President of the Union candidate profile
The Polytechnic asked the candidate for president of the Union to discuss her goals and leadership experience and to reflect on Student Government as a whole. Here are her 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 president of the Union?
The Rensselaer Union is an integral part of the student experience here at RPI; from the first week of freshman year at the activities fair to providing a space for senior capstone groups to meet and work in the McNeil Room, the Union is the center of student life. As the primary body that approves club budgets, facilities upgrades, and Union staffing, the Executive Board is one of the largest factors contributing to the success of the Union. The president of the Union is responsible for organizing committees and representatives to maximize this success. Throughout my years in student government, I have seen the implementation of different strategies, and their varying degrees of success. As a result, I have a good handle on what does and does not work, as well as what challenges the Union and the Executive Board face. I am running to become the next president of the Union because I want to unite the RPI community and improve the future of the student experience. I take great pleasure in seeing student organizations succeed, and I hope to maximize the efficiency of the Executive Board and ensure that we continue to help these organizations in the best possible way.
What qualifies you to be president of the Union?
This is my fourth year as a member of the Executive Board. I have served in many capacities: as a member-at-large, as a class representative, as a Policies Committee chairperson, as the vice president of the Union, and as the vice president for Board Operations. As president of the Union, it is crucial to be familiar with Union policies and procedures as well as the logistics of the Executive Board. Throughout my roles, I have had the chance to work closely with clubs and organizations, as well as with many of the Executive Board and Student Senate’s committees. This has allowed me to get a very detailed view of what goes into the club budgeting process, and has allowed me a unique view into the inner workings of student government as a whole.
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.
Three short term goals I have are:
- Create a more balanced and experienced Board.
- Update the Rensselaer Union Guidelines and Procedures.
- Finish facilities projects that are currently underway.
The Executive Board changes each year with the president of the Union’s appointments. As a result, I have seen several different types of Boards over the past four years. If elected, I will prioritize the appointment of people who have various perspectives on Union policy. While there is merit in having members of the board with prior Executive Board experience, it is crucial to ensure that my Board asks tough questions and makes policy decisions based on their merit rather than on past precedent. The best Executive Board members are those who truly understand how clubs function, either as previous officers or members; as president of the Union, I will try to find candidates that have past club leadership experience.
The RUGP underwent a massive rehaul with last year’s Executive Board. Over the past year, we have seen that several shortcomings in budgeting policies, specifically some pertaining to food and travel policies. I will streamline several of these policies to ensure that we are best serving our clubs.
The Union has had many facilities changs over the past year: many club offices relocated, the X Lounge and Lavender Lounge were created, the new mailroom was opened, and study space in the Mueller Center was increased. As president of the Union, I will ensure the timely completion of several current projects including the relocation of Ben & Jerry’s and the Campus Unisex Barber, and the completion of the Pub expansion. After these projects have been completed, I will continue to address further facilities upgrades.
Three long term goals I have are:
- Create a defined plan for the Union once the debt service is paid off in 2025.
- Work with RPI administrators to outline and codify a process for the hiring of Union staff and administrators with students involved.
- Increase interest in student government.
In your own words, what do you feel are the roles of the president of the Union and the Union Executive Board? Do you think that the current president of the Union and Union Executive Board are fulfilling those roles?
The Executive Board oversees the financial and operational aspects of the Rensselaer Union. Each Executive Board representative advocates for several funded clubs and organizations. This includes the formal fiscal year budgeting process as well as with any additional funding or new program requests needed throughout the fiscal year. It is the Executive Board’s job to inform clubs on new procedures and ensure clubs have the resources needed to pursue their passions in a safe and inclusive manner.
The Executive Board improves the Union operations through the work of committees, as well as through meetings of the entire board. Committees are broken up by the segment of the Union they work to improve. Committees bring proposals to the entire Executive Board for a discussion and vote. The committee structure allows Executive Board representatives and members of the RPI community to collaborate on improvements to the Union.
The president of the Union appoints the members of the Executive Board and provides long term guidance to ensure that all members of the RPI community, and their interests, are represented.
Caitlin Kennedy, the incumbent president of the Union, does a great job managing the day to day obligations of the president of the Union and ensuring that clubs are able to meet their basic needs. This past year was a trial run for having three vice presidents, and with no precedent, Caitlin handled it well. However, the positions could be better utilized to maximize Board productivity. While I believe the current Board has the best interests of the Union at heart, it would help if the Board was more willing to question the current policies and procedures. I also think that overall, there is a lack of interest in getting involved all over campus, including in student government committees. I would like to see more of a push from all members of the Executive Board to bring up community involvement.
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?
Caitlin and I joined the Executive Board together in the fall of 2016 and this past year, serving as one of her VP’s, I have gotten to work closely with Caitlin.
One of Caitlin’s strengths is how much time and effort she puts into her role. She is always willing to work one on one with Executive Board representatives, or with clubs that require a little more attention. She works continually to ensure that Union clubs are adequately represented. Even in her previous role as Club Operations Committee chair, she was always willing to make time for anyone who asked. I greatly admire these characteristics, and I hope to exemplify them—ideally in an increased capacity through the addition of more PU Office Hours—as president of the Union.
One of Caitlin’s weaknesses is remaining unbiased during Executive Board meetings. Caitlin cares a great deal about the clubs she represents, and sometimes this can impede impartiality. If elected, I plan on addressing this by ensuring that my vice presidents and Board members are empowered to hold me accountable. If there are situations in which I feel that I am the only person who is able to provide key information that cannot be delivered in an unbiased way, I will step down as chair of the meeting while that piece of business is discussed.
What does the club-Executive Board representative relationship look like? What should it look like?
Each club has unique needs when it comes to its Executive Board Rep and the Union. Some clubs require minimal supplies and meeting space while others have many more needs, such as reoccurring travel. Regardless of a club’s typical demands, the Executive Board representative should help their clubs in any way, whether it be through answering questions on Union policy, drafting proposals for the Board, updating club constitutions, or finding preferred vendors. Although clubs can have ranging complexity to their budgets, it is the representative’s job to ensure that their clubs and the needs of their clubs are taken into consideration in each discussion and vote.
If elected, I plan on emphasizing adequate club representation, regardless of how large or complex of a budget they have. I will encourage representatives to attend at least one officer or general body meeting of each of their clubs to gain more insight into their needs. I will also encourage Executive Board representatives to forward the weekly meeting agendas to their clubs so that club officers have an additional opportunity to comment on business, without physically attending Executive Board meetings. Finally, I will continue to promote ongoing communication between representatives and the clubs they represent.
How would you evaluate the current Union budget situation? What do you foresee as future budget concerns?
Overall, the current Union budget is doing well. However, the past few years have brought about several challenges. The increasing minimum wage for student workers impacts nearly all Union operations, from student workers in the Admin Office, to the Pub, and to UPAC Sound and Lights. The increased cost of all of these positions has reduced the amount of subsidy available for club programming and facilities updates. With the Arch in full swing, more clubs are shifting programs to spread the length of the calendar year. This requires some consideration to ensure that the designated money is available for the current fiscal year, as the fiscal year changes during the summer semester.
Additionally, the debt service payments (from the 2001 facilities upgrades) will be completed in 2025. A huge task over the next few years will be to determine the best use of the money previously allocated for debt payments.
What is your plan for dealing with the changes that accompany the rollout of the Arch?
Over the first trial years and first full implementation year, one recurring complaint of students is the over-programming of events during the summer semester. It is important to continually assess and adapt the amount of Union programming offered over the summer in order to maximize student enjoyment while ensuring that we are efficiently spending money. E-Board representatives will need to work closely with clubs that wish to hold events over the summer semester to ensure that money is available during the proper fiscal year.
Junior year is the time where most club members have the leadership and knowledge to step into officer positions. Unfortunately, this coincides with the “away semester” most juniors are required to take. As a result, an increasing number of clubs and organizations have switched to semesterly positions, and more sophomores are taking on advanced roles. The role of the Executive Board is more important than ever to ensure that each club has guidance during this time of change to ensure that they are able to maintain smooth transitions. As president of the Union, I will emphasize the need for updated officer contact information on CMS, to ensure that the correct people are able to make sure deadlines are met and notices are communicated.
How do you intend to encourage students to fully utilize the resources of the Union?
If elected, I will prioritize working with the System Administrators to create a detailed plan of action to get the Union website up and running again. Without up-to-date and active channels of communication, it is difficult for the student body to keep track of what Union resources are available to them.
The use of social media such as Instagram, Reddit, and Facebook [has] proven to be invaluable in increasing student involvement in Union projects and activities. I believe this should continue with ongoing efforts to reach a wider student audience, using giveaways and raffles as incentives to follow Union accounts.
I would also like to scope out club interest in holding a second “Activities Fair” in the spring semester. If there is enough club interest, I believe it would serve the community well to have an event that is geared towards all of campus, and that allows students to see that there are so many ways to take advantage of what RPI and the Union has to offer.