Top Hat

Leave your mark on campus organizations

Plan ahead, ensure sustainability of club operations

Happy Wednesday, RPI! This week, second in our academic semester, marks the beginning of February. At this point, there are approximately ten weeks left in my term as Grand Marshal. Our projects are ongoing, and there is plenty of progress to be made before we wrap things up, but the time has come to begin to think forward, and consider one of the most difficult parts of student leadership: the transition stage.

In my time at RPI, transition planning and visioning has been simultaneously the most important and often least considered phases of the student leadership process. As such, it has become one of the greatest struggles for student leaders. Some groups have succeeded greatly; the Rensselaer Union Executive Board has a long history of professionalism, maintaining a steady series of improvements across several administrations through paperwork and heavy documentation, passing down detailed instructions and setting budgetary precedent. Other groups have much room to improve in this area and the Senate is among them.

When considering transition planning, a leader must concern themselves not merely with present efforts, but with long-term visioning for the organization they’ve poured their free time into for a semester, a year, or more. When declaring my candidacy for Grand Marshal, it was my goal not merely to help the Senate drive change in the present, but to put in place mechanisms that would allow future Senates, and future Grand Marshals, to build off our efforts. I promised involvement, communication, and efficiency of leadership within the Senate; to this end, the Senate softly adopted a committee structure emphasizing issue-based task forces, encouraging expanded leadership opportunities while involving more students in the Senate’s operations. As this program has been a success, we aim to establish it more formally in the Senate’s bylaws towards the end of our term. Each student leader should begin to go through a similar process now: considering what mark they want to leave on their organization, how to ensure that their successors will have an easier job, and reach greater heights.

Another key component in succession planning is self-assessment. I find myself evaluating my platform goals, assessing how well we’ve been able to reach them, and recognizing where things fell through the cracks and what needs to be improved in the future to increase the effectiveness of student leadership. Many core topics—residence hall updates, cooperation with Hospitality Services, revitalized communication, and a petition website allowing students to gain support for their ideas—have met a great deal of success this year. Yet for others, it remains to be seen how far they’ll progress. Towards the end of my term, I will publish a self-assessment reflecting on my campaign platform, and leaving advice for my successor.

Finally, it is important not merely to understand your organizational vision, but to formalize it; far too often ideas with great potential aren’t written down and end up lost in transition. My goal is to leave a document containing project ideas, advice on steps to prepare Senate committees over the summer, and topics a Grand Marshal should closely consider as any given year proceeds, as well as a guide to committee chairship, and a communication protocol. Each of these items will ensure the Senate has a smooth transition, and hopefully become more efficient over time. With the foresight and the patience to document, your organization will build up a knowledge base that will give it a greater degree of success, knowledge, and ultimately, stability.

With the patience, professionalism, and wisdom to ensure a strong transition, a leader may leave a strong mark on their organization. This phase is an opportunity: the chance every leader has to drive not only the present, but the future of an organization. Though tiring and patience-trying, it is a golden opportunity: remember to welcome it with open arms. If you have any questions about succession planning, transitioning, or leadership in general, you may reach me at gm@rpi.edu.