When international business junior Mansi Kalra ’21 arrived at Cal State Fullerton two years ago, she was very reserved and had no previous student government experience. Today, she serves as vice president of Associated Students Inc. (ASI), the official student government of the largest university in the Cal State system, actively advocating on behalf of the campus’ diverse student body to university and state officials.
Kalra encourages her fellow Titans of all temperaments and personalities to recognize their unique leadership potential.
“We tend to see leaders in a very specific way: effortlessly confident, cool under pressure and outgoing. I don’t really check any of those boxes, but that by no means makes me less of a leader,” she says. “If you don’t fit the standard definition of something, go redefine it for yourself. If something seems out of reach or uncomfortable, push yourself to embrace it, especially if it’s important.”
A passion to empower communities and advocate for underrepresented groups and a desire to effect positive change is what motivated Kalra to seek elected office, accepting a running-mate position in the ultimately victorious Aguilar/Kalra ticket in the spring 2019 election.
“It is far easier said than done to take a leap of faith and put yourself out there, but if you are truly passionate about something and believe that you can further a cause, the risk is worth it,” she says.
Kalra’s Mission and Legacy
Nearly four months into her one-year term as the second highest-ranking student leader at Cal State Fullerton, Kalra remains committed to her personal goal, shared by President Aaron Aguilar: establishing a permanent food pantry on campus to serve food-insecure students.
“CSUF is one of the last remaining Cal State campuses without a pantry, and this can be a vital resource for students,” she says. “I’ve spent my term so far collecting data from the community and other campuses, visiting other pantries, and building partnerships and collaborations to make my goal a reality.”
Kalra hopes the mission of supporting the needs of Cal State Fullerton’s Titans will continue beyond her vice presidency.
“I understand that people may forget who I was and the specifics of what I did, but I hope that my work persists after I am gone,” she says. “I hope those who come after me into this role continue to lead by example and uphold the values of inclusivity and hard work. When I come back to campus as an alumna, I hope that student advocacy persists, that my programs persist and that strong leadership persists. I see my legacy as part of the foundation that I am setting in this position each day.”
Leading by example is central to the ethos that guides Kalra. “Leadership isn’t something that you can turn on or off, it is a value that you should carry with you,” she says. “I can only have expectations for others if I uphold those expectations myself. I uphold the same values that I want to see in my team.”
Plans for a Career Transforming the Developing World
Looking ahead beyond her student days, Kalra hopes for a career in development economics, which focuses on improving the fiscal, economic and social conditions of developing countries.
“My position has given me an understanding of how higher education works. The politics, policy and advocacy that dictate it are interlocked and drive communities forward. Higher education is at the crux of building societies,” she says. “The role that higher education plays in the economy is fundamental. The two are entwined and crucial to each other’s success.”
Kalra says her twin career aspirations of traveling and helping others come together in the development economics field.
After graduate school, Kalra’s dream job would be working for the World Bank, a Washington D.C.-based international financial institution founded at the close of World War II, which provides loans and grants to the governments of poorer countries in the pursuit of capital projects.
During her free time, Kalra enjoys the outdoors, a byproduct of her upbringing in the American Midwest.
“I love hiking and biking and being outside whenever possible,” she says. “Where I grew up, there was basically nothing to do, so I always ended up outside. Even now, that’s how I deal with stress or clear my mind.”
How You Can Get Involved
Looking for opportunities to make a difference in others’ lives, explore your leadership potential or develop yourself professionally? Cal State Fullerton’s ASI and the Mihaylo College-focused branch, the Business Inter-Club Council, provide numerous opportunities to serve and grow.
“Getting involved on campus isn’t just some catchphrase of the college experience. It is crucial to your growth as an individual and for the university,” says Kalra. “We not only need more voices in the room, we need more diverse voices.”
Finding a cause of interest and devoting yourself to it is Kalra’s suggestion for getting started.
“I always encourage students to use their resources, whether that’s other students, professors, social media, friends, whatever it is that expands their view of what we offer on campus,” she says. “Then hone in on that one thing that captures you, inspires you, angers you or moves you in some capacity. It’s easier to take the first step and get involved if you have a stake in something.”