Candidate Questions

President of the Union candidate profiles

By The Poly April 2, 2018

Why do you want to be President of the Union?

Ida Etemadi

Our Union community has made itself evident as a key pillar of Student Life at RPI. Students come to the Union and find places to express their ideas and collaborate, to study, to exercise, to grab a meal, and to spend time with friends, whether in a club program, while working on a group project, or just chatting until three in the morning. Even outside of the Student Union building, our Union community is still strong and adds to RPI’s student experience in a way that extends past graduation. Over my years on the E-Board, I have loved serving students and clubs, and would love to continue to dedicate my undergraduate career to helping student groups grow and develop. My goal as President of the Union is to create a more organized and stable Union through increased efficiency and transparency of the Executive Board, increased communication both between the E-Board and the institute administration, as well as the other bodies of Student Government, and increased access to club resources and club knowledge for a sustainable future based in the continuance of successful student groups and their respective strong student leaders, the true leaders in our Union and move forward together with a strong self-governed Union.

Justin Etzine

I have had the privilege of serving the student body for the past four years in a variety of capacities, but my top priority has remained steadfast throughout my time at RPI: ensuring we leave our alma mater a better place for our current and future peers. I am running to be President of the Union out of a motivation to leave behind a Union which provides the same, continued, unique opportunities that have made our time at RPI so special.

According to dozens of students and alumni with whom I have spoken, these are some of the most trying of times in our Union’s history. I have worked to put our students—and our Union—first in every aspect of my term as Grand Marshal. The student body and Student Government have seen a landmark year across the board: passionate students have made their voices heard, regular communication between Student Government and its constituency has been restored, a record number of peers opted to share their opinions with the Student Senate, and students overwhelmingly reiterated their commitment to a student-run future for our Union.

What qualifies you to be President of the Union?

Ida Etemadi

In times when there are ongoing discussions with the administration, the Union needs to be operating at full efficiency. For the past two years, I have served as a Club/ICA Representative for the service organizations and various special interest and hobby clubs, going through the complete budgeting process, presenting club budgets, dedicating entire weekends to sitting with budgeting groups and analyzing budgets, and helping clubs through the proposal making process. This year, I served as both Secretary and as a Committee Chair. I am the Committee Chair of the Marketing, Advertising, and Publicity (MAP) Committee which was redefined and revived as a key contributor to Union operation, tasked with maintaining a cohesive Union brand, creating a new Union logo in collaboration with the Student Government Communications Committee and many talented students on campus who came forward to join the Union Logo Design Team, and increasing student participation in Union social media. Aside from MAP Committee, I served on the Business Operations Committee, handling facilities upgrades and communicating with businesses in the Union, the Club Operations Committee, guiding new clubs to start in the Union, affiliated or recognized, and the Union Annual Report (UAR) Committee, compiling yearly finances and explaining the year overall. I have also had the privilege of attending the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) Conferences for the past two years, learning about the differences and similarities between our Union and its counterparts in the UK, Ireland, and the United States. The Union needs to be stronger than ever next year, and all of these experiences have prepared me for this position. I know the operations of the Union in and out and how to accomplish goals and address concerns brought to me by the students I have spoken to, and hope to bring that into the next year, so we can take on the newer issues and concerns placed onto the Union regarding the hiring of the Director and the overall status of the Union immediately as my term would begin.

Justin Etzine

While it is true that I am not a member of the Executive Board, over the past four years, I have participated in more E-Board meetings than I can count. I have also served as a member of two E-Board committees in past years, although I am prohibited by the Union Constitution from sitting on these committees while serving as GM. I have also had the privilege of working with and observing current President of the Union Matt Rand throughout this year, and I had the opportunity to spectate parts of the club budgeting process this year and work heavily on the FY 2019 Union Annual Report.

I have also experienced the other side of the Executive Board–club relationship in my past roles as a club officer. During my freshman year, I lead a general interest club through the new club recognition process, and the club continues to thrive three years later. I have previously served as a managing editor for The Polytechnic, business manager for RPI TV, and other roles in leading clubs and managing their finances that have all allowed me to interact closely with the Executive Board from an external perspective.

I believe my broad experiences—both within Student Government and across our campus—bring something unique to the PU role that will benefit the Executive Board, the Union, and the student body at large. At the end of the day, I believe it is up to the student body to decide who is qualified for the positions, and, if my classmates believe in my qualifications, I encourage them to vote for me.

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

Ida Etemadi

My short term goals include:

  • increasing transparency through the establishment of Decision Briefings to further communicate with clubs and give reasoning behind decisions made in response to E-Board Proposals
  • finishing the process of the hiring of the Director of the Union through the continuance of the Human Resources Interview Committee and consistent communication with the Office of Student Life and Human Resources
  • creating an online comprehensive and searchable Union calendar with open meetings and events, featuring times, locations, and categories, with an easy to use submissions page for club officers to increase Union support and publicity of campus events

My long term goals are to:

  • create and maintain a consistent relationship and build mutual respect with institute administrators through regular meetings featuring members of Student Government, as well as interested members of the Union
  • finalize current facilities updates and approve updates to be completed by future Boards with a strong emphasis on student input and student participation to ensure that the Union is always serving the needs of students to the extent possible
  • develop regular meetings with Committee Chairs of both the E-Board and the Senate to build understanding, collaboration, and cohesiveness between bodies

Justin Etzine

For my term as President of the Union, my platform revolves around a few major priorities that I will pursue, and all of those foci have both short- and long-term objectives that I believe will benefit the Union and the Executive Board for years to come. These priorities are building upon areas where operations can be improved, pursuing greater diversity in Executive Board involvement, expanding—wherever possible—the resources provided to our clubs and their leaders, ensuring our operations are held accountable across the board, and identifying and traversing a path to restore our Union’s student-run status.

In the short term, I hope to collaborate with returning Executive Board members in auditing and modifying procedures to ensure the Executive Board’s meetings and operations are thorough and efficient. These procedures include increasing the prior preparation and data retrieval completed before a club presents before the Board to reduce redundant questioning, implementing a similar subcommittee structure as employed by some Student Senate committees, and restructuring the format for committee reports to allow for the Executive Board and meeting guests to stay informed about project progress and provide outside feedback and perspectives.

Though I aim to find solutions to the immediate issues preventing our Union’s historic student-run structure from being fully realized, I recognize the underlying misunderstandings of our Union and its structure by administrators will likely continue to be a major topic of concern for the student government in the coming years. For example, a short-term goal with respect to the Union’s structure is the hiring of a new Director of the Union with full student involvement and Executive Board approval. In the long-term, however, future E-Boards will need to work with this director to set expectations and ensure the Union Constitution remains a paramount authority on Union matters.

Additionally, in the long-term, I hope to have the Executive Board review the current long-term strategic plans for the Union and ensure our short-term goals and projects tie into these strategic priorities. Finally, though the debt service payments for the last large-scale Union building renovation (which occurred in 1999) will not be fully paid off until FY 2026, I believe the upcoming Executive Board and subsequent boards must begin making non-binding determinations about what the next renovation will focus on and about its general timelines. Though the members of the next E-Board will likely not be students by the time the renovations occur, they can take pride in laying the preparatory groundwork for such upgrades.

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

Ida Etemadi

The E-Board budgets and manages the Rensselaer Union, determining the use of the activity fee, approving and deciding on the classifications of new clubs, maintaining the brand, voting on hirings, handling facilities, and communicating with businesses in the Union to continue addressing the needs of students and improving student life at RPI. The role of the President of the Union is to moderate discussion and debate during meetings, as well as organize and lead the budgeting cycle in respect to the entire Union budget. The President of the Union also contributes to setting the topics of focus for the year and helping committees do the same.

Justin Etzine

The President of the Union and the Executive Board are responsible for financial and operational decision-making for the Rensselaer Union. In managing the business affairs of the Union, the Executive Board prepares and approves the next fiscal year budget for the Union, the funding for which stems from a Union Activity Fee paid by each member of the Union. The Executive Board interfaces with the many clubs and organizations in the Union, and they work to ensure the interests of these organizations and the student body are sufficiently and accurately represented in decisions that are beneficial for the Union. The Board is also responsible for creating club classifications and managing “the business affairs of any and all facilities operated by the Rensselaer Union,” as quoted from the Union Constitution. The President of the Union presides over the Executive Board and serves alongside the Grand Marshal as a representative of student interests in leading the Union.

Each year, students tax themselves over $300 to provide the Union with the funding needed to operate the facilities and programming that members of the Union enjoy. Similarly to how citizens of a government have the right to know where and how their taxes paid are being used, the members of the Union have the right to know how their Union Activity Fee is being used. As the Executive Board makes decisions for the Union on behalf of the student body, this ability for students to be informed at all times is incredibly important.

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?

Ida Etemadi

The current President of the Union, Matt Rand, has done an excellent job at facilitating E-Board meetings and remaining impartial, allowing meetings to go by efficiently, even when meetings would be over three hours long. I greatly respect his ability to remain professional and communicate with administrators throughout the year, especially during the lengthy Director of the Union hiring process. However, during this process, there was low communication with committee chairs from the President of the Union, which I would like to improve upon next year through attending the monthly meetings with the Vice President and the Committee Chairs to not only communicate any new updates, but also remain knowledgeable on what the committees are taking on. If elected, I would also like to continue goal setting with committee chairs, but also hold a mid-year checkpoint meeting to ensure goals are being met and committees are staying focused.

Justin Etzine

I am fortunate in that, during my tenure as GM, I have been able to get to know Matt well. I believe we have been able to learn from each other on a number of occasions to better fulfill the duties of our respective roles.

As PU, I hope to perpetuate one of Matt’s most important strengths: his frequency of communication with Union administrative staff. He has held consistent meetings with all areas of Union operations throughout the duration of the year, and I believe these meetings are exceedingly vital for the constructive relationships between the administrative staff, the Executive Board, and the membership of the Union.

An area I plan to improve upon is balancing the roles of presiding officer of the Executive Board and elected official of the student body. I believe that there is value in standing with the decisions of the organization as the chair, but I think it is also important to consider the interests of the student body as they pertain to these decisions. If there is a discrepancy between the interests of the E-Board and the greater student population, I believe the E-Board must reflect on this discrepancy, evaluate where student concerns and interests are, and use this reflection to assist in making choices that are most beneficial for our Union.

What does the club-Executive Board representative relationship look like? What should it look like?

Ida Etemadi

Executive Board representatives introduce themselves to their clubs at the beginning of each year to establish contact if there are any unexpected needs or concerns of a club in the beginning of the Fall semester. Then, Executive Board representatives contact clubs when budgeting is coming up, normally a month in advance, to help with any changes being made in the club’s budget and to explain the budgeting process. Next year, if elected, I would place more emphasis on understanding operations and attending club programs to help facilitate that and further help with assessing their needs. I would also like to add an aspect to the Executive Board representative and club relationship by instituting Decision Briefings which will allow for clubs to fully understand why the E-Board made decisions differently than what may be requested in a proposal. This job would be tasked to the club’s Executive Board Representative.

Justin Etzine

With almost 300 student organizations within our Union, it would not be realistic to involve every single one with membership on the Executive Board. Nevertheless, the E-Board’s role and decisions often relate to organizations, their officers, and their members, and the E-Board’s representatives are expected to maintain and cultivate two-way communication with their respective clubs’ officers.

The relationship between E-Board representatives and their clubs must be a symbiotic one. I use this word not as a popular buzzword, but in reference to its definition to describe a “mutually beneficial relationship.” The E-Board representatives utilize this relationship to inform their understanding of student interests and their clubs’ priorities. The clubs utilize this relationship to share their priorities, upcoming plans, and events, and they depend on the representatives to guide them in working with the Executive Board.

To maximize the benefit on both ends, I believe Executive Board representatives should be meeting regularly with their assigned clubs and the relevant Student Activities Resource Persons. These meetings should be occurring throughout the year, not just during the budgeting season, so the clubs feel comfortable approaching their representatives when needed and the representatives understand their respective clubs and happenings.

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

Ida Etemadi

Budgeting went very smoothly this year and it was not challenging to remain at our desired value once all clubs had been budgeted for. The increase in students along with the increase in the activity fee added to our budget. However, we are facing several other unexpected challenges in Union finances. Many clubs rely on WeR Gold contributions for funding for trips and new equipment, but contributions have seen a decrease this year following the previous actions made by the administration, requiring the clubs and the Union to look for ways to fill in this gap, usually leading to more independent fundraising and new proposal requests made to the E-Board. The Union must also accommodate for The Arch program to continue providing programs and contributing to student life over the summer through increases in funding and trial programs. Student wage increases are also a part of the budget, and wages are slowly increasing to take into account the minimum wage increase to $15 over the next several years.

Justin Etzine

Each year, the Union’s budget balances the interests of students and their organizations with the resources and needs of the Union’s facilities and other operations. Clubs and organizations with funding status approved by the Executive Board propose and justify budgets for their respective organizations, which are reviewed and ultimately decided upon by the Executive Board. The E-Board works closely with the Union administrative staff throughout this process to understand context and otherwise benefit from their expertise in the process.

As for future budgetary concerns, I believe we will be having productive conversations between the E-Board, the Student Senate, the Graduate Council, and the Union administrative staff regarding the relative amounts undergraduate and graduate students pay for the Union Activity Fee. This issue has been brought forward by members of the Graduate Council this semester, and they believe a reduction in the amount of the Union Activity Fee for graduate students is warranted, citing concerns with the utilization of the Union by graduate students and a resulting disproportionate fee for graduate students.

I recognize the validity of concerns raised by the Graduate Council, and I believe it requires additional analysis and the collection of opinions from graduate students. As Grand Marshal, I committed to holding frequent meetings with the PU, the Graduate Council leadership, and the Union’s business administrator to discuss the concerns thoroughly and determine the ideal division of cost between undergraduate and graduate students. As President of the Union, I will continue to prioritize these conversations, and I will work with the next Grand Marshal and the Student Senate to determine this division before the FY20 budgeting process. I also commit to ensuring I pass on this priority to ensure that the student body is paying a proportional and fair amount.

Finally, with its first full implementation occurring in the summer after my term, I believe the Summer Arch program will necessitate changes to how we calculate budgets available for each semester. I discuss this issue in more depth in the question regarding the rollout of Summer Arch.

What is your plan for dealing with the changes that will accompany the rollout of Summer Arch?

Ida Etemadi

The Executive Board representatives need to begin discussions on club operations during the summer with the clubs they represent. Included in this discussion is determining if the club will operate at all over the summer, how many officers would stay to ensure the continuance of the club over the summer, what programs the club would hold, and how much funding is needed to support requested programs. I would work with Executive Board representatives to make sure this information is gathered from clubs every year, so it is taken into account during budgeting. As President of the Union, I would also like the Business Operations Committee to investigate extending the hours of operation for businesses in the Union over the summer to serve the students who stay here for The Arch.

Justin Etzine

The Summer Arch program will undoubtedly change the Union’s operations and programming. With 2019 and beyond expected to have approximately 1,000 juniors on campus each summer, more programs will be held throughout the summer, and more clubs and organizations will continue operating during the summer.

As mentioned previously, the Summer Arch will also impact Union budgeting, as students will be contributing their Union Activity Fee during the summer semester and not during their following “away” semester. Currently, students pay the Union Activity in half installments for the fall and spring semester. Students who remain on campus for the summer currently pay a separate, smaller fee to cover summer programming and activities. As the initiative will reclassify the summer session as a normal academic period, the split of funding will need to be re-evaluated to ensure that program participants are able to fully enjoy and participate in everything the Union has to offer throughout the year.

For procedural changes, I will ask that the Club Operations Committee work with clubs and organizations in preparing their club constitutions to account for the summer semester and to ensure that the organizations can be active with leaders on campus during the summer, if they so choose. The changes in procedure would also need to account for juniors leaving for either the fall or spring semester, as juniors frequently take on leadership roles for clubs and organizations.

The specifics for how these changes will occur are still unclear, but I will prioritize working with the Executive Board, the Club Operations Committee, and the Policies Committee to ensure changes in budgeting, policies, and procedures are for the students’ and their organizations’ benefit as we reach the full program rollout.

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

Ida Etemadi

One of the primary ways I intend to increase the utilization of Union resources is through updates and ease of use of the Union website, including the implementation of a comprehensive Union calendar. This year, the Marketing, Advertising, and Publicity Committee compiled the information of many of the services available in the Union that can be compiled into a pamphlet as a guide to the Union. This pamphlet can be distributed on Accepted Students Day, Orientation, and NRB, as well as displayed in different locations around the Union for use. I also intend on having E-Board representatives communicate with their clubs to explain how to get events publicized on Union social media, and to continue to encourage clubs to use their Poly credits.

Justin Etzine

Just as Google says the best way to achieve a higher ranking on their search engine is to “have good content,” I believe the best way to encourage students to utilize all facets of their Union is to have good programming. We are fortunate in that we have a huge variety—and I mean huge—of activities, interests, events, and beliefs for all students to consume, and we have an extremely competent group of club officers and Union administrators to ensure everything runs smoothly.

That said, it upsets me when I learn about Union-sponsored events that do not get the attendance they deserve. I believe involvement in the Union follows a positive feedback loop; that is, more good programming will lead to higher involvement, higher involvement will lead to greater interest, and greater interest will lead to more good programming. In this way, our Union thrives; clubs grow and can take on greater ideas and projects, and each student finds their niche.

This includes programming outside of the Union building itself. Events run by the Student Union should be heavily advertised as such. Along those lines, I think our programming committees can work with groups across campus to secure new and exciting events like video games nights on EMPAC’s giant projection screens, a wider range of open skate nights at the Houston Field House, and outdoor events during the warmer months of the year on the many open green spaces across our campus, to name a few. By continuing to diversify and expand the Union’s programming, more students will be able to benefit and participate.

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