"Once 47 votes short in presidential election, Mai joins SA e-board as VP"
Mai gets chance to help lead SA in 2014 after 2012 presidential loss
Judy Mai didn't give up on the Student Association after she lost the 2012 presidential race.
Two years later, she is now SA vice president. Mai is a natural leader, both in clubs and in helping raise her siblings.
After being at UB for five years and immersing herself in multiple clubs - serving as president of two - she has seen the organization's "ups and downs." Now, she has the chance to finally serve on SA's e-board and make a lasting impact.
"I'm a firm believer in not giving up," Mai said. "I don't think it's right to run for something you care about and - because you didn't win - choose the route of not sticking with it ... I'm here for a purpose and the purpose is to help students."
After Lyle Selsky resigned for personal reasons Jan. 22, President Sam McMahon named Mai interim vice president. The SA Senate officially voted Mai into office Feb. 2.
Two years ago, former SA President Travis Nemmer beat Mai by a slim 47 votes - a loss she described as "devastating." But Nemmer hired her as the assistant international coordinator soon after his victory.
Mai stuck with SA because of how much work clubs do; their determination inspired her. She did not want to stop working just because she lost a race.
She ran for president after former SA Treasurer Sikander Khan almost moved $300,000 of SA money into a fraudulent mobile application. Mai said the scandal triggered her to try to change SA's face to the student body.
"I don't think students get the right idea," Mai said. "One bad egg doesn't make the entire organization horrible. And I think my biggest thing was running and being someone people look to and say, 'SA is great.'
"We provide really good opportunities for students to be student leaders. And we get to work with amazing people and amazing administrators and make this university a better place. Now I get to be in that position."
Mai said she and McMahon have specific goals and similar mindsets for the path they want their administration to follow. Their biggest aim is to "make people want to believe in [SA] again."
Mai had experience with a leadership role growing up in Rochester.
As a kid, with three siblings and parents who worked most of the time, Mai, the eldest child, felt she had to take the lead in her family.
Mai's family consists of her younger twin sisters, Jennifer and Jamie, the youngest sibling, her brother Kevin, and her grandparents.
"She was more like a mother to us, because our mom worked 24/7," Jennifer said.
Their parents, who are from Vietnam, were not able to speak English well, so the siblings struggled to communicate with them. They all had a limited understanding of Vietnamese, but Mai would normally be the one to translate their parents' words to them.
"We were a traditional Buddhist household, and there was a lot of emphasis on school because I'm a first-generation student, so I'm the first one to go to college," Mai said. "[My parents and I] didn't have the best relationship growing up ... [but] I think I just appreciate them more now and I understand what they did."
Mai's grandmother is her biggest role model.
Her grandmother endured a lot - including the Vietnam War - and is a strong figure in Mai's life. Her grandmother's dedication to her family has never wavered.
"My grandmother just grew up with loving each other and treating each other with respect," Mai said. "I really appreciate all the hard work she does and I think that rubs off on me."
It's clear Mai's a hard worker - she's held leadership roles in multiple clubs, two of which she was president.
Outside of the SA office, she's a singer and gay rights advocate; she's known for her cheery demeanor and knack for organization.
Mai struggled to find her niche during her freshman year, but when she joined the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance (LGBTA), she began her journey into SA clubs. She went on to serve as the club's president. There, she met Chelsea Abrams, a senior English and anthropology major and Mai's current roommate.
"She's probably one of the most responsible, organized people I've met in my life," Abrams said of Mai.
But Mai felt she was most at home in UB's Glee Club. When UB Glee was founded in 2010, Mai was part of the original group of members. She eventually became the president.
Matt McHale, a second-year graduate student in mass communication who was also in Glee Club, described Mai's process for picking her audition songs as indicative of her attention to detail. She always managed to find one that reflected what she was feeling, and that made her performance more meaningful, McHale said.
"Everything she would perform would turn out beautifully," McHale said. "It's such a free form of expression because she's gone through so much in her life. And it's just a great outlet when you need relief, when you're feeling joy, whenever you're feeling down."
McHale recalled a Christmas exchange when Mai put effort into making a special gift for each of her friends. She made a chalkboard-bordered picture frame with a photo of a cherished memory and a personalized message for each person.
"Even if she doesn't know someone, she sympathizes with them so much and really wants the best for every single individual, no matter what they're going through," McHale said. "So, [it doesn't need] to be a loved one for her to go out of her way; she just genuinely cares about the well-being of everyone around her."
McHale said Mai is the "glue" among their friends.
Mai fittingly used the same term to describe her relationship with McMahon and SA Treasurer Siddhant Chhabria.
"I feel like I'm that glue to the guys," Mai joked. "Having a girl's opinion in there helps round them out. I keep them sane, I would like to think."
Mai worked in the SA office over winter break. She was shocked when McMahon asked her to become vice president.
"I really appreciate it, and it's super humbling," Mai said. "He could have picked anyone and the first person he chose was me."
Coming into the position, Mai will have to cover everything that Selsky left behind. Selsky turned the position around by becoming more involved with his job than previous vice presidents.
In turn, Mai said she takes her position seriously.
"I've been here for four years - I've seen the good and the bad of SA through every single elected e-board," Mai said. "My experiences in other departments give me that different view. I can step out of SA and bring it into what we do here."
Despite all the staffing changes in the SA office, Mai believes it only shows that the "system works." She explained that if SA staff or clubs sensed a problem within the institution, they would be able to fix it.
"I would really like it to see SA inspire people like it inspired me," Mai said. "Being part of an organization like this, it requires so much effort. But at the end of the day, you challenge yourself and you get to see what type of person you become. That college experience is there through organizations like this."
Mai understands there is a lot of work left to do in SA and she is coming into a position that already has high standards from her predecessor. But she has been preparing for this opportunity since she decided SA deserved better two years ago.