1. Why do you want to be Grand Marshal?
I’m running for Grand Marshal because I’m passionate about helping others and determined to strengthen our community. In the Senate, I’ve led a number of critical projects to completion, and have a solid understanding of ways to improve student life.
I’ve also experimented to great success with new forms of student engagement, and through this success, I’ve developed a clear-cut vision of ways to enhance the Senate’s ability to connect with students. I plan to back student interests directly by supporting student initiated projects, and providing stronger opportunities for student leadership. With my commitment, experience, and leadership, I can hit the ground running and drive the Senate toward positive change.
I am running for Grand Marshal because I think that the way the Senate does its business must change and that I am best person to institute these changes. Those students uninvolved in Student Government are often described as “apathetic.” The word “apathetic” denotes the idea that people uninvolved in Student Government do not care, and this is untrue! It is more accurate to say that these students have other things to care about. Everyone on this campus has something they truly care about; whether it is a political cause, another club, Greek life, or even a video game, everyone has something to be passionate about. Instead of dismissing our constituents as apathetic, I believe that the Senate should work harder to make its own interests more closely align with those of its constituents. This will be done by increasing the Senate’s scope to include larger civic issues. Currently, various members of the school faculty and administration present before the Senate, explaining what it is they do and what they think the Senate could be doing to help. These presentations are certainly valuable, but I believe students and student groups should be invited to give similar presentations. I also believe that decisions made by the Senate should be mainly the Senators’ doing, not the Grand Marshal, and so I would encourage all motions to be moved and seconded out loud, not by signing sheets printed before the meeting begins. I would also ensure that all appointments made are appropriately questioned and debated so that the Senate can be held accountable for all decisions made.
I can’t see myself in another position here on a great experience, everyone is truly what I am passionate about. As a caring student, I go out of my way to help others—to support and help them achieve their goals. I have received so much from this Institute within my first two years here, and now I feel like it is my duty to use what I have gained to give back on a larger scale. I have the integrity, professional development, and motivation to help continue to build our Senate’s connection to the students and image on campus. There will always be tough decisions to make, difficulties to combat, and concerns to be heard and it will take a bold and confident leader to carry the student’s voice. The Grand Marshal needs to motivate the members of Senate to act, to progress, and to change. I believe I am the best candidate to do this. I stand on three pillars: Pride, Reach, and Commitment.
2. Describe your experience in student government.
I’ve been in Senate and Class Council for three years, and served as President of the Undergraduate Council this past year. As the Senate’s Student Life Committee chair, I’ve worked with an extremely dedicated team on a number of projects that had a positive impact on student life—among them, revision of academic excuse policy to provide more flexibility for student interests. Our revisions were voted on for approval by the Student Senate on Monday, March 24th, with changes to hopefully be reflected in the updated catalog. Changes include a registration drive for the 2012 Presidential Election, registering over 600 students to vote, a proposal for a flat-rate fee with local taxi companies, protecting RPI students from unfair pricing and offering a healthy discount, and a proposal to bring prescription deliveries to campus at no cost to students, and partnering the Student Health Center with CVS for a delivery service.
I’ve also met a great deal of success with new forms of leadership and student engagement in the Student Life Committee this year. I created open and dedicated task forces to handle each of my committee’s proposals. These subcommittees gave additional leadership opportunities to more committee members, and pulled in senators and others from SLC interested in specific projects. As a result, SLC grew from an initial eight members to a total 22, all of whom were committed and passionate about their projects, and an unprecedented third of whom have not held a Senate position. Each of our major projects has now reached a proposal stage and is being brought before the Senate for a final vote. I’m proud of the work everyone has put in, and if I’m elected I will work on bringing the effectiveness of this model to the entire Student Senate, allowing us to include students at a wider scale.
I have been involved in Student Government since my freshman year. I was actually an alternate member of the Judicial Board for a brief period of time, but then I was appointed to fill a vacancy for 2015 Senator. Since then, I have been an active member of more committees than any other senator, taking active roles in Facilities and Services (formerly Facilities, Finances, and Administration), Academic Affairs, Student Life, Communications, and Rules and Elections. Over the past year I have served as the Vice Chair of the Senate and Rules and Elections Committee Chair simultaneously. As Vice Chairman, I worked with the other committee chairmen and assisted them with virtually every project they worked on. As Rules and Elections Chairman, I put in motion all the projects that my predecessors had been discussing over the past few years, most notably creating a video that will replace the mandatory information sessions for candidates and starting development on a paper-free electronic voting system.
I have not held a previous position in RPI’s Senate, but this does not deter me from knowing that I am well qualified for this position. Heavily researching our Student Senate, I have acquainted myself with their past projects and meetings and talked with its current and past members to make sure this position is right for me. Without a doubt, I have full confidence to lead and help progress as Grand Marshal.
3. List your campus activities, including levels of involvement, positions held, and awards received.
Beyond Student Government, I’ve been a Physics II TA, a founding member and contributor of the Debate Club, helping them establish club status, write their club constitution, and grow their membership. Additionally, I’ve recently become an agent of WeR. I’ve been a member of Rensselaer Student Association for two years and served on two Hall Councils, working closely with Residence Life staff with a focus on building campus community through programming in the residence halls. Within RSA, I’ve been publicity director for the WNDS Hall Council and an active member of the North Hall Council.
Besides the Student Senate, my main activities have revolved around the various sustainability initiatives taking place around campus. During my Freshman and Sophomore years I was an active member of the Vasudha Living and Learning Community. This is a themed housing group for first and second year students dedicated to Earth, Energy, and the Environment. Since my sophomore year, I have also been a member of Dr. Kim Fortun’s Fracking Research Group, which is focused on investigating the societal effects of hydraulic fracturing and educating the public. The presentation of this research won me an Honorable Mention at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. This year, I continue to contribute to the Research Group and have started assisting with research in Dr. Boylen’s laboratory, but I also have become involved in Earth Week, working to invite other colleges in the area to our school to participate in the many sustainability oriented events. I have become involved with the Grand Marshal Week Committee as well. Since my appointment to 2015 Senator, I have also served on the 2015 Class Council organizing talent shows, raising funds, and establishing our highly successful a Person of the Week program.
As a member of Rensselaer’s Red & White Student Organization, I serve as an ambassador of the Institute to represent the student body, alumni, and community. Within this organization, I am Vice-President for Membership. With this position, I help strengthen the bonds between members by holding team-building exercises and diverse events throughout the semester. I keep track of membership performance and help them reach their full potential as an active member.
As a member of the Greek Community at Rensselaer, I currently serve as President of Pi Kappa Alpha. I am proud to be a brother of this chapter, but also grateful to be a member of this community. A lot of great effort has been made by chapters and members recently and I love how organizations continually strive to do better each year. I enjoyed how this opportunity has given me chance to work closely with Greeks, independents, and the administration to accomplish challenging goals—fundraising, community service, internal or external changes of Greek Life at Rensselaer. Positions that I have held within my chapter include: external vice-president, documentation chairman, and co-public relations chairman.
Over the previous summer, I worked for Rensselaer and the First-Year Experience Office as a Student Orientation Advisor. Trained by the Administration and staff members at Rensselaer, I helped transition the next generation of diverse students to RPI’s culture and resources that are made available for students.
4. Name three short-term (within your term of office) goals and three long-term goals (beyond your term of office) that you have for the Senate.
Within my term of office, I aim to use my administrative connections to bring current Senate projects—primarily the Car Sharing Initiative and Prescription Delivery Proposal—to completion and wrapping up any loose ends left last year.
I will connect with the administration and Residence Life to provide student input into damaged living environments, with a focus on Rensselaer Apartment Housing Complexes (RAHPs) and Quad.
Finally, I will begin a steady expansion of a project-based committee structure to the entire Senate, emphasizing the creation of dedicated task forces for projects of significant magnitude. These task forces will be proactive in reaching out, giving students and Senators opportunities to focus directly on issues they care about.
As for long term goals, I’d like to work towards higher quality campus food; this discussion will begin in my term through student input, developed professionally through research into student concerns, comparison to sister schools, and close conversation with relevant administration. We’ll focus on providing higher quality food as an incentive to live on campus, in alignment with the administration’s CLASS Initiative.
I would also like to see closer relationships between the Student and Faculty Senates for stronger student input into important projects and policy decisions. Moving toward this goal, I will aim for a once-per-semester meeting between the Student Senate Cabinet and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.
Finally, I’d like a rework of the Senate project process to be more student-oriented by encouraging groups to approach the Senate, and using our resources to assist their efforts. I’ll begin this process in my term by touring meetings of clubs, Greeks, others, and implementing an appointment-scheduling system for students to reach senators directly. As we are made aware of specific issues students or clubs are passionate about and interested in pursuing, they will be invited to speak before the Senate, and Senators may be assigned to help them directly. Should the project be of sufficient magnitude, the Senate may provide the student with additional direct support, forming a project-based task-force to support their efforts.
Over the course of my term as Grand Marshal, there are several projects I would like to complete and several changes in the Senate’s structure that I would like make. One of the first would be to set a new precedent by filling Committee Chairman positions by putting out an open call to the entire student body. All applicants, senator or not, would have to interview for the positions and would be chosen solely based on their qualifications. This will lead to fresh perspectives coming before the senate and much stronger committee chairs.
Another change I would like to make is establishing the position of Senate Historian. Over the past year, there were many times I wished that the Senate had a resource it could use to check facts and establish historical contexts so that it could make more informed decisions. A historian would be responsible for investigating any questions that may arise about past Senate actions by going through archived documents such as old Senate motions and old Polytechnic Newspapers. He or she would also be responsible for ensuring that all the Senate’s newer records would also be archived so that those that succeed us can learn from our triumphs and failures.
A third change would be inviting greater involvement in the Senate proceedings from other student groups in order to ensure that the Senate is effectively voicing and acting upon student concerns. For example, when the Union Executive Board members come before the Senate to be approved, I would invite as many students as possible to the meeting so that more informed questions from more perspectives can be asked of the appointees. I would also like to reestablish a working relationship with the Student Sustainability Task Force (a club that was once a Senate subcommittee) so that the issue of campus sustainability remains a priority. On a similar note, I would want to establish relationships with other groups with causes that affect student life such as the Rensselaer Pride Alliance, the Black Students Alliance, and so on by inviting them to send members to be a part of Senate committees.
In the longer term, what I would like to see most is more activism on campus by the students. This can be done by making the Senate more interested in “bigger picture” activism such as environmental, energy, and civil rights causes, just to name a few. I would steer the Senate in this direction by placing more emphasis on these causes and involving the groups already working on them in the Senate’s affairs.
I would also like to change the culture of the Student Senate to one that is more inclusive and welcoming of outside opinions. This starts simply by extending as many invitations to meetings as possible to students and student groups that might be interested in the Senate’s work and then treating them with the utmost respect and dignity, no matter what their opinions may be.
Lastly, I want to promote a culture of respect and understanding between the different governing bodies on campus including the Executive Board, Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Association, Faculty Senate, and so on. This is so that the different groups can be more knowledgeable of one another and feel comfortable working with each other.
Short-term: After connecting with previous Grand Marshals and their experiences, I will reach out to recent alumni about their time at Rensselaer and what they would have wanted to see differently, or seen continued, during their time here. I want to build relations with other student body presidents from different campuses about their goal, current issues, and successful projects to see if we can implement something new to our community. I will commit time with our campus program directors and student leaders, i.e. Residence Life staff members, to see how we can actively change Rensselaer positively and progressively.
Long-term: Setting the bar higher for the next GM and Student Senate to run this school. If elected, I want my successor to have very large shoes to fill. The image of Senate will change so that it can be relatable and more accessible to the student body. I aim to accomplish a large-scale campus project- similar to the Green roof near the Student Union. This project may not be completed during my year as GM, but I would see it through until the end. By doing this, I hope to set the bar a little bit higher for the next Grand Marshal. Also, student pride and tradition is very vital for this Institute. To keep these two strong, I want to collaborate with Senate, student leaders, and Administration on new programs that involve the students who are not currently being reached.
5. In your own words, what do you feel are the roles of the Grand Marshal and the Student Senate?
The Student Senate works with the administration, and ensures student concerns are heard and dealt with adequately to guarantee the best experience possible for RPI students. It’s the Grand Marshal’s job to both drive and spearhead these student issues; he guides Senate projects towards success, reaching out to students to connect and relate with them, hear their concerns, and represent their interests directly to the administration. The Grand Marshal also has to look to the future, using his experience and understanding the Senate process to focus on enhancing the Senate’s ability to improve the Rensselaer community well past his term.
The Student Senate has a great deal of authority and influence when compared to other clubs, what must be remembered is that the Student Senate is not analogous to the United States Senate, though it has very much been modeled off of it. The power of the Student Senate comes from the fact that it speaks for all 7,000 members of the student body and that it can put those 7,000 voices into the ears of the administration. It is also forgotten sometimes that the Senate is a body of servant-leaders whose first priority must always be the wants and needs of the student body that elected them. Therefore, it is the Student Senate’s Role to use this power in order to further the interests of students. The Grand Marshal has a few ceremonial duties, but the role of the Grand Marshal is largely an extension of the Senate’s role. The Grand Marshal does preside over the Senate meetings, chooses its leadership, and sets the Senate’s priorities. The Grand Marshal also must meet with the administration and occasionally the Board of Trustees. In the same way the Senate speaks for the Student Body, the Grand Marshal speaks for the Senate in front of these people and therefore he or she is tasked with representing the entire student body to them.
The role of Grand Marshal is to bridge the gap between the student body and administration: their concerns, questions, and interests. Keeping students connected, supporting campus-wide events, and motivating the community helps our traditions and progress continue to thrive for future generations. The GM and Student Senate help channel the voice of the students here at Rensselaer. The different Senate committees cover all aspects of RPI and are used to facilitate healthy student life and an enjoyable experience while at this Institute.
6. What do you think are the incumbent Grand Marshal’s strengths and weaknesses? What would you do to improve upon them if you are elected?
Chuck’s strength was the level head he brought to negotiation and his willingness to adapt to difficult circumstances, the Senate met challenges this year with regards to the Greek representation issue. In the face of difficult decisions, Chuck made reasoned choices without undue pressure. Chuck’s weakness, as with the Senate as a whole, was transparency—while the Senate was extremely productive, there was no concerted, broad effort on the GM’s part to ensure our efforts were made available to the general public. While Chuck did an excellent job working to alleviate this situation by reforming the practice of inviting RPI TV to Senate meetings, further steps need to be taken.
As Grand Marshal, my cabinet and I will make ourselves more available for feedback and discussion, regularly visiting clubs and Greek houses to hear their concerns, make conversation, and gain their insight into ongoing projects. We will also be making regular social media posts to discuss our work with students. I’ll revive the lost practice of collaborative outreach events between the Senate, Residence Life, and spirit organizations, making the Senate more accessible to students in residence halls. Finally, I’ll create an appointment scheduling system and online suggestion forum for students to connect directly with their Senators to give any feedback, ideas, concerns, or simply to wage general conversation.
I’ll also be moving beyond outreach, with a greater focus on student engagement and involvement. I will create a process for the Senate to support students directly. Should students passionate about a cause or project developed outside the Senate connect with senators in any way, the Senate will be able to appoint an individual senator to coach them through the administrative proposal process, and drive their project toward success. If the issue is substantial enough, the Senate may offer to appoint the student responsible head of a dedicated task-force, pulling together senators and other students from different areas of student life to lend support to the project effort.
Charles Carletta’s main strength lies in his very clear vision of how the Senate should be. Many of the senators share this vision and as such it has led to a very focused Senate. Unfortunately, it has given the GM an unusually large amount of influence over the opinions of the Senators. I believe that it has also discouraged dissenting opinions from being argued which in turn has led to a more single-minded Senate. To change this, I will encourage Senators to take responsibility for the motions they move and stand up for their opinions, no matter how unpopular they are.
Grand Marshal has always been strong with its image on campus, relation with administration, and organization of the Student Senate. I aim to continue these traits by attending many campus events, maintain professionalism with members of the Institute, and pushing the limits and capabilities of each member of Senate to their fullest. But, there has been the weakness of poor transparency with the students on the campus and what Senate and Grand Marshal work on throughout the year. Unless the student reads the issues of The Poly or watches recordings of the weekly minutes, they don’t get informed. Students care about their time here, we just have to give them a reason to be more involved- to show what is accessible as resources.
7. Looking forward, what do you see as possible issues facing student government this next year?
In addition to the transparency gap mentioned above, the Senate has struggled with its representation of special interests, primarily among Greeks and graduates. Regarding graduates, I will prioritize maintaining communication lines between the Senate and Graduate Council, attending occasional grad events and meetings. I also plan to reopen the Senate Academic Affairs Committee’s partnership with Advising Learning Assistance Center, promoting greater support for students in difficult courses. This project may open the door to greater opportunities for graduate students in need of TA positions.
Following distrust generated by the Greek representation conflict, it will be a priority of the next Senate to focus on building balanced relations with the Greek community. I will attend two IFC meetings per semester, to hear concerns expressed by each individual house, and gain any Greek insight into Senate projects to ensure we’re proceeding in the best interests of Greeks and independents alike. I plan to require committee chairs and leaders of project task-forces to reach out to Greek presidents to gain perspective and insight as they begin new projects.
Regarding specific projects, I will promote additional opportunities for community service, granting Greeks, honor societies, and other service oriented groups the opportunity to leave something tangible behind for the city of Troy.
In the next year, I see some of the issues dealt with this year resurfacing. The issue of the Sodexo worker benefits being cut may return. Also, in light of the Greek and Independent senator issue, it is essential that the issue of which constituencies require their own senators be discussed. Based on the activities of other schools, it is very likely that the movement to divest from fossil fuels will appear as well.
Lack of student involvement and desire can always be an issue each year. The average student may not feel connected to the Senate or even know what they do throughout the year. It is a task that can be fixed, but it needs the full efforts from every member in the Senate. I feel like this is a pressing issue that will continue into next year, but I’m up for the challenge of working with Senate to try new approaches to reach out to the student body.
8. What is your opinion of the current communication lines between the administration and the student body? What plans do you have to maintain or improve them?
The Senate’s relationship with the administration is stronger than ever. However, the average student’s awareness of these ties, or access to these resources, is incredibly limited. As Grand Marshal, I want to use the Senate’s resources to connect students directly to the administration. I will continue to prioritize the growth of the Student Life Pathways program, run by the athletic and student life departments in conjunction with the Student Senate, bringing officials from the student life department into the dining areas for open dialogue with students.
As mentioned above, I plan to implement a process for the Senate to support student-initiated projects and connect them directly with the administration—students passionate about a cause or problem they’ve been having may connect with the Senate. The Senate can then assign an individual Senator as a liaison and supporter, helping them to develop any relevant proposal and bring them into meetings with appropriate administrators, where I, as Grand Marshal, and the assigned student liaison, will support the student in advocating directly for their project or issue.
The lines of communication directly between administrator and student depend largely on the preferences and jobs of each individual administrator. Dr. Sams, for example, as the vice president for Student Life, has made himself largely available to the student body whereas some of the other VPs are, for various reasons, less available. This is why the Senate is crucial. The Senate is more able to access these persons to give suggestions, get opinions, and so on. Conversely, the Senate is often the body contacted whenever an administrator feels the need to get direct feedback from students. As the system works now, there is nothing stopping students from bringing their concerns before the Senate so that the administrators can hear it and often senators will go up to students to get input and feedback. It works as well as could be expected but this could be improved by encouraging students to speak to the senate on the behalf of their clubs and other organizations.
Currently, they are acceptable. They are there, but not as visible and lucid as students would like to see. The administration needs to be able to take time to hear the needs of the student body. Even if Senate can facilitate a student’s voice to the administration, it could be stronger hearing if it came directly from a group of students with the help of the Senate. It is great that the administration takes time to inform the members of Senate on current topics or discussions, but they need to also reach out to the student body as well. I believe that if students feel a conscious effort being made by the administration, with the help of the Senate, it would truly improve these communication lines.
9. What do you see as the current purpose of the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative? What role should students have in its implementation?
The CLASS Initiative is the administration’s comprehensive focus to maintain a sense of community among students as they advance through the class years. Essentially, CLASS exists to attempt to combat the dissipation of enthusiasm and inclusiveness that sometimes occurs as students diversify their academic and social focuses, and begin to go their own way. This is approached by promoting community among class years and residential clusters.
CLASS also works to connect the academic environment with the learning environment, promoting living and learning communities such as Vasudha, Wellness House, Leadership House, Design and Arts Housing, and Ground Zero. CLASS also seeks to promote more live-in residential deans and staff, as well as additional classes taught in residence hall classrooms.
The administration has been working to improve and expand CLASS in a variety of ways, from expanded theme housing to support for students abroad, to the creation of additional upperclass living spaces. If the program is going to succeed and remain in anyone’s interests it absolutely needs student input, as it’s ultimately a student-centric program. Our role in its implementation is to give suggestions into CLASS goals and guarantee student interests are reflected in program specifics.
The CLASS initiative’s role is to give more structure and purpose to the time students spend outside of the classroom. I myself am a beneficiary of the CLASS initiative, having my first year at RPI being defined by the Vasudha Living and Learning Community.
Naturally, students understand student life at Rensselaer far better than the best administrator ever could, so their input is essential to the improvement of the program. The Senate could assist with this effort by keeping the school administration abreast of any questions and concerns students have with it.
As a past Student Orientation Advisor, I got to see the CLASS initiative in action first-hand. CLASS truly sets Rensselaer apart from other schools and how they transition in first-year students. The six key growth areas personal, professional, leadership, and cultural development, the arts, community and communiversity, covers all spectrums of life here on campus. It helps show all students that Rensselaer is a community to help with any needs of diverse and unique individuals. I highly promote what this initiative does and RPI would not be the same today without it. So, what role should students have in its implementation? I believe as much as possible! The programs for students are usually led by students and staff members. The whole concept of CLASS is for the students’ benefit. Everything from planning, implementing, and progressing with this initiative should revolve around the students’ input and needs.