A Hattiesburg native was recently elected by his peers to serve as president of the Harvard Undergraduate Council, the student government at Harvard College.
Noah Harris, a 2018 graduate of Oak Grove High School, previously served as the council’s treasurer and finance committee chair. The 20-year-old will take office on Dec. 6, and he will serve a year-long term as head of the council.
The council helps administer student services at the college – which is the undergraduate academic unit of Harvard University and is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts – and also works as an advocacy group for student affairs.
“I’m in my third year at Harvard, so I’m a junior, and I major in government, political science, and I’ve been involved with student government for all three years,” Harris said. “My prior positions put me in a position to run for president, and I see it as a blessing. Just being at Harvard in general is amazing but being able to run for this – and to win it – was, in a way, pretty shocking.”
His campaign for the office was “completely virtual,” and it required some creative workarounds, he noted.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’ve sought other offices before,” Harris said. “I usually knock on doors and pass things out while meeting a bunch of new people, but this was totally different. It was more about recruiting our team, doing all the strategy and then focusing really hard on social media and our email list. We had a lot of ‘get out the vote’ text banks going on, too. It was kind of weird, and I didn’t really know how I was doing. It was agonizing in a way.”
As president, Harris will have responsibility for two main functions on the campus. One of those functions is guiding the council in disbursing revenue from the student activity fee, which is a $200 fee levied on each undergraduate at the college. Those revenues fund the student government and its numerous events and initiatives, and the fee also funds more than 400 other student organizations.
“We’re charged for being good stewards of that money,” Harris said.
The second function is advocating for what students want from the college administration, he said.
“So, for instance, when the (COVID-19) pandemic started, we had to figure out what the new grade policies were going to be,” Harris said. “We were switching from in-person classes to virtual, and all of the grading got messed up. We helped switch it to everyone having a pass or fail grade because so many people were unprepared for the switch to online-only classes. I’ll also meet with the administrators, the president and the deans, to bring up other issues that concern students.”
Harris said his goal is to “make the most out of the unprecedented moment” that has arrived with the ongoing pandemic.
“That starts right now, actually; students are about to have to move off campus on Nov. 22, and we’re starting to develop a storage program that is much cheaper than the one the administration has,” Harris said. “Their program is very expensive. Say, if you wanted to store boxes until next year, it would be anywhere from $500 to $1,000. We decided to use our resources to rent an entire warehouse for students to store their things for $5 or $10 a box, depending on the plan they choose.”
Harris is currently working on the logistics for that program, and he is also constantly planning new ideas to help his fellow students.
“I want to do things that make lives better during the pandemic,” he said. “It’s so hard to stay engaged, and we’re having a lot of Zoom meetings … so, my focus is on encouraging student organizations to have great events that keep students engaged. I’m also focusing on the mental health aspect of the pandemic, and we’re trying to prioritize mental health as much as physical health.”
In addition to his student government service, Harris is also a published author. His children’s book, “Successville,” was published in 2019, and it encourages students to reach for their dreams – no matter how big – and to pursue their own versions of success. The book has been incorporated into the curriculum at several schools.
Harris will graduate from Harvard in 2022, and he plans to attend law school to pursue his dream of becoming an attorney.