Village president works toward ‘communiversity’
Sheena Collum came to Seton Hall University as a student in 2002 with a scholarship for the Brownson Speech and Debate team and immediately saw the potential in the South Orange community. She had traveled from her home in Starkville, Mississippi to her birthplace in New Jersey with goals that were tangible in her mind.
Collum began pursuing her passion for politics early in life, attending South Orange board of trustees meeings by age 17.
The first female Village president in South Orange has a lot of plans for the future of South Orange and Seton Hall relations. Collum, 33, discussed different ways to bring students “outside the gate.” While at Seton Hall, her initiatives brought students the SHUFly, the Pirates Gold card and, in an effort to get students to vote in the 2004 election, she managed to get the voting booths moved to the Walsh Library.
The Village Liason Committee formed in 2004 “to build a stronger partnership with South Orange,” Collum said, recalling her first year as Student Government Association (SGA) president. She stared with SGA as a freshman senator.
“It’s been a calling since I was a kid,” Collum said. With the goal of five hours of sleep per night, she is committed to her offcial role as Village President, one of the strongest forms of local government. This role overlaps with her position as the Executive Director of the American Planning Association – New Jersey Chapter.
Her hope as a SHU alum is to bring the town and University together.
“We have a community and a university and together we have a communiversity,” Collum said. She stressed the possibilities of student housing in town away from single-family resident homes to bring students closer to the business district. This is one step she wishes to take in building a college town.
“We want an anchor from Seton Hall in our downtown,” Collum said. “When you get off the train (in South Orange) you don’t know it is home to Seton Hall.” Her vision includes a bookstore in the downtown area that sells SHU apparel and has a café.
Newly elected SGA president Christina Simon has worked alongside Collum since freshman year and relayed her admiration for the way Collum has involved the students in town events.
“I first met South Orange Mayor Sheena Collum at a vigil in South Orange, which was held in light of the Orlando shootings,” Simon explained. “I was immediately struck by her compassion for the Village community and her ability to unite people in the midst of a dark issue. I am privileged to work more closely with her and other Village officials in conjunction with my fellow SGA representatives.”
Collum said she “adored working with (former SGA President)Teagan Sebba and that sense of girl power” inspired her. Her advice includes knowing when to push back and knowing when to work in collaboration with the administration.
“In my opinion, she is South Orange’s best kept secret,” said SGA Vice President Violet Reed. “Because, while she goes out of her way to make herself available, few SHU students make themselves known to her or come to her with University and town relations concerns.”
Collum strives to see different colleges from the Seton Hall community partner with various entities in South Orange. She stressed that faculty might make learning objectives “apply to the betterment of South Orange as a whole.”
This may take shape through the College of Education working with the South Orange/Maplewood school districts, nursing students applying their studies to senior citizens in town, or SHU athletes running workshops with kids “to show them they can be as good as college athletes,” Collum said.
“She gets that any group community or groups is built on good relationships and connections and I admire that,” Reed said.
Evelyn Peregrin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. edu.