UW Bothell’s Djelli Berisha named Student Regent

Djelli Berisha, the 2020-21 president of the Associated Students of the University of Washington Bothell, has been chosen by Gov. Jay Inslee to serve on the UW’s Board of Regents. Berisha, a Biology major, is the first student from UW Bothell to be appointed a student regent. His one-year term begins July 1.

“Djelli’s appointment to the University’s Board of Regents is both a reflection of his growth as a leader at UW Bothell, and an important milestone as Bothell enters its 31st year,” said President Ana Mari Cauce. “Djelli has already had his leadership skills tested under the trying circumstances of this extraordinary year, and he’s proven he can bring people together for common good. I very much look forward to working with him as a member of the Board.”

“Djelli has demonstrated great initiative in his first three years at UW Bothell and has led with grace and humility,” said Chancellor Wolf Yeigh. “He will serve the University well as the student regent. Congratulations, Djelli!”

The formative years

Berisha has been actively involved with ASUWB since his first year. As senator of internal affairs in 2018-19, he was instrumental in developing degree maps that allowed students to visualize their classes over a four-year period. He followed the project through implementation in 2019-20 as director of student advocacy. In that role, he also planned student events that promoted diversity and inclusion, and he created and co-chaired the first ASUWB Student Advisory Council.

The coronavirus pandemic and protests for social justice informed Berisha’s time as ASUWB president. Students’ mental health and safety, in addition to their success, were top priorities. To ensure cohesion and collaboration within student government in a remote environment, Berisha explored methods of supervisory styles that would allow him to both lead and support his diverse team. Together, they facilitated student engagement information sessions and, wanting all students to know they could make a difference beyond campus, organized events around civic engagement and voter registration.

“Djelli will bring an important student perspective to the University of Washington Board of Regents,” Inslee said. “I have no doubt that he will represent his peers well and ensure that student voices are present where decisions are being made.”

A great leader

The Board of Regents consists of 10 citizens, one of whom is a student, who are all appointed by the governor. The regents govern and steward the University of Washington in succession to past residents, and for the benefit of present and future residents of the state of Washington. The student regent brings the perspective of students past, present and future to difficult decisions that may involve balancing the interests of current and future students, and of students and the faculty or staff.

By custom, the student regent is invited to serve as a key member of the Academic and Student Affairs committee, which oversees educational quality and the quality of the academic experience of students at the University. Berisha wants to gather information to guide his participation this year. “I’m looking forward to meeting with students across the University to learn about their priorities,” he said. “Our lives have changed drastically these past 16 months, and our world views have changed. I want to know what my peers are thinking and how they’re feeling — and then use that information to direct my work.”

According to Chancellor Yeigh, there is no one issue that drives Berisha’s engagement and activism. “Among the things that most strike and impress me about Djelli is his willingness to be open to new ideas, his ability to seek out and understand different views,” said Yeigh, who has also served as a mentor to Berisha. “He then integrates them into his advocacy for the community as a whole.

“He takes the voices of others into account and works through many viewpoints to find solutions that serve us all — which is what makes him a great leader.”

Opportunities abound

Berisha acknowledges that he is the student regent because of the many ways UW Bothell allowed him to grow. “The access to opportunity here is unparalleled compared to other universities,” he said. “It’s why I chose to come here, along with the faculty-to-student ratio and the manageable class sizes.”

He points to a chance he was given in his first year that was pivotal to his growth. His faculty mentor, Dr. Bryan White, teaching professor in the School of STEM, encouraged him to apply for a highly competitive research fellowship at the UW Medical Center’s Institute of Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine. Five fellowships were awarded and one went to Berisha, marking the first time a UW Bothell student was chosen for the honor.

“I could not have imagined working in a prestigious research lab the summer after my first year,” said Berisha. “But at UW Bothell, these possibilities are the norm, not the exception.”

After that first summer, Berisha continued his research — focused on underlying cardiac mechanisms for heart muscle regeneration — as an undergraduate trainee and this past winter received a Mary Gates Research Scholarship to further his work.

A privilege to serve

Berisha is passionate about making a difference and using his leadership platform for good. Over the next year, he plans to encourage stakeholders to have bolder and more ambitious visions toward the advancement of a diverse, innovative and greater UW community.

“I am so honored to serve on the Board of Regents with people I greatly admire,” said Berisha. “To do so at this time in history is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I take this responsibility very seriously,” he said, “and I am excited to help propel the University forward in a thoughtful, equitable way.”

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