Colorado Mesa University student president Justin Kawcak, left, greets people in the newly renovated Houston Hall during Mesa’s Tuesday event celebrating the school’s name change from Mesa State College. Kawcak, a Craig native, is a graduate student at the school. He was elected student body president during the spring 2011 semester and will be the first president under the school’s new name.

Colorado Mesa University/Courtesy

Colorado Mesa University student president Justin Kawcak, left, greets people in the newly renovated Houston Hall during Mesa’s Tuesday event celebrating the school’s name change from Mesa State College. Kawcak, a Craig native, is a graduate student at the school. He was elected student body president during the spring 2011 semester and will be the first president under the school’s new name.

MCHS grad 1st student president under new Mesa University name

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Colorado Mesa University/Courtesy

Justin Kawcak, a 2006 Moffat County High School graduate, will be the first student body president of Colorado Mesa University, formerly known as Mesa State College. Kawcak received a bachelor’s degree in business from Mesa in spring 2010 and returns to the school this fall to finish coursework for his MBA.

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Colorado Mesa University/Courtesy

In April, Craig native Justin Kawcak was voted student body president of Mesa State College.

As of earlier this week, that title no longer exists.

Kawcak is still student body president, but for a school with a different name.

Kawcak is the first student body president of Colorado Mesa University, the new banner of Mesa State College.

The name change took effect Wednesday following a celebratory event Tuesday at the Grand Junction school’s newly renovated Houston Hall, where Kawcak was on hand with Mesa faculty to help ring in the new name.

Colorado Mesa has gone by several names since it was founded in 1925 as Grand Junction Junior College. The school took the name Mesa State College in 1988.

In its earliest days, the school’s student body was less than 50. Enrollment is now more than 8,000.

Gov. John Hickenlooper first signed the bill for the school’s name change in June. The name “university” as opposed to “college” is intended to reflect growth in enrollment and academic programs.

Kawcak said the student body has been abuzz about the new name for months. The school asked for a great deal of student, staff and alumni input during the transition process.

“We wanted to add ‘Colorado’ to the name because people relate ‘Mesa’ to Arizona or someplace like that, but we wanted to keep ‘Mesa’ for heritage reasons,” he said. “So many people have strong ties to ‘Mesa’ and what it stands for. Mesa is really good at getting students to share their opinions and voice them.”

Kawcak said he was proud to be representing students who are so involved within their school. His initial interest in student government stemmed from his innate desire to get people together, doing something productive as a group.

“Growing up, I was always one of those kids trying to create things,” he said. “I remember going around the block and collecting a dollar from everyone in the community to start a club. I had to give all that money back, but I was always doing stuff like yard sales or making football shirts our senior year in high school.”

The 2006 Moffat County High School graduate was heavily involved with the school’s Key Club service organization. He wanted to continue this spirit of involvement into college.

“It’s a long time coming,” he said. “I went to Western State (College) first and transferred to Mesa my sophomore year because I’ve always wanted to be involved in business.”

Kawcak immediately got involved with the Mesa chapter of Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda.

He has represented the group at conferences in Nashville, Tenn., Atlanta, Anaheim, Calif., and Orlando, Fla.

“I was surrounded by a lot of driven, talented people and through that I had the opportunity to serve as chapter president for two years and also as Colorado state president for FBLA,” he said. “My junior year, I was elected to professional studies senator as a business department and last year I was asked to serve as the presidential chief of staff, which is an advisory position for the student body president.”

Kawcak continued his work with student government after graduating in spring 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, continuing on to get his MBA.

Kawcak said working as a chief of staff has prepared him for what he will be doing in the fall and later in life because of the “managerial” duties involved.

“You see that all the schedules are kept up to date and that everyone is doing the right thing and that things are being done the right way,” he said. “Being in FBLA helped, too, because we’re the largest chapter in the state and we do a lot of things within the community, a lot of fundraisers, stuff on campus.

“That’s helped a lot to prepare me for this, just knowing that I have to be held accountable for my actions and I have to be someone who has to get other people excited.”

A good working relationship with the faculty is key, Kawcak said.

“I can walk into President Tim Foster’s office anytime and tell him what’s going on or bounce ideas off him,” Kawcak said. “He’s always more than willing to work with us.”

Kawcak said one project he wants to focus on as student body president is a student health care program.

“A lot of students have health care, but some don’t so we want to get this going,” he said. “The budget situation in Colorado and the budget cuts to higher education and K-12 is something we’ll be taking a strong stance on.

“A lot of people have had to make changes and sacrifice things, but we have to continue to voice our stance on the issue. We’ll also be doing a lot to keep up school spirit and make sure it holds true to what got it to the university status in the first place.”

Kawcak said the coming semester will include a tuition hike, but Mesa’s new expenses are not nearly as much as other Colorado schools.

“It’s only going to be going up about 5- to 6-percent, and all the other schools will be well above that,” he said.

Kawcak said his work with FBLA and in student government has helped him gain perspective about the job market in a time of economic unrest.

“I’ve worked with business professionals throughout the Grand Junction community and through Moffat County and had a chance to see what they do and what makes them successful,” he said. “Working with Mesa, I’ve learned how to be responsible with student money.”

Kawcak said his post-graduation plans include owning his own business and getting involved in philanthropic endeavors.

“It’s still kind of open to suggestion,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to build a pretty solid resume. Coming back to Craig and working at the family business at Lube Plus is a possibility.”

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