"I'm a National Director, not a Chair," Mark Kissel said to the Students' Legislative Council on Tuesday.
Kissel, National Director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, was updating the University of Calgary Students' Union on CASA's plans for the upcoming months. Kissel lobbies on behalf of over 300,000 post secondary students in Canada. His one-year term as National Director began with a self-described "baptism by fire" earlier this year.
"I met the Prime Minister the fourth day of the job and it scared me," he recalled. "There I was, brand spanking new, trying to lobby the PM. A couple weeks later, I had to go and testify in front of a House committee on finance and it had to be one of the scariest things I've ever experienced in my life because these guys know way more than the average person."
He considers lobbying the government--people who are two or three times his age--a challenge. The 24-year-old Kissel became involved in politics early in his career as a student.
"When I went to the University of Western Ontario in my first year, I started getting involved from the get-go," recalled Kissel. "During orientation week, I got involved with the Residence Council and the Faculty Council because I was so interested in doing this sort of stuff."
Kissel eventually became the President of the Faculty of Music Students' Council and later, Vice-president Education for UWO. "From there I was elected National Director [of CASA]."
The classically trained trombonist's venture into politics has temporarily sidetracked his goals of becoming an educator.
"My goal has always been to teach [music] in high school," he said fondly. "My first love is teaching. Music itself is a hobby as well a profession."
He lamented that since becoming National Director, he can't perform as much as he used to, although he feels the experience he gains by working will help him with his career as a
Kissel worked at the leadership and mentorship programs for first- year students and in the summer academic orientation program at Western.
"Before I became the Vice-president [of Education at UWO], I was the coordinator of the Foot Patrol program," he said. "I do a lot of volunteer work as well. I volunteered in schools and a lot of music camps, teaching outside the classrooms, in classrooms. I think I gained a lot of experience."
When he's not busy working for CASA or volunteering, his attention turns to his family.
"I think family's important to everyone. I try to get home as much as possible. This will be the first year I'm not home for Thanksgiving and that will be interesting."
Home is just outside Oakville, Ontario for the eldest son of a Nurse and Computer Consultant.
He explains that his parents were initially not keenly interested in what he does at CASA.
"My parents don't actually know what I do. They know that I lobby, but they don't know how I do it or what I do," he explained.
Kissel says he doesn't have one particular mentor per se.
"I guess what I've always looked at was the world around me. [I] take an evaluation of where I am and see where my options lead."
Kissel graduated in June of 1999 with an Honours Bachelor of Music Education degree. For now, he encourages students to contact him if they have questions or comments.
"I really want to make a difference."