Editorial notebooks

Running the Union, literally

Keeping busy with numerous tasks while making bank

One of the greatest opportunities I’ve had as a student here at RPI is being a student employee in the Rensselaer Union. It’s one of the best opportunities you have as a current student to gain some of the intangible experience you need in order to be a competitive applicant for jobs. RPI imparts onto you, in one way or another, the technical knowledge for your chosen career in the many hours spent in and outside the classroom, but you need more than just technical knowledge in order to be successful in the world outside RPI. One of the awesome things about working for the Union is the fact that there are ample opportunities to hone your leadership skills. Most of the student employee teams in the Union are not directly led by professional full-time staff, but rather by a student coordinator (with ample professional staff guidance and advice of course). I quickly learned how to balance many different requests and get everything done as efficiently as possible, which is something that best comes with experience.

Specifically, I am the team lead for the team of student systems administrators that is responsible for the upkeep of many of the Union-provided technical services that you use everyday. I also work extremely closely with a team of student developers. We run the Club Management System, the Union website, and provide web space for clubs to use in order to host their own sites. In fact, any club officer of a funded club who went to the recent training session had an opportunity to help test out a new feature to submit purchase requisitions online. All clubs who want money from the Union submit a budget at the end of the fall semester using CMS. We’re constantly working with the Union Admin Office and the Executive Board so that the application can best serve everyone’s needs. The advantage to having a custom developed Club Management System is that we use our “big data” to answer questions that the Union has about its own operations.

Unique to student employment in the Union is the high level of ownership that students take in the daily operations of the Union. At night and on weekends, students are the ones who are in charge of the building and help run events. Even during the day, the first contact for people around campus with general inquiries will probably be the student worker at the front desk. A call to the Union’s campus extension is very likely to be answered by a student who can answer most of your questions or direct you to the right person.

As far as my team is concerned, we all feel a sense of ownership on our issues that is unique to the student-run structure of the Union. We all keep around eight office hours a week, but often clock in remotely in order to keep our projects moving toward completion. Another thing that sets us apart from a lot of other student IT workers is the fact that we’re allowed complete freedom in managing our own technical infrastructure. Division of the Chief Information Officer staff provide us plenty of advice and lay down general policies, but the students are the ones who ultimately have root access to the equipment and who are responsible for the technical decisions at the end of the day.

I definitely encourage any student interested in making some money on the side and who wants to gain invaluable real-world experience to check out the Rensselaer Union page on the Center for Career Professional Development’s JobLink to see what opportunities are open at this time.