Riley Myklebust
Riley Myklebust, president of ASWSU in Pullman

When people ask one of the best-known students at Washington State University what he’s studying, they often expect to hear “political science.”

“People are so surprised when I tell them I’m an elementary education major and I want to teach middle school,” said Riley Myklebust. “They ask, ‘Well, why are you student body president?’ We usually laugh and I say, ‘I can tell you, I’m not going into politics, that’s for sure!’ ”

That’s his way of saying that being president of the Associated Students of WSU involves some stress.

“We’re required to work 20 hours a week, but it’s definitely more than 20 hours,” he said. Sometimes he’s up until 2 a.m. working; often he’s “kind of doing homework, kind of checking email.”

Myklebust, a senior from Spokane, was an ASWSU senator during his first two years on campus and, during his junior year, directed the Student Entertainment Board. He ran for ASWSU president at the encouragement of a fraternity brother who had the job in 2010-11.

Myklebust also credits fraternity brothers with nudging him onto a different career path. He had been majoring in finance with an emphasis in real estate, then started to have second thoughts. He remembered how much he liked working with kids.

“I had three fraternity brothers who were in elementary education and they’re like, ‘You know you want to do this, just give it a try for a semester.’ I did, and I was hooked,” he said.

In family footsteps

He’s following in the footsteps of many family members. “My uncle was a superintendent in Coeur d’Alene and Montana and Idaho … My cousin teaches on an Army base in Louisiana … Another cousin coaches college baseball and is a high school teacher in Kansas. Oh, and my aunt was a teacher forever in Central Valley District.”

Along with his bachelor’s, Myklebust is working on a middle school math endorsement from the WSU College of Education. His specialization is partly pragmatic—math teachers are in demand even in a tough job market—and partly where his heart is leading him.

Riley Myklebust with ASWSU colleagues
Riley Myklebust with ASWSU colleagues

“When I had a math teacher who was passionate about students in a class, it just made a huge difference, said Myklebust, a graduate of Lewis and Clark High.

“I had great math teachers. Mrs. Marker in seventh grade was one of those,” he said of Kellie Marker at Sacajawea Middle School.

Myklebust came to WSU in part because his mom and stepdad, Barbie Riva and Grant Riva, are Cougar alumni. In fact, his room at Sigma Phi Epsilon is next to the one that Grant Riva occupied.

He plans to graduate in December 2012. Between now and May, his ASWSU work will help fill any hours not occupied with studying. The position pays 100 percent of his cost of attending the university.

‘That’s tough’

He spends a lot of time fielding questions from students. The top issue on students’ minds is rising tuition due to state budget cuts. That’s a problem that Myklebust, to his frustration, is powerless to do anything about. “When they say ‘Hey, I’m not going to be able to go here next semester’ … that’s tough.”

Since WSU’s largest-ever freshman class enrolled this fall, he’s also heard a lot about limited space in campus facilities such as the Compton Union Building and University Recreation Center.

Another issue this fall has been a reduced budget for the distribution of free newspapers around campus. ASWSU sought feedback on which papers the students most wanted to keep, Myklebust said, ultimately deciding to buy fewer copies of The Spokesman-Review and USA Today and leave The New York Times numbers alone.

Whatever decision student government makes, Myklebust said, someone is bound to be unhappy.

“You’ve got to keep a positive attitude in student government,” he said. “You’re never going to make everybody happy. You want to, but making the best educated decision is what’s most important.”

Myklebust thinks the experience will help him in future jobs, even if those don’t involve elected office.

“At ASWSU, we have a staff of eight and over 30 students who volunteer each week. We get together and talk about issues. There’s probably not a single student who sees thing exactly as I do,” he said. “Working with people who aren’t like me definitely has given me some skills.”