Previous SGA Chief of Staff reflects on resilience building during college


Jordan Plowman/ The Sunflower

Ella Ihrig transitions Andruw Hoopes, the new Chief of Staff, into her previous position on May 2. Ihrig said that the position came with many different responsibilities.

Ella Ihrig imagined that her college experience was going to be just like the movies.  While it wasn’t perfect, she was able to build resilience and confidence that she can overcome any challenge that comes her way.

Ihrig is a honors baccalaureate with a concentration in homeland security and organizational leadership. After three years spent on her bachelor at WSU, she plans to attend law school at the University of Denver with a dual certificate in constitutional rights and remedies and corporate law.

“Ultimately, I kind of want to be Stacia Boden,” Ihrig said.  “She is the in-house counsel for the university, so I would like to serve in a position similar to that where I work as kind of the local attorney within a larger corporate institution.”

During her three years, she served as an honors senator in SGA and as chair pro-tempore of the government relations committee in the 63rd session, and Chief of Staff in the 65th session.

Her long list of job responsibilities included fulfilling document requests for all three branches and internal requests from one branch to another, an advisory role to the president, a supervisory role with the cabinet to be reported back to the president and vice-president and writing all but three of the legislations from the executive branch.

“It really is a lot of being satisfied with yourself, watching your work go into effect and knowing that the changes I made are gonna be used by people writing and using legislation for years and years to come,” Ihrig said.  “None of them are ever going to know it was me, but I know it’s me and I get to see success come out of the work I have done and I find that very satisfying.”

Ihrig, as a freshman in the fall of 2019, was living on campus, getting involved in student organizations, and getting to know people when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and was suddenly living in an apartment on her own.  With her parents six hours away, she had to figure out how to pay bills and install internet to complete her classes for the first time.

“It was really hard and I understand that it was a really unprecedented time, but I think we got so caught up in trying to do a million things that I don’t think we did the best job that we could’ve to support our students in basic things,” Ihrig said.

Ihrig said that she was resentful for a long time that she got to miss out on the typical college experience, but has come to peace with it with graduation looming closer.  She said she is a much more settled, calmer person with a lot more nerve and backbone.

“I learned a lot that I wasn’t expecting to learn,” Ihrig said.  “I learned a lot of self-reliance and a lot of independence and I think really a lot of nerve to just be able to say, ‘I have no idea how I am going to do this, but I’m gonna take it one step at a time and I know I am gonna figure it out because I’ve done it before.’  So I know I can do it now.”

Kimberly Engber, who acted as Ihrig’s general advisor as dean of the Cohen Honors College, has known Ihrig since she first came to WSU.  She said she can see Ihrig working within policy work at a government level or within an ambassador role because she has a mind that thinks about people, but in relation to larger systems.

“I’m a big fan of Ella, meaning I haven’t seen anything that has been put in front of her that she hasn’t thought carefully about and become determined to tackle,” Engber said.  “She’s unafraid to ask questions, she’s unafraid to go after things that are interesting and challenging to her … We get a lot of energy from students who are like that.  She’s a lot of fun to work with, and at this point I consider her in some ways more of a colleague than a student.”

Ihrig said that students should feel free to try new things in college because you have the freedom to create your own identity outside of who you were in high school, and find something that they are passionate about to get them through the tough semesters.

“When I had to cut my teeth to find a place at this university, I cut them hard and now I know I earned my spot at this university,” Ihrig said. 

She said that students should not be intimidated by faculty and staff at the university, and encourages students to go to their professors’ office hours if they just want to talk about a topic from the class they are passionate about.

The only regrets that Ihrig has are not the times that she has failed, but the times that she did not try or take a risk in the first place. 

“[COVID-19] pulled so much resilience and courage out of us that we didn’t know we had, and I’m excited to see where this generation of my classmates go with this skill being harnessed,” Ihrig said.