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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 | Last updated: 6:51am

ASUA president fools students with fresh disguise



Meet Ernie Ortiz, an incoming freshman at Bear Down Camp. He’s shy and unassuming, and he’s confused about several components of UA life, such as the CatTran and SafeRide. He’s constantly asking questions, trying to figure out this new home and make lasting friends. At the end of the four-day extended orientation intended to educate freshmen on all things UA, the seniors give the campers a send-off with their biggest piece of advice on not only how to be successful in college, but how to get the most out of it. However, one seat is missing — a senior.

The campers are informed that this particular seat is reserved for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona president Issac Ortega, who has been hiding in plain sight at camp the entire time. The crowd erupts in whispers and wild accusations, until one girl, who has noticed Ortiz’s absences at some workshops, exclaims, “Oh my God, it’s you! Is it you?”

“I just smiled, and the crowd went nuts,” said Ortega, who had been “reborn” as Ernie Ortiz during Bear Down Camp.

Ortega is the third ASUA president to have gone undercover during Bear Down Camp, tricking around 250 students into believing that he was a fellow freshman. During his time disguised as a freshman, Ortega had the opportunity to connect with this incoming class.

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Courtesy of Issac Ortega Campers and counselors show their Wildcat pride at Bear Down Camp. This four-day camp is an extension of freshmen orientation.

According to Ortega, one of the main purposes of his stunt was to make him seem less threatening and more approachable, especially since some students were intimidated of their president when they found out his true identity.

“They were shocked, and some of them felt like they couldn’t talk to me the same,” Ortega said. “And I said, ’You know, guys, we’re all University of Arizona students. I don’t got it all figured out. We’re in this together. Feel free, if you ever need anything, to just reach out.’”

Not only was the experience beneficial for the students to meet their president and connect with him, but Ortega also gained a lot by meeting the incoming freshmen.

“I learned how to reconnect,” Ortega said. “I mean, they’re the biggest class, by far they’re the largest population … so it’s kind of cool to get in their heads and kind of figure out what’s important, because they really are the biggest voice on campus.”

According to Ortega, students can lose sight of what’s important as they go through their years in college and become involved and focused on a single club or organization.

“You forget that we all have the same things, we all deal with the same issues, like cost of attendance or whatever it may be,” Ortega said.

This issue of tuition was especially important to Ortega because of ASUA’s involvement in the passing of guaranteed tuition. One of the freshmen that Ortega met particularly stood out to him because of how this change affected the student. Coming out of state from California, where the cost of college is high, knowing that he will be paying less, and keep paying less, played a large factor in his college decision.

“That’s still an issue across the board, whether you’re young or older in college, that the access to a good education is still pretty expensive,” Ortega said. “It was really cool to hear that guaranteed tuition has made a huge difference for those kids coming in from out of state to come here.”

For Ortega, the experience was perspective-changing, to go from meeting every day with UA administrators to remembering that sometimes it’s OK to let loose and have fun, and there are other things that students really find important.

When Ortega finally stood up at the senior send-off to deliver his advice, he realized that he had learned so much about relationships from the freshmen themselves.

“They reminded me that this was a really important piece of college, and it bleeds into all kinds of things,” Ortega said. “Things are going to happen in college that you can’t stop; you won’t be able to study for everything, you’ll get a bad grade on a test … [but] one of the most important things to remember is that the only thing you can really take with you after, besides your degree, is the people that you meet, the relationships you build with everybody.”

Follow Elizabeth Eaton @Liz_Eaton95


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