Four hours before the last senate meeting of the fall 2016 semester, Student Government Association (SGA) President Daniel Cardona seemed fatigued. His ability to engage the meeting’s audience endured, but his eyes drooped as he spoke. He was capable of responding, but his enthusiasm had faded.
After what must’ve been another 12-hour day, the senior communication studies major looked ready to hit the pillow. Nonetheless, his sense of humor remained intact throughout the night. As other SGA representatives gave their announcements, Dan could be caught exchanging occasional goofy faces with club senators.
Dan’s father is Vice President for University Relations Joe Cardona, a leading administrator and Rowan alum. Before working for Rowan, Joe served as SGA president during the school year of 1988-89, making the pair the first father-son SGA president legacy in Rowan history.
Because his father works for the university, Dan’s tuition is waived, putting him in an unusual situation regarding the presidency. SGA representatives already have tuition covered either fully or partially. This means that Dan is working for free, since his tuition cannot be doubly covered.
Why put in long hours and endure the stress of running Rowan’s top student organization for nothing? Two words: Rowan pride.
Sure, he picked Rowan because it was too good of a deal to beat. His mom said he’d be allowed to go elsewhere, if he was able to receive as much financial aid as he would at Rowan. However, none of the other colleges he was accepted to offered much aid, because of his lackluster high school grades. Despite not being academically inclined in high school, his father wasn’t surprised by Dan’s goal to become university president.
“The trick to being successful at college is being involved in a lot of different groups,” Joe Cardona said. “From that respect, it just lends itself to his personality. He’s always been someone who’s taken on a leadership position.”
Making a Leader
Dan regrets not becoming an R.A. sooner than his junior year. Resident Assistants get free housing, and Dan had to take out a $10,000 loan just to live in Rowan Boulevard as a sophomore.
The housing loan is all he has to financially face come graduation. His involvement in Rowan’s Achieving the Dream scholarship program since he was a freshman allotted him an extra $4,000 per year to cover any fees. He was hand-selected by the program after he was considered to have potential, regardless of his high school performance. Dan credits the program for a lot of his success as a student leader.
In addition to Achieving the Dream, Dan applied to be part of Rowan’s Peer Referral and Orientation (PRO) staff, thus crossing one goal off his bucket list his freshman year. There he met Assistant Director of Orientation and Student Leadership Programs Gary Baker, who didn’t want to give off the impression that students whose parents were Rowan faculty could easily obtain positions within the university.
“I think he has proven himself from freshman year until now that he works his butt off and has had doors open for him, not because of his last name,” Baker said.
Baker sees a lot of himself in Dan, and not just because of their mutual love of competitive sports. He said Dan’s leadership consists of compassion, conversation and connection. His involvement in Unified Sports suggests this, as the program works with Special Olympic athletes by engaging them in recreational sports. Baker recalls Dan’s willingness to work side by side with a struggling athlete, Shane, whose father asked that he be given a special level of attention.
“[dan] works his butt off and has had doors open for him, not because of his last name,” – gary baker
“He’s not doing that for show, [and] he’s not doing that because he has to,” Baker said. “[Dan] is a kid with a lot of stuff on his plate and he makes time for stuff like that. I think he genuinely cares about other people.”
Moving into Office
Dan’s presidential opponent was Kenneth Wyche, an admissions ambassador.
During his campaign against Wyche, who Dan calls a “power leader,” both candidates were found in breach of the rules after each sent out an email encouraging students to vote in the SGA elections with their signatures attached to the bottom of the email. This was considered unlawful use of university resources for self-promotion. Because they both committed the same offense, however, they were not penalized.
Once the election was over and the executive board winners were declared, Dan got to meet his new team. Though they’ve worked together for only a semester so far, operations have been running smoothly.
“If you really wanna pick the type of leader to have, he would be the one,” Chief Financial Officer Jason Dear said.
Assistant Vice President of Governmental Relations Rachel Benassutti said it has been a fun experience working under Dan thanks to his friendly, upbeat nature.
“He’s more than a president,” Benassutti said. “He’s a leader.”
Both officials agree that, in contrast to the previous SGA board, Dan knows how to handle conflict. If there’s potential drama, they said, he picks up on it and diffuses the situation. Over the years, leadership has experienced taxing situations and increasing expansion.
Looking for a Legacy
Dan is someone who seems like he’s got it all figured out, but when it comes to figuring out where he’s headed after graduation this coming May, the answers don’t seem to be as clear.
Dan mentioned life coaching to be on his list of potential careers, and at one point he aspired to Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Richard Jones’ position.
“I was undeclared for two whole years before coming to the conclusion that communication studies was my life,” Dan said.
As for his legacy, Dan knows what he wants to be remembered for. He wants to be the president who “restarted everything, rebranded everything to get us our power back, because we lost it,” Dan said.
Dan requested that each of his AVPs come up with a goal to accomplish by the start of the following school year. For example, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Naveen Khan is hoping to have tampon dispensers stocked by the middle of this semester.
And, to avoid the situation Dan found himself in as a president with tuition already covered, he plans on implementing a form of compensation so that students who already have scholarships towards their tuition will still attempt to run.
To Dan, the presidency isn’t just an obligation, or a way to cover tuition. It’s a means of bettering people’s lives—a notion that escapes many individuals in leadership roles.
“Usually, they [SGA presidents] are huge leaders of the world after, so that’s a lot of pressure on me, but it’s alright,” he said.
For someone who thrives under pressure the way he does, that can only be a good thing for Daniel Cardona.
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