Student Senate year in review

THE 45TH SENATE HAD it’s last General Body Meeting on Thursday, April 9.

To conclude their last Senate meeting, the 45th Student Senate looked at their year in review. Each committee chair presented to the Senate on what they achieved, what is still in the works, and what they hope to accomplish the following year.

First was Shoshana Rubinstein ’16 on the Union Annual Report. The purpose of the UAR has been widely publicized; it documents the purchases and developments in the Rensselaer Union, details the fiscal year’s expenses, income, and subsidies, then justifies the Student Activity Fee recommendation. Although there was a rough patch, all goals set for the year were achieved. For the next year, the UAR committee aims to distribute a pamphlet explaining the distribution of money and create a UAR infographic to better understand the UAR.

Lexi Rindone ’15 presented the Student Life Committee’s work. Their mission this year was to “promote student rights, well-being, and life quality.” Continuing the subcommittee structure established last year, SLC made significant progress. The student health subcommittee made progress on bringing a pharmacy to the Rensselaer Union by securing a request for proposal to be sent out by Procurement Services. SLC also followed through on last year’s proposal by creating a Rensselaer Union—Crossgates Mall van service, which has been very positively received. Their residence life subcommittee also created a report and set of recommendations that have been officially adopted as guiding documents for residence hall renovations for the next four summers. The RPI administration agreed to release a specific list of improvements that were a result of the Senate’s work. In the long-term, the SLC aims to complete the pharmacy project, continue to work on their residence hall access proposal, and expand the current van service to other highly requested areas in the Capital District.

Paul Ilori ’17 gave a brief presentation of what the Rules and Elections Committee accomplished, since most of the information is already well known. The biggest change this year was finally bringing electronic voting to Grand Marshal Week. In theory, with this system, vote totals will be generated quicker, and R&E members won’t need to pull all-nighters to count paper ballots. R&E also assisted in the design of the Petition and Referendum Handbook. Ilori’s main goal for the remainder of the year is to get through GM Week 2015 and have “no more stupid violations.”

Marcus Flowers ’16 presented the Academic Affairs Committee report. Their mission is to improve and promote academic services for students. After two years of difficulty, this year’s AAC coordinated with the Faculty Senate, increasing student input into faculty actions and decisions. The committee worked on the Research Index, an online listing of research projects and available positions that is now endorsed by the Student Senate, and a course syllabi collection that has been officially endorsed by the Faculty Senate; each of these projects is pending final website construction. Other ongoing projects including student representatives to academic departments, and investigation of the drop deadline to determine whether it should be moved later in the semester. These projects are still in the works, but progress is being made. The AAC also hopes to work on a specialized coterminal student orientation, Blackboard training for professors, expanded software training sessions, and coordinating academic and athletic scheduling.

Justin Etzine ’18 presented for Web Technologies Group on behalf of the WTG chair Gabe Perez ’16. WTG handled development and technical deployment of the RPI Petitions website pursued by Grand Marshal Kyle Keraga ’15 in conjunction with the R&E Committee. Flagship Docs is under works to make fixes to viewing permissions and general user interface. In the next term, WTG plans to work on RPI EPIC, a consolidated event calendar for RPI clubs, organizations, and the surrounding community, followed by a prototype developed by Keraga, Kathryn McGuire ’15, and Avraham Weinstock ’16 in Software Design and Documentation. Finally, WTG will pursue development of the Research Index website and possibly the syllabus collection on behalf of AAC.

Graduate Senator Jen Church explained the role of the Student Government Communications Committee and their achievements this year. This year SGC succeeded in making Senate business more transparent, focusing on social media and postering, both of which were considered a very strong success and have increased the Senate’s visibility. For the next year, the committee hopes to continue growing transparency by expand their use of social media, relying more on their Facebook page and the new Student Government website, and less on Reddit. Church also hopes to have more in-person outreach to the community, so that students can better know the faces of their senators.

Michael Han ’16 presented the work of the Facilities and Services Committee. This year, FSC submitted a proposal for a Green Revolving Fund which has been approved by the administration for a pilot. They created an online form for FIXX, allowing students to easily submit concerns with RPI facilities. Through the feedback they received from their parking survey, they’ve worked with the Institute’s Parking and Transportation department to secure a pilot program for a parking pass for the large parking garage near Academy Hall—presenting a huge potential to alleviate concerns with campus parking space. Finally, FSC acquired funding for the purchase of 15 new picnic tables, to be assembled by student organizations later this semester. Next year FSC wants to work with the data they have gathered for parking and transportation concerns to improve the RPI shuttle system based on student’s responses.

“Head Chef” Joe Venusto ’17 gave the Hospitality Services Advisory Committee year in review presentation. HSAC was created following a Grand Marshal campaign promise to work with Hospitality Services on improving the quality of dining services on the RPI campus. On a small scale, HSAC has become very directly involved with specific food quality discussions in the dining halls, as well as food programming. Significantly, HSAC succeeded in improving the comment card system with a digital survey, to be released by Hospitality Services. HSAC also assisted in the generation of meal plans for 2015—16, and the creation of long-term student goals that have been endorsed by the Faculty Senate. Work towards these goals, which include a sliding-scale meal plan and an all-flex plan, is ongoing, and while the return of guest swipes was not ideal, the committee has stated they support looser recognition in the future.

Finally, Keraga presented on the progress he and Senate Vice Chairman Tina Gilliland ’15 had made as leaders of the Senate. The Senate has followed through on Keraga’s campaign promise for a managerial overhaul for committees. A focus on project-based taskforces and committee publicity tripled the number of members from 40 to approximately 120. Numerous transition documents will be used to carry on the Senate’s success, publicity documents including an overview of the Senate’s committee structure, one-page releases describing the committees’ projects, and will help the committees remain high profile.

Keraga presented on the RPI Petitions site; a personal project of his following his campaign, created collaboratively with R&E, Web Tech, and Rochester Institute for Technology. RPI Petitions allows the Senate to support student causes and ideas. This site has already shown success, as two petitions were presented at the most recent Senate meeting. The site presents a massive potential for growth in the Student Senate, and Keraga hopes the collaboration with RIT can continue. Gilliland partnered Keraga’s presentation by giving a brief overview of the new and revitalized Student Government website, which may remain a centerpiece for future communication. Finally, Keraga presented on his successes meeting with Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson. Through a strong relationship with the Office of the President, the outgoing Grand Marshal and President of the Union are now working on re-establishing a schedule for regular meetings with Jackson. Furthermore, after hearing the Senate’s preliminary thoughts, the president has given student government a go-ahead to investigate how to begin once again expanding residence hall access while maintaining safety. This initiative will be pursued working with administration next year.

Keraga concluded the report by presenting his recommendations to the Senate: to continue using the subdivision structure with stricter communication mechanisms, to push the petition site and continue to streamline its progress, and to establish unique branding and an activity fair position for Senate committees to supplement their growth as organizations, encouraging them to exist at a higher level of campus awareness. Finally, Keraga and Gilliland thanked the Senate for all their hard work during a long Senate term.