President of the Union Q&A

1. Why do you want to be President of the Union?

Erin Amarello
I love RPI, and I love our student run, student funded student Union. During my time on the Executive Board, I have grown in both my love of the Union and in my knowledge of how we make it work. Every student here has a passion and mine is helping others find theirs. I would like to become the President of the Union because I believe that the student body needs a president that understands the importance of procedures but realizes that some situations aren’t black and white. I want to return the focus of the Union from the ultimate bottom line to the experience of the students who support the Union with their activity fee. I want to take the time to fully explore what students want from their Union, what students feel the Union lacks, and how we can get them more involved. There is no better feeling than giving back to a community that has given so much to you and if you give me the chance I know I will do a great job.

Frank Abissi
I’m passionate about working with clubs. I enjoy assisting clubs in creating a budget that helps them grow as an organization. Our Union’s clubs are what set it apart from other student unions, and I’m proud to be a part of upholding that tradition. My best work on the Executive Board has happened because I strive to have an open and productive relationship with the clubs I represent.
I want to be President of the Union because I want to continue that work at its highest level. The Union faces many obstacles going into its 125th year, and I have the experience, dedication, and drive to take on those challenges.

2. Describe your experience in student government.

Erin Amarello
My love for student government began in high school as a representative, treasurer, and president. I love giving back to the communities I am a part of and I discovered that an involved and informed student government can make a huge difference in the experience of everyone in the school. Here at RPI I learned of Student Government through another organization, Red & White where I met the President of the Union at the time, Nikki Gallant, who encouraged me to get involved in the next year. I then served on the board under the next two Presidents, and have loved every minute of it. Serving on the E-Board has given me the opportunity to learn the Union from the inside out, meet countless club leaders, and make a real difference on campus. I am also a member of the Marketing, Advertising, and Promotions committee. We put together the club officer socials this year which were a huge success and will be continued next semester. Knowing how much work and commitment it takes to make our Union what it is just made me love it more and want to give more to make the Union the best it can be.

Frank Abissi
During my freshman year, I was on the E-Board and I worked on the Union Annual Report, the Business Ops Committee, and Rules and Elections. At the end of the year, I ran for Independent Council and was elected IC Senator for my sophomore year.
As a senator, I served on a lot of committees and started a few projects, such as the Senate’s Dinner in Commons event. For the spring semester, I served as chair of the Facilities and Services Committee (which at the time was called FFA). Our most important project was the CDTA #286 bus route revision, where we worked with student groups, Greek houses, and Institute administrators to create a new bus route tailored to students’ needs.
This past year, I’ve been the Senate-Executive Board Liaison and have been in charge of the Union Annual Report for FY15. I also chair the Senate’s Constitution Committee, which has worked to revise the Union’s foundational document. Apart from those responsibilities, I’ve worked on other committee projects, such as the media upgrades for rooms in the Union.

3. List your campus activities, including levels of involvement, positions held, and awards received.

Erin Amarello
I was selected to be on the Union Executive Board for two years in a row. I am a member of the varsity women’s lacrosse team, and a co-captain. I have been named to the Liberty League All-Academic team each season. I was named defensive player of the week on March 3. I am a member of the Marketing, Advertising, and Promotions committee. I am a member of the Red & White student organization; I was member of the month some time last year. I am also a member of the White Key Society.

Frank Abissi

  • Executive Board (Fall 2011–Spring 2012, Spring 2013–present)
    • Class of 2015 Representative (Fall ’11–Spring ’12)
      • Business Operations Committee
      • Union Annual Report Committee
      • Rules and Elections Committee
    • Senate-Executive Board Liaison (Spring ’13–present)
      • Union Annual Report Committee (Chair)
      • Policies Committee
  • Independent Council (Spring ’12–present)
    • Senator (Spring ’12–Spring ‘13)
    • President (Spring ’13-present)
  • Student Senate (Spring ’12–present)
    • Independent Council senator
      • Academic Affairs Committee
      • Senate Communications Committee
      • Facilities and Services Committee
      • Union Annual Report Committee
      • Bylaws Revision Committee
      • Rules and Elections Committee
    • Facilities and Services Committee Chair (Spring ’13)
    • Parliamentarian (Spring ’13–present)
    • Constitution Committee Chair (Fall ’13–present)
  • Red Army (member)

4. Name three short-term (within your term of office) goals and three long-term goals (beyond your term of office) you have for the Executive Board.

Erin Amarello
Short Term:
Improve communication between the student government and the student body. Meeting minutes will be published in multiple easy to find locations, large policy changes will be sent out to club officers for input beforehand, and I will hold open office hours weekly for people to bring their concerns to me directly.
Continue the new club probation/sunsetting policy. This will give more opportunity to new clubs and regain the resources spent on clubs that are no longer functioning or meeting student’s needs.
Creation of an athletics committee. This will improve the long term planning of athletics and large changes in their budgets. This committee will contain E-board members, athletes, and general student body members.
Long Term:
Put a plan in place for the long term health of the Union facilities. The Union facilities are aging and we have just begun thoughts on what the future holds for the facilities whether it will be rebuilding, remodeling, expanding, etc.
Increase student involvement and knowledge about the Student Union. There are many students who have little to no knowledge about what goes on in Student Government, especially the Executive Board. They do not know where their money goes, how much it is, or how they can contribute to their Student Union. With an increase in knowledge will come an increase in participation and that will help the Union grow.
Creation of a club event calendar with a newsfeed and information about meeting locations. Along with this will come updates to club websites which will be linked to the calendar. It is currently difficult for students to get involved in activities if they miss the activity fair in the fall, and this needs to be changed.

Frank Abissi
For the short term, I’d like to see a greater and more meaningful level of student input into how Activity Fee dollars are spent. Part of this is reflected in my platform; I want to create a Programming Committee to hear student input into what kinds of larger events we want to bring to campus. I also want the Executive Board to take a more active role in finding out what students think about large capital purchases and other significant expenditures.
Within the next year, I want to increase visibility for club and student projects, and expand the opportunities for clubs to recruit and students to get involved in a club. If elected, I’d like to create a website for clubs and students to share their the ideas and projects that they have in the works, so that students can get involved in projects they’re interested in. This will also present opportunities for club collaboration and more interaction among clubs.
If elected, I’d pick Board members that are comfortable debating the issues that come before us. A Board that doesn’t deliberate over budgeting decisions isn’t giving the process the attention it deserves. This year’s Board excelled at debate, but there is always room to improve. I also want to place a renewed priority on the relationship between clubs and their E-Board representatives. In order for the Board to make good decisions, it has to understand each club’s situation, and E-Boarders need to be knowledgeable about their clubs in order to properly advocate for them.
In the long term, I think the Executive Board needs to find ways to provide support to clubs that have large equipment purchases that occur every few years. weR Gold is a great program that can certainly help with this, but it won’t be enough to cover some of the purchases that need to be made. The Board should work with clubs to prioritize the equipment purchases that are most important to clubs.
The Board should also be looking at long-term solutions for the Union’s physical resources. The Union administers the Mueller Center, Armory, ‘87 Gym, and the Playhouse in addition to the Union building. We need to determine how we can maximize the effectiveness of all of those spaces to support clubs and student activities.
Finally, the Board should consider how best to balance increases in the Activity Fee with increases in club and varsity athletics subsidies. Ideally, every club would get everything they need, but the fiscal realities of the Activity Fee don’t allow for that. The Activity Fee has increased every year because our clubs are successful and we want to continue that success. However, the Activity Fee does contribute to the overall financial burden of students, and we should be considerate of that burden when budgeting.

5. In your own words, what do you feel are the roles of the President of the Union and the Union Executive Board?

Erin Amarello
The President of the Union and the Executive Board work hand in hand to make sure that students here at RPI get the most out of their activity fee. Through electing the PU and making proposals to the E-Board students make decisions about their own activities and programs, a power few schools allow their students to possess. The role of the PU is to take the activity fee and student input and create a balanced, consistent, and coherent budget which makes the most of the activity fee the students have paid. The PU must encourage club development while balancing the facility needs. The Executive Board members have two primary responsibilities. The first is to get to know their assigned clubs so they can advocate for them in the budgeting process and explain why they need what they are asking for. The second is to work with their fellow Board members to allocate Union resources as effectively as possible, satisfying the needs of all members of the Union. As President of the Union I will recruit the best Board members possible and educate them on their duties so they can serve the student body to the best of their abilities. I will the work with my peers to create a budget to satisfy the needs of all the students and give them all the opportunities to excel in their activities.

Frank Abissi
The Executive Board is in charge of the Union budget, and it has a responsibility to administer that budget to maximize the benefit to students. That means making sure that funds collected through the Activity Fee are used properly, and seeing that money goes to programs and events that benefit students and enhance their experience at RPI.
The President of the Union is responsible for ensuring the due diligence of the Executive Board during the budgeting process and at regular Executive Board meetings. This means that the President should not offer her or his opinion during deliberations, but should guide the Board so that it analyzes all sides of an issue before coming to a decision.
The President also has the responsibility to represent the Union to the Institute administration. The President advocates for the needs of clubs, and promotes the Union’s activities to administrators and the Board of Trustees.

6. What do you think are the incumbent President of the Union’s strengths and weaknesses? What would you do to improve upon them if you were elected?

Erin Amarello
One of the greatest strengths of Gretchen is that she set policies and revised documents to better reflect the way the Union was currently running, giving better guidelines to those who are to follow her. She set examples and precedents for future Presidents to follow and organized many elements of the Union and the Board which had been previously been undefined.
As far as improvements go I believe that we need to increase communication with the student body. It is the job of the Executive Board to make some tough decisions that affect a large number of students. I believe that before large decisions are made we need to reach out to students more and gather their opinion on the matter before making a final decision. One great example of this is the controversial food policy which will be revisited if I am elected. One of the best ways to communicate is through the committees which are overseen by the Board. Something that all presidents have struggled with are making these committees productive. I will strive to find the most dedicated committee chairs and advise them whenever needed to make sure our committees complete the outreach and projects they set out to accomplish.

Frank Abissi
I don’t think there has ever been a President more dedicated to the job than Gretchen. She’s always on top of whatever issues come before the Board, and she’s never been unprepared for unexpected problems. Gretchen keeps the Board well-informed of the goings-on in the Union, and provides help and advice without micromanaging. One of her most important strengths has been withholding her opinion from E-Board discussions. It has allowed this Board to have thorough debates that analyze issues more effectively, and our votes are rarely unanimous.
There’s always room for improvement; no organization can be perfect, especially not when you have less than a year to operate. I think that, for the Board as a whole, we could have communicated some of our policy changes more effectively. Our appeals process was also time-crunched due to an accelerated budgeting schedule, and we could have done more to accommodate clubs considering the shortened time between budget releases and appeal deadlines. I think that a higher priority on the relationship between a club and their E-Board representative could mitigate issues of misunderstanding and miscommunication.

7. How would you evaluate the current Union budget situation? What do you foresee as future budget concerns?

Erin Amarello
The Union is in a healthy position for the coming year, we have been able to complete multiple large scale projects for Union facilities in the past two years because of the increase in class size of the incoming classes of 2016 and 2017. These larger classes gave us unexpected cash flow which we could then put to immediate use in order for the students who gave us the money to benefit from it as soon as possible. This can be seen in the form of new Union lobby furniture. As long as we keep receiving the amount of students we project or more the Union is in great financial shape.

Frank Abissi
The trend in Union budgets for the past two years has been much more stable than in prior years. Increases in enrollment have led to budget surpluses and the Board has not had to deal with a budget deficit for a while. However, enrollment numbers tend to be cyclical and we shouldn’t depend on large freshman classes every year. We need to be looking out for potential large future costs a few years in advance, and have plans to deal with such costs before they actually occur.

8. What do you see as problems with the Union (in terms of clubs, building operations, et cetera), and what ideas do you have for fixing them?

Erin Amarello
The problem of communication has been addressed year after year and while it is improving there is still work to be done. I would like to create a centralized Union events calendar with only club events/meetings on it. This page should also have links to club websites which need to be updated. I will also post the meeting minutes on a central web location along with budgeting guidelines so everyone knows what is expected and what is currently going on with the Executive Board. I will also hold open office hours for anyone that wants to come speak to me about their ideas or concerns. The Union also struggles with lower participation in our committees which perform very important work for the Union; I plan on using the new constitution, if it is passed by the Student Senate during GM week, to have a larger board with fewer clubs per board member and more board members in each committee.
I think that another problem we are currently dealing with is that we have inactive clubs which need to be retired so that other, new clubs may come take their place. Interests of students are constantly changing, so some clubs don’t have the interest that they used to. Gretchen has done a remarkable job putting the policies in place to make this happen but we need to continue to enforce these policies after she leaves office.

Frank Abissi
We have a lot of clubs that depend on regular replacements to expensive equipment. For example, the Players have a lot of equipment for sound, lighting, etc. Sometimes, this equipment is also available to be used by other Institute departments. In the case of the Players’ lighting equipment, it is used by the Lighting Research Center to teach classes. I think this and similar situations could be partly funded by other Institute departments instead of the Union fronting all the money for the equipment.
Storage and space for clubs is also an issue facing the Union. Currently, in addition to the Union building, the Union manages the Mueller Center, parts of the Armory, the 87 Gym, and the Playhouse. The Executive Board should have an active inventory of clubs’ needs in terms of space, and compare it to the spaces we have now and how they are being used. We should be looking for ways to effectively use the physical resources we have.

9. How do you intend to encourage students to fully utilize the resources of the Union?

Erin Amarello
I think the more students involved in Student Government and in Union committees the more students will be aware of the current events. When students are personally invested in the activities of the Union they are much more likely to participate in the events that are being put on. Currently our most active members are all friends with each other, we need to branch out and get new groups of people involved with the Union. The Union has many different kinds of people within it and we need the different groups to support each other instead of just their own events. By collaborating with groups outside of our own we will begin to draw attention of a whole new pool of possible Union leaders. Every student has a passion, they just need to know that the Union has ways to support them in their pursuit of their passion and their goals outside of academics.

Frank Abissi
As can be read in my platform, I want to create a site where clubs, organizations, and students can post their ideas for projects and what projects they’re currently working on. Students could browse this site and get involved in a project, join a club, or just see what else is out there. Right now, most club advertising and recruiting is during the Activities Fair, but it’s impossible to get a full appreciation for all of the clubs and activities that are available in a three hour time period. I’d like the site to complement the Activities Fair and give clubs a place to recruit and give students opportunities to get involved throughout the whole school year.
I think this idea also provides an excellent opportunity for club collaboration. We have many clubs that work on projects requiring technical skills or expertise, but sometimes members of the club don’t happen to possess those skills. We also have technically focused clubs that enjoy applying their skills to practical issues. There’s a lot of potential for mutually beneficial collaboration among clubs, and I want to create avenues for clubs to form those partnerships.