Bergen on my shoulders. Just countless little stories like that, nice little memories."

That’s what Stambaugh is most interested in, leaving his post with memories–both for himself and for the students he represents.

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