As president of Lander University's Student Government Association during his junior and senior years, Zachery Woods had the opportunity to represent students through two phases of the COVID-19 pandemic - the closing of the campus in March 2020 and its reopening five months later in August.
The SGA president's job during any semester is to be the voice of the student body in meetings with Lander's faculty, staff and administrators. But the pandemic heightened the significance of Woods' role in student government.
"I knew that everyone was looking at campus leaders to guide them through a time of uncertainty," he said. "It was an honor to be part of this effort."
Woods said the months after the COVID-19 outbreak had their challenges, "a lot of ebb and flow … with moments of darkness and hope." But the 22-year-old biology major, who graduated in the Spring Class of 2021 with minors in chemistry and political science, said he was proud of the student response to the pandemic.
"Overall, everyone did their part to reduce the risks and to make sure that we stayed on campus," he said.
The accomplishments of his time in office also encompass three key areas - safety, leadership and student government records. In fall 2020, a town hall meeting on campus safety was held online. "This was a first for our campus," he said. "We were able to have a conversation with students and campus representatives, even though we couldn't meet in person."
He also praised the opportunities for professional development through the Lander Leadership Conference and the work done by SGA to develop guidelines for maintaining the organization's records for future student leaders.
"SGA has an important role at Lander," he said. "We wanted to be sure that our records and documents will be preserved."
Beyond scheduled meetings, Woods could be found everywhere on campus - appearing at dozens of events, talking to students and welcoming guests to campus. Over his two years in office, he became one of the most recognized people at Lander.
Woods, originally from Mountain Home, Ark., moved to Greenwood with his family and graduated from Emerald High School. He knew from the outset that he wanted to be active in student life, and he quickly immersed himself in activities. He became a Presidential Ambassador and was elected to serve on Lander's Student Senate in his sophomore year. His interest in the sciences and political science led Woods to Lander's Environmental Science Student Organization (ESSO), a student-led group committed to environmental awareness and action.
A Dean's List honoree, Woods served on Lander's Diversity Advisory Council and also was honored by the S.C. Upstate Research Symposium for the Best Oral Presentation for the Natural Sciences Category. He earned the Newcomer of the Year for the Presidential Ambassadors in 2018-2019.
His passion for the environment and politics has given him the springboard for the next phase of his life. Woods is headed to the nation's capital where he will live and pursue a master's degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy at the John Hopkins University Washington, D.C., Center.
With studies in sustainable business, policy and science, the program is designed to provide the next generation of environmental leaders with the lessons and expertise needed to protect the world's environment.
"Environmental protection has been a great challenge for past generations and is for my generation," he said. "The impact and changes we make will affect our children. We can't take for granted the beautiful places that exist because of nature."
After spending time with family in Arkansas over the summer, Woods will move to Washington to begin classes in the fall. "I am really looking forward to being there and beginning my program at Johns Hopkins. Washington is an amazing city, and there will be so many opportunities to pursue my academic and career interests."
Woods hopes that he can merge his interests in the sciences, public policy and leadership and work for a governmental agency or nonprofit organization. "I want to be where the wind blows me to help people," he said.