Candidate Questions

Grand Marshal candidate profiles

By The Poly April 14, 2020

The Polytechnic asked grand marshal candidates to discuss their goals and leadership experience and to reflect on Student Government as a whole. Here are their responses.

[Editor’s note: The following was edited for clarity and for The Poly's grammatical and mechanical style.]

Why do you want to be grand marshal?

Advaith Narayan:

I’m running for grand marshal out of a passion for serving the RPI community and, in particular, my fellow students. In these unprecedented times, I believe our student leaders must hold strong and continue supporting the student body in any capacity possible. I do not aim to merely lead a successful Senate; rather, I will work towards creating a model Senate to inspire the next student leaders in our Union and student body to strive for positive change on our campus. Furthermore, I will use my experience to help drive long-overdue change and reform on campus and tackle issues such as mental health, student rights, Greek life, the Arch, communication, and sustainability.

Marvin Rios:

I believe that Student Government has seen the same faces and ideas for the past few years now. I think that a fresh face, like myself, who can recognize student issues from the other side makes a better candidate to represent the student body and the Senate. Time and time again, I’ve seen us become a very reactionary Senate, responding to issues too late after the damage has been done. I want to be the kind of leader that can shift this culture to better represent the entire student body, allowing us to use the power we have as Senate to resolve your issues.

What makes you the best fit to lead the student body?

Advaith Narayan:

Our student body is so diverse in terms of their interests and communities that they are involved in. Working to improve the student experience should not be solely focused on one facet; instead, it should aim to make every student’s experience at RPI better. I have seen the immense positive impact that a well-supported and successful community can have on the student body, and I aim to bring that great experience to all students. I am running for grand marshal on a platform that focuses on widespread issues that are not only close to me, but affect the student body at large. Issues like mental health and the Arch are issues that affect the student body at large. At the same time, I am also focusing some of my efforts on specific groups like Greek life and the specific issues that the Greek community faces. My understanding of Student Government and the key issues that the student body is facing is second to none.

As a leader, I am very approachable. I am always open to new ideas and viewpoints because I understand that I need to listen to those I am working to help. Having these qualities, combined with my past experience in Student Government, makes me a very effective leader not only in Student Government, but also for the student body as a whole.

Marvin Rios:

I believe in the power of every individual student, which is why I emphasize the need to better engage with our student body. Whether it be for Student Government or not, I’m the type of person that believes you should go out [and] do whatever you set your heart to. RPI is tough and our problems are tough, but that should never get in the way of doing something we could really enjoy.

I’ve been there trying to do everything I want to on this campus, and those who know me can attest to my many involvements. I know that many students on this campus probably don’t want to be involved in Student Government and that’s okay, but I know that I will be the kind of grand marshal that will make sure every student is aware of what the Student Government can do for them.

The Senate directly impacts student life on this campus by acting as the chief legislative branch of Student Government and being the bridge of communication between students and [the Institute]. With the mindset and goals I plan to bring, I believe I can best use the Senate to the student body’s advantage.

What qualifies you to hold the position of grand marshal?

Advaith Narayan:

There is very little time left after the election to get situated due to the delay of elections. At a time like this, we need a leader who can hit the ground running. I have the required know-how to make for a quick transition of power and to begin work immediately.

I have been serving the student body through the Student Senate for 3 years. I was a Class of 2021 senator for 2 years, one of which I also served as the Hospitality Services Advisory Committee chairperson. During my time heading up the HSAC, I helped bring the late-night meal swipe program to the Rathskeller. I am currently serving as an independent senator and vice grand marshal. Throughout my term as vice GM, I have encouraged and brought back the subcommittee structure to our Senate committees, which has yielded great results.

Through my experiences in Student Government, I have built up relationships with administrators and know the resources available for students and Student Government inside and out. I will not need to spend extra time getting situated into the role of grand marshal.

Marvin Rios:

I’ve been involved in Student Government since the fall of 2018 as the Diversity & Inclusion chairperson, and I have come to quickly [understand] the internal workings of the Senate. I’ve taken [an] active role in participating in other committees during my tenure as a Class of 2020 senator as well.

My experience on Student Government isn’t the only way I wish to serve the student body. Some of you may recognize me as the director for the NSBE/SHPE Career Fair just this year. While recognizing the mission of both SHPE and NSBE, this position required me to do my best to fit the needs of all students, faculty, and administration here at RPI for an event so large it has been running for 41 years. This event serves the student body in a different perspective than Student Government does, giving me an experience that will help me best suit your needs.

I believe I also hold the time management skills and professionalism involved with the position. I’ve held multiple positions in the LatinX community such as being the president of SHPE, an active member of the Minority Student Initiative, an active brother of Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, and I work as a professional student supervisor over at the Mueller Center.

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 Student Senate.

Advaith Narayan:

Short term:

  1. Expand Student Government’s outreach and presence on campus. Approach more student groups as grand marshal (along with other student leaders) to start a trusting relationship.
  2. Push for commitment from the RPI administration to work towards a more sustainable campus, reducing energy consumption, and improving campus waste management using creative and modern technologies.
  3. Improve emergency preparedness and response actions for Student Government operations.

Long Term:

  1. End stigma against mental health issues and strive for regular and open dialogue on campus regarding mental health.
  2. Implement sustainable and consistent communication channels between senators and their constituencies such that the student body always feels well represented and educated on all campus issues.
  3. Strive for the restoration of student self-governance in the Union but first pushing for the reinstatement of the Student Senate’s right to approve the Student Handbook of Rights and Responsibilities. I also want to see two “recent alumni” positions on the Board of Trustees, elected by the recent alumni and exempted from fundraising requirements, as identified as a best practice by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.

Marvin Rios:

Three short term goals I have for the Student Senate are:

  1. Establish methods to promote multicultural sophistication in different aspects of student leadership and Student Government.
  2. Open dialogue between Student Government and administration to gain better student input on strategic communication.
  3. Engage our students for a fast culture change, engage our senators and committees so that we have a student body that sees change as a possibility.

Three long-term goals I have for the Student Senate are:

  1. Ensure committees involve the Graduate Student Council in all further initiatives and conversations.
  2. Advocate for the addition of positions on the Board of Trustees for recent alumni to provide the Board with different perspectives on the campus in recent years.
  3. Restoration of a student-run Union with a stronger Senate-administration relationship.

In your own words, what do you feel are the roles of the grand marshal and the Senate? Do you think that the current Senate is fulfilling that role?

Advaith Narayan:

The grand marshal is the voice of the student body. They use their expertise and experience to lead the Student Senate in efforts to improve campus and address issues faced by the student body. The Senate is the representative liaison to specific constituent bodies in our student body. I do believe the current Senate is fulfilling that role, however there is room for improvement. Constituent reporting had been started by the current grand marshal, Meagan Lettko, but in my opinion, this should happen more. In addition, we need to encourage senators to regularly reach out to their constituents, consulting the constituencies for regular projects, not just for one-off issues like the NYS S7645 peace officer bill.

Marvin Rios:

The way I see it, the Senate is the bridge of communication between the student body and the institution. Students don’t realize the strength of the motions we pass and the respect it garners from faculty and administration here at RPI. This is why it is the Senate’s duty to best interact with our student body, so that we can best past these motions while representing you.

The grand marshal is the head of the Senate, a unique position since this group represents the student body as a whole. It doesn’t matter if the grand marshal is a member of a certain class, a graduate student, or an athlete because they are the face of the entire student body now. This means that a grand marshal must have enough communication skills to be able to speak to and for the student, senate, and administration.

I believe that the Senate is currently doing a good job [of] representing our students towards the administration. They are well-spoken and diligent in the actions our committees have placed on us. I feel that we could better fulfill the role of representation and engagement. I’ve seen a number of times we have passed up the opportunity to take more or better action because we are made aware of an issue too late. I don’t believe this is anyone’s fault other than the culture here at RPI, which we can group together and change.

What do you think are the incumbent grand marshal’s strengths and weaknesses? What would you do to improve upon them if you are elected?

Advaith Narayan:

I have been fortunate enough to work closely with and learn from the current grand marshal, Meagan, throughout the last year. Meagan is very level-headed and can think and act quickly in situations that arise unexpectedly. Regardless of the severity of the issue at hand, she has been able to remain calm and lead an effective group of other leaders in Student Government to make impactful change. Meagan is also a very confident leader; she doesn’t second guess her decisions but is not afraid to ask for help when she needs it.

Meagan’s weaknesses in her term as GM were in Senate training and her lack of interactions with the student body. Senate training only occurred once in the beginning of the semester. The training provided and expectations she had for the Senate were not emphasized enough. As a result, committee attendance dropped and senators began to take their duties more lightly, not interacting with their constituencies as diligently and often as they should have. I think in the past couple of years, the grand marshal and the Senate has become more distant from the student body at large, and that is one of the things I’d like to improve.

Marvin Rios:

I believe that Meagan is the type of leader to make you want to be involved. I’m sure that there wouldn’t be as many athletes involved in Senate or class councils if it wasn’t for the energy she presumes by simply handling the workload of a varsity athlete all while being the grand marshal. She is an engaging leader that can quickly change pace and take action if need be, and it is very admirable.

Something I would have liked to see is a stronger plan on longer-term issues. I feel as though Student Government talks about bringing Greek life back to what it was, saving the Union, and our relationship with [the] administration. We very quickly lose sight of these longer-term goals in the heat of current issues and this is why we are still having these conversations. This is why my platform is more focused on the values I’d like Student Government to focus on. I think this shift in culture will help us prioritize and tackle issues that will let us see through these longer-term goals as well.

What does the student-senator relationship look like? What should it look like?

Advaith Narayan:

Right now, the student–senator relationship at large is lackluster at best. There is not enough being done by all the senators to try to reach out to their constituencies and gauge genuine student opinions on issues. The Greek senators are likely the best model for the ideal student-senator relationship. The Greek community at RPI has fantastic communication channels and representation in Student Government, leading to a very good understanding of how the Greek community feels about certain issues. The same can’t be said with full certainty for the other senators.

Marvin Rios:

Our current student-senator relationship has definitely grown past simply referring to our graduate and undergraduate councils, but not enough. I feel that the student-senator relationship should be less involved in our class-related activities, and more of our day-to-day. I want the Senate to see what our constituents do on this campus for fun and know the work that goes into events they plan diligently. This kind of relationship creates a lot more engagement, allowing both sides to become much more proactive [in] using the powers of the Senate.

What does the senator-administration relationship look like? What should it look like?

Advaith Narayan:

The senator–administration relationship is an interesting issue because there are senators who have never interacted with an administrator outside of a Senate meeting and there are others who interact with admin multiple times a week. The ideal relationship would be more familial than it is currently. Senators should be encouraged by committee chairs to accompany the chairs to meetings with administrators and they should develop a working relationship with said administrators. Although it is not necessary for every single senator to be extremely close with an administrator, the senators should be familiar with the resources at their disposal and how to get a hold of relevant administrators if needed.

Marvin Rios:

There is a fine line between keeping [the] administration happy and putting our foot down as the voice of the student body. I feel that lately we have strayed away from that line in order to keep the administration happy. I was a part of the Minority Student Initiative that had administration shaking, because we as students recognized issues that we are not at fault for. At the time we didn’t know to come to Student Government to make our issues heard so we handled it ourselves. Although rocky at first, the administration has worked quickly to fit the needs of the underrepresented student (although there is still room for improvement). I believe that the Senate has the power to make [the] administration shake in those same boots and realize we can not be pushed over, but we can be respected. The day we can accomplish this, I see a better student-administration relationship as well, with the gaining of trust.

How would you handle a crisis involving the student body, like the hiring of a director of the Union without an Executive Board vote, if such an issue arose during your term?

Advaith Narayan:

Looking at past crises, students throughout our campus have been affected and outspoken about how these events have impacted their lives at RPI. We need a leader who can channel the energy of the student into a controlled and effective effort to make impactful changes. At the same time, this leader cannot be fully occupied with the crisis at hand. For the continuity and function of the rest of the Student Senate and Student Government, it is imperative that the Senate continues to fulfill its regular role and continues working on existing projects. A crisis is not a valid reason to stop serving a portion of the student body who benefits from other ongoing Senate projects. In the case of the NYS peace officer bill, Senate committees were almost entirely detracted from their normal work and the Senate general body did not accomplish anything other than discussion of the bill for four weeks. While discussion of the bill was necessary, projects like those looking out for resources related to improving the Arch and following up with improvements made to the Counseling Center, lost attention not only from the grand marshal, but also from the senators.

I will firstly ensure that in the event of a crisis, the core function of the Senate and existing Senate projects will not be diminished. I will also remain calm through the entirety of the situation, acting hastily rarely, if ever, solves any problems. In fact, hasty actions can lead to more problems down the line. I will then charge a committee or form a special group along with other student leaders to address the issue at hand, again with the intent of not detracting from the existing Senate work. With this group or committee, I will start to systematically investigate the crisis at hand. Constant communication between senators and their constituents, student leaders and administrators, and the grand marshal and the student body is integral to ensuring that everyone stays aware of the situation and doesn’t feel like their concerns are not being heard. Once identifying the core issues, with the help of the charged committee or special group, I would develop a plan of action for specific solutions and work to implement them. I will have conversations with administrators and ensure that they understand where the student body stands in such an event.

Marvin Rios:

I would first have our Senate reach out to the administration and not only gain a better understanding of why the decision was made but also give the student perspective on the situation. I would ask that our Student Government Communication Committee then work on giving timely updates to the student body if [the] administration doesn’t plan to. Then I’d ask our senators to retrieve student input to the best of their abilities, whether it be a survey, reaching out in person, or holding a campus town hall where we could discuss the issues students are having with this. It’s important that we act as a Senate that can voice the opinions of our students, especially in a situation like this that directly impacts us as an organization we must remain impartial for those we represent.

What qualities should a leader have? How does the grand marshal differ from a senator? How are you a leader?

Advaith Narayan:

A leader should be open and honest, a great communicator, friendly and approachable, and above all, able to motivate others to strive for excellence. It is also important for a leader to be able to admit fault and ask for help when needed.

The grand marshal is the central driving force behind the Senate and the senators. By using their experience and knowledge, a GM can provide the direction and resources needed to the senators to allow the senators to do their best work.

I demonstrate the qualities of a leader throughout my daily life as a student and through my involvements in Student Government. Whether it is in group projects for my classes or with my position as vice grand marshal, I always lead by example and help others around me work towards achieving their goals.

Marvin Rios:

A leader needs to be passionate. Qualities like approachability, honesty, knowledge, and initiative all come from somebody who is passionate about the task at hand. A leader should [have] to show this energy for the situation imposed and that will resonate with those who are watching. This is how you get others to follow, and this is the kind of leadership I would like to see in Student Government.

The grand marshal differs from a senator in that they must keep the thoughts and opinions of all students at hand. This is not a task that should be taken lightly, and takes a lot of responsibility to handle. I believe that in my times of leadership I have given my full effort to “push the envelope” because I want to see growth in everything I love. I’ve taken it upon myself to change the way one of our leading professional organizations on this campus was run by restructuring the entire constitution and revamping all forms of social media that we didn’t partake in, both tasks that seem time-consuming. I’ve learned to take in student body opinion when it came to leading the 41st Annual NSBE/SHPE Career Fair, doing my best to recognize all student issues and desires when it comes to an event that is for them. My goal in my fraternity was to put our name out there and recognizable when it came to leading the First Official New Member Presentation in possibly over ten years. Each of these experiences has pulled out a different aspect of passion in myself that I believe a leader should have, and I know I would show in anything I’m involved in.