At the weekly Undergraduate Student Government Senate meetings, it is common to see the meeting chair, Executive Vice President Aimee Pomeroy, whispering to the man with the laptop sitting next to her. Silently typing away for most of the meeting, USG Parliamentarian Esam Al-Shareffi, a graduate and medical student, is the seemingly all-knowing advisor to the senate on USG code, constitution and meeting procedure.
“I was happy to help if I could because I really care about USG Senate,” said Al-Shareffi, who was a senator in the early days of USG and served as executive vice president and senate secretary during his undergraduate time at Stony Brook.
Although he has been at Stony Brook since 2003, Al-Shareffi lived in several places throughout his life. After being born in Kentucky, his family moved to their native Iraq several years, and then to Jordan, where his father, a pharmaceutical scientist found work. When he was in fifth grade the family moved back to Kentucky, and then to Rockland County, N.Y. when he was in middle school.
As parliamentarian Al-Shareffi is responsible for keeping minutes of the meetings and advising and reassuring the EVP when it comes to parliamentary procedures and meeting etiquette according to Robert’s Rules of Order, the most widely used parliamentary authority in the country.
“Sometimes the chair needs some help with the finer points,” said Al-Shareffi. “I don’t tell them what to do, I just explain the rules of procedure. I’m there to help.”
Pomeroy certainly appreciates his presence.
“Esam has been a wonderful help,” she said in an email. “Robert’s Rules can seem cumbersome and overwhelming but Esam always give the best advice.”
In 2003, when USG was just beginning, Al-Shareffi read the constitution and was interested in the judiciary branch.
“I was very intrigued with the justice positions. I wanted to hear cases and be able to use legal insights to make decisions,” he said. “At the time the only thing that was open were senate positions, which turned out to be lucky for me.”
Once he started, Al-Shareffi was hooked on student government, and his vast knowledge of USG started to grow.
“When I was an undergraduate we had approved or modified most of the founding documents for USG. I was there when they were written, and I contributed to some of them.”
On his drive to learn more, Al-Shareffi said it’s only natural he kept exploring it.
“If you’re passionate about something you spend a lot of time on it and you become good at it.”
The allure of USG for Al-Shareffi was the learning experience that comes from working within student government.
“I wanted the experience for myself so that I would know a little bit of how government worked and how people cooperated with each other,” he said.
Those early days of USG during which Al-Shareffi first joined were the “cowboy days.” Students were trying to make radical changes to the newly formed government and corruption was rampant.
During his sophomore year, Al-Shareffi was elected EVP and struggled with the position. Between the corruption and his unwillingness to be forceful he found it was not the best position for him and resigned.
“Having gone through that I know the difficulty of the job,” Al-Shareffi said. “I can provide help to the current executive vice president and tell them some of the pitfalls that I had.”
Over the years Al-Shareffi has been able to witness the growth and stabilization of the group he’s spent so much time with. He feels the organization has come a really long way since its inception.
“It’s been a pleasure to see an organization that was on very rocky ground when I was first involved with it now become so well established and increasingly becoming a more positive part of student experiences.”
The hardest part of the job, in Al-Shareffi’s opinion is trying to remain just a passive observer of the debate and discussion on the senate floor. Sometimes debates drag on, but Al-Shareffi just waits it out.
“Sometimes you just want to interject to move things along,” he said. “The students elect the senators; they’re the student reps, they should make the policy.”
Over the years he’s found the senators can usually find their way to a solution.
“The democratic process works really well. At the end of the debate and the arguments and back and forth, almost every time the optimal solution is agreed to,” he said.
Overall, Al-Shareffi feels that USG has been a hugely beneficial way to spend his undergraduate and post-graduate time.
“Being able to compromise and talk to people in a respectful way even when they don’t agree with you is incredibly important,” he said.
Based on his experience and all he’s taking away from it, Al-Shareffi would encourage anyone and everyone to get involved with student government
“These leadership positions are very useful for anyone…not just those who want a career in politics or law,” he said. “Anyone can benefit from being in a position where they have to work with others to get legislation to succeed.”
, Al-Shareffi is glad to have had his unique perspective over a long term with USG.
“Most people are here for three or four years, but they can’t get rid of me.”
Although, they may just be losing him within the next year or so. Al-Shareffi is concerned that he will be too busy during his last few years of medical school and finishing his biochemistry PhD to make time for the senate. As he prepares to move on he hopes the organization will continue along the path it’s been headed.
“There is always more that can be done, there’s always room for improvement.
We’re all learning when we’re doing this.”