Grand Marshal candidate profiles
The Polytechnic asked Grand Marshal candidates to discuss their goals and to reflect on their experiences in Student Government. Here are their responses.
[Editor’s note: The following was edited for clarity and for The Poly's grammatical and mechanical style.]
What makes you best fit to lead the student body?
During my time at RPI, I have seen immense passion from the entire student body. These are the students who have created over 200 different clubs, who built individualized Discord bots to keep their peers updated on COVID-19 cases. These are the students who, upon the removal of the “SIS Man” logo from the Student Information System, took time out of their busy days to create a subreddit, make custom sweatshirts, and even build an API that restores SIS Man. This is what passion means.
Those who know me know that I am deeply passionate about what I do. But, there’s more than that. A passionate student body needs a leader with vision and drive. I know where I want us to go, and exactly how to get there. Studying Senate history, and analyzing the trends of the past few years of student governance, is vital for informing us on moving forward. I have watched the leaders before me, analyzed their decisions, their successes and failures. My time as a committee chair has taught me what it means to take unbridled passion, and direct it towards implementing valuable changes. I want to use my vision and drive to propel the student body forward.
When it comes to administrative relationships, I am honest but fair. This is what we need from the leader of our student body. For too long we have accepted a black-and-white argument; either you criticize the administration, or you work together with them. This false dichotomy shows a profound misunderstanding of what it means to work together with someone. Providing and accepting honest, but fair, criticism is a sign of maturity and strength, something notably missing from administrative relationships.
In my time as Independent Senator, I have continuously provided critical feedback to members of the administration. That hasn't stopped me from developing strong administrative relationships and providing input on vital policies. In fact, it has given me a reputation amongst administrators as someone who will always be honest and direct, always call out disrespect and wrongdoings, but also always bring solutions and an open mind to the table.
I am running for Grand Marshal because I believe that I am best fit for the position. Throughout my time at RPI, I have been consistent in the fact that I want to help people, including on an individual level. For the most part, I have enjoyed my experience at RPI, and I want to extend that and help others enjoy theirs.
I have also been a member of the Student Senate during the terms of four different Grand Marshals. I feel that during my time, I have seen which initiatives and leadership styles tend to work.
I have also taken classes to learn project management. I believe that using a project management methodology to organize and work on Senate projects will benefit the Senate. During my term, I would like to implement a methodology to assist committee chairs and efficiently track work being done by the Senate.
What qualifies you to hold the position of Grand Marshal?
My current positions as the Chairperson of the Facilities and Services Committee (FSC) and an Independent Senator have developed my leadership skills and encouraged strong administrative connections.
As FSC Chairperson, I oversee multiple projects to improve our community. Some of our current projects include a Safety Diversification Report exploring safety solutions outside of traditional policing, a Campus Accessibility and Mobility Review to address problem areas on campus, and a proposal to create a garden and mural on unused land between West Hall and Walker Labs.
Under my leadership, FSC's attendance tripled, becoming the largest Senate committee this year. Our projects were centralized around the theme of “inclusivity,” resulting in more diverse membership, including many folks who were new to Student Government. I also worked with other student advocacy groups, like the Student Sustainability Task Force, Food Recovery Network, and Autism at Rensselaer Club, to forge administrative connections and build membership for their independent projects.
My main contribution as the leader of FSC has been developing a variety of resources to support my project leads, including planning templates, advertising strategies, and organizational techniques. Many of FSC's project leads started with little to no Student Government experience, and are now active and vocal members. My time as a committee chair has shown me the importance of committees to the Senate, and has solidified my view that it is vital for the Grand Marshal to foster the passion and talents of next generation leadership.
As Independent Senator, I represent approximately 70% of the student population on issues that impact every student's health, safety, and wellbeing. I also work closely with my Greek counterparts to advocate for issues that affect us jointly, like testing for students who are remote but local. During my term, I have authored and co-authored a variety of motions; representing such a large portion of the student body has enabled me to work closely with administrators on these issues. I encouraged Dean Apgar to add new language to the Community Health Standards to ensure that vital student rights are respected, and I worked with VP Konwerski in an effort to begin testing off-campus remote students. I want to expand on these relationships and continue the progress we have made.
I have served on the Student Senate for over three years. Throughout this time, I have participated in Senate meetings through a variety of different roles, including as Parliamentarian, as Class Senator, and as Vice Grand Marshal.
As a Parliamentarian, I learned the inner workings of how meetings are run, and how to use a system that allows for equal communication and input for not only members of the Senate, but also for all guests who attend.
As a Class Senator, I have spent time working on various projects, utilizing different skills including planning, communicating with administrators, and making outreach to constituents.
As Vice Grand Marshal, I oversee Senate’s committees. I have watched projects in each committee from the very beginning with determining the initial idea to creating the proposal, as well as the steps that should be taken to communicate with the necessary administrators. I have spent my time working individually with committee chairs and have provided suggestions on ways to improve different aspects of their committees.
I believe that with the skills that I have acquired, I am well equipped to make a transition to Grand Marshal and begin working towards the goals on my platform from the start.
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.
- Work with Auxiliary Services to implement a composting program at RPI by January 1st, 2022.
- Ensure multicultural representation on the Student Senate by working with the Multicultural Leadership Council to make a joint committee.
- Develop plans for a Summer Arch career fair and work with the CCPD to implement them.
- Expand hiring for the Counseling Center to reflect the increased student demand without limiting time spent by each student.
- Utilize open and honest working relationships with administrators to model an Institute-wide annual financial report with details of budgetary decisions.
- Advocate for student leader attendance at meetings of the Board of Trustees’ Student Life Committee.
Three Short-term Goals:
- Rework the role of Senator to be more proactive by utilizing existing social circles, as well as their class councils or other constituent groups, who are able to provide equal insight as representatives of their constituencies.
- Work with the Student Government Communications Committee to communicate Student Senate business with students to encourage campus-wide engagement and keep our community informed.
- Hold topic-focused open forums at least twice a semester to promote open communication between students and unite the student community.
Three Long-term Goals:
- Advocate the importance of mental health, and continue the long-term initiative of uniting students, organizations, and administrators to centralize mental health resources.
- Work with the administration to ensure decision announcements are made with enough planning time for students.
- Ensure plans for a smooth transition to different phases of in-person and remote education for upcoming semesters.
Other goals that I am looking to accomplish can be found on my platform located at colleenforgm.me.
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?
The most obvious role of the Grand Marshal is to be the voice for all students. The Grand Marshal is the person that both administration and students look to during a crisis for solutions. The administration acknowledges that the GM is the only advocacy-based role elected by the entire student body: grads and undergrads, Greeks and independents. When the GM speaks, they speak on behalf of all students, they fight on behalf of all students.
Generations of RPI students have seen vital student rights stripped away, seen health and safety deprioritized for the sake of crawling out of debt, and strong community voices silenced under the guise of “disruption.” Frankly, I’m not surprised that students feel downtrodden and cynical. I’ve felt that way too at times. But, I always knew that there was someone fighting for me. Even if every other voice was silent, I knew that our former and current Grand Marshals Stef, Megan, and Advaith were speaking out loud and clear.
An equally important, yet frequently overlooked, role of the Grand Marshal is organizing passionate individuals. RPI students come to this Institute brimming with ideas, from “Let’s start composting!” to “Let’s build a gondola from Freshman Hill to Downtown Troy!” Accomplishing even the smallest of projects is complex and requires administrative connections, planning, and structure. A vital role of the Grand Marshal is to provide that structure, usually in the form of Senate Committees. The Grand Marshal should support and educate their fellow student leaders as we work to solve the problems we see in our Institute.
The Student Senate is a space where each class and group is represented and can discuss issues facing RPI. Each senator is responsible for advocating for their constituency’s interests to the greater campus community and other student leaders. When the Senate passed a motion, that vote represents the overwhelming support of a majority of the campus, rather than just one individual.
The representative structure of the Senate lends itself to stronger advocacy; while it might be easy for the administration to ignore thirty students emailing them, it’s much harder for them to ignore one student who has been chosen to represent. That’s part of what makes the Senate so impactful. Finally, this body functions as a resource for all students to address their concerns and develop new ideas, particularly in the form of committees.
I believe the Senate is accomplishing this. I have seen Senators stand up to the administration to represent their class’ issues, even if they were discouraged or ignored. Senators from my committee have engaged passionate friends to get involved and start new projects. FSC’s Campus Accessibility project found a new project lead thanks to Class of 2022 Senator Galilea Olvera, and Class of 2023 Senator Alex Patterson regularly brings forth transportation and auxiliary service issues he sees at Hudson Valley Community Suites.
There is always room for improvement. I would love to see more Senators writing motions and leading projects, but in my opinion, this is not the fault of the Senate but rather of Senate leadership. This is why I am so adamant about enhancing leadership training, whether or not I am elected GM.
I believe that the Grand Marshal and the Senate serves as the voice for the student body. For this reason, I believe that active outreach to constituents is most important. Without this outreach, the Senate cannot honestly say that they represent the will of the students when discussing business and voting on motions. In addition to this, the role of Grand Marshal is to also oversee the inner workings of the Senate and lead efforts for projects and other work. Another role of the Grand Marshal is to speak on behalf of the student body in regular meetings with the administration. It is important for the Grand Marshal to be aware of all happenings on campus, so that this representation is effective in their communications.
I believe that the Senate is aware of issues and other topics affecting their constituent groups. This is shown through Senators actively discussing problems during Senate meetings, as well as approaching committee chairs with ideas for projects that would benefit the campus. I believe that this can be expanded, however, so that instead of just listening, more active conversations can take place.
What do you think are the incumbent Grand Marshal’s strengths and weaknesses? What would you like to improve upon them if you are elected?
I have gotten to know incumbent GM Advaith Narayan well over the past year as a committee chair and as a friend. More than anything, I admire his adaptive and flexible leadership. Advaith’s experiences in Student Government had prepared him to face many potential obstacles as Grand Marshal, but I am positive that a deadly pandemic shutting down the world was not on his list. Despite this, Advaith handled a remarkable number of crises related to COVID-19 with strength and grace, and the Student Senate’s transition to online governance went smoothly under his leadership. Even more importantly, he did not allow the Senate to become overwhelmed by this crisis. Despite the pandemic, the Senate worked on several important issues outside of COVID-19, including expanding Union membership for Arch away students and continuing the Counselling Center Survey.
One area that I see room for improvement is in development of student leadership in an online environment. I saw few initiatives from Advaith to expand the Senate’s reach and develop the leadership skills of our new senators. While he did expand senator training as promised in his Poly Questionnaire, there was significantly fewer one-on-one training and opportunities to put this training to use. Most of our motions were written by a few individuals, since many senators felt unsure on how to write motions. When new senators brought initiatives to the table, they were often taken over by the Grand Marshal, rather than the Grand Marshal guiding new student leaders. As Grand Marshal, I will focus my efforts on developing leadership skills in a new generation of student leaders by creating more online resources like the Senator Guide, and providing more structure for future student leaders to support each other.
The incumbent Grand Marshal, Advaith Narayan, is extremely passionate about helping the RPI community whenever possible. His genuine and open personality makes him an approachable leader that any student can reach out to. His approach to problems is extremely rational, and he is careful to think of the implications of decisions. His respect for the integrity of the Senate is also important, especially as we continue to voice student opinions regarding Institute decisions.
This passion comes at a price, however, as Advaith tends to take on a lot of project work himself. As a result, a lot of the work that Advaith does each week goes largely unnoticed, because he works on it himself. As Vice Grand Marshal, I have some insight from working closely with Advaith, but other members cannot say the same. While I appreciate all that he does, I think this almost creates a disconnect between himself and other members of the Senate, which may affect actions that senators choose to take or their work in current projects. In relation to this, many of the goals from Advaith’s platform that he pushed for were done individually, which meant that not as much could be accomplished compared to if others had been enlisted to help. If I am elected, I want to effectively delegate important work to committees, to not only gain support in initiatives, but also allow for more voices to have input into projects that affect the campus as a whole.
What does the student-senator relationship look like? What should it look like?
Overall, the student-senator relationship is one of advocacy. Senators work to gather their constituencies’ interests and concerns, and represent them to other student leaders and to the administration. For the past few years, the Senate has worked on new ways to reach out to their constituencies, from the Constituency Reports implemented under former GM Meagan Lettko, to the hard work from the Student Government Communications Committee in utilizing social media. However, while Senators do their best to be available, the greater student body often does not know or understand how to utilize their representatives to achieve their goals.
While the shift to online and remote education added additional complexity to reaching students, it did create an avenue for a strong online presence for many student senators, resulting in an increased awareness of student representation. The Facilities and Services Committee Discord server hosts over 50 students from various classes, many of whom use the space to discuss any pressing issues they see around campus. The Class of 2024 has an active Discord server and WebEx Teams space, where their class senators, including my Vice Chair Talulah Patch, are actively engaged and responding to their classmates.
One area I see for improvement is senator engagement with their constituencies around voting for motions. Each year, the Senate passes a variety of motions about pressing issues, and communicating with their entire constituency via survey about each motion would result in an overwhelming amount of information. I believe the solution to this lies in the Class Councils. Each Class Council has at least ten members, and many more members at large. By presenting Senate motions to their Class Councils, they can easily increase outreach to their constituency.
The student-senator relationship is extremely important in order for a senator to serve as a representative. To be able to truly represent a constituency, conversations must be actively and consistently held to understand challenges and listen to input on campus-wide issues. Currently, some of these conversations do take place, but I believe that there is room to expand so that the Senate can be proactive in decision making.
What does the senator-administration relationship look like? What should it look like?
The ideal senator-administration relationship is grounded in dignity, honesty, and cooperation.
In a relationship with dignity, both parties should feel worthy of inclusion in the conversation. I have had great experiences dealing with administrators individually about a variety of issues. However, the inherent power imbalance between students and
administration often leaves students feeling inferior to their administrative counterparts. While senators work hard to be polite and respectful, ignored emails and cancelled meetings can create a perception of lack of prioritization.
In a relationship with honesty, both sides feel comfortable expressing their opinions and giving feedback. In many ways, the current administrative climate has left both sides feeling uncomfortable in being open and honest. Senators often are concerned about the repercussions their stances could have on their standing, and administrators often share incomplete or dishonest information with student leaders. Students must feel comfortable sharing their honest criticisms of administrators in order to continue developing a strong working relationship, and administrators must feel comfortable apologizing and fixing their wrongdoings without fear of retaliation. Accountability is a hallmark of a strong working relationship.
Finally, cooperation is the key to shared governance. The organization of the Student Senate is modeled off of the Institute; the main administrative branches each have a corresponding committee on the Senate. This enables streamlined advocacy. If a concern arises regarding the shuttle routes, it will go through the Facilities and Services Committee to the Director of Parking & Transportation. However, cooperation is a two-way street. While it is common to see senators reaching out to administration, it’s rare to see administrators actively reaching out to senators and student leaders about their yearly goals or changes in policy.
The senator position title should not be taken lightly by any student who holds it, as administrators understand that behind each senator’s voice is that of many constituents. While not every senator works closely with administrators, this is something I would like to see changed. I believe that for work to be effective, relationships need to be formed between administrators and students. This can be done through committee chairs inviting senators to their regular meetings with administrators, especially if it directly relates to projects that these senators are working on. I believe that this will help communication between the Senate and the administration, as well as promote resources that already exist to senators.
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?
I would begin by gathering as much information as possible by contacting relevant administration and student leaders. The second, and most important step, is quickly and directly communicating with the student body. RPI’s motto is “Knowledge and Thoroughness” for a reason. This will prevent any panic-fueled worries or rumors from spreading, and will help students make informed decisions about next steps.
Working with the administration to develop a solution is the next step. However, I have and will continue to hold them accountable for their actions by expressing student discontent clearly and engaging the student population in their own forms of activism. The free press is particularly important in situations like these, and I would develop contacts with The Poly, the Sanctuary for Independent Media, and the Times Union prior to these situations developing.
Finally, I would ensure that the Student Senate would continue operating on other projects and initiatives. In my tenure as Vice Chair of the Facilities and Services Committee, I saw many of our projects neglected as the Peace Officer Bill crisis took over the majority of our committee’s time. While it was important to address, there were many other projects, like our parking initiatives and shuttle route report, that were delayed due to this. In trying times, the Senate and Grand Marshal must continue to represent the concerns of the student body.
If a crisis involving the student body arose during my term, investigating the situation would become a top priority for me. I would spend my time looking into the situation and talking with affected constituents, in order to form a complete view of the problem at hand. During this situation, I will maintain communication with administrators to ensure that student voices are being heard, as well as convey findings to the Student Government Communications Committee so that they may inform the campus community. While I, and possibly a small group of senators, work through this situation, I would expect other members of the Senate and committees to continue with the other important projects at hand, so that the Senate does not become stagnant.
What qualities should a leader have? How does the Grand Marshal differ from a senator? How are you a leader?
A leader should be approachable; students should feel comfortable reaching out to their leaders, and leaders should pave avenues for that approach. Office hours, social media, and meetings with representatives are all methods a leader can use to be as approachable as possible. A leader should be passionate, and should inspire passion within others. Leaders speak strongly about core issues, they engage new leadership, and they find the fires of passion within others and coax it out.
A leader should be optimistic. Too often do we see cynicism and nihilism rule the day, and the responsibility of a leader is to provide hope, even in the darkest of times. A leader should be steady and sure, but humble. They should not falter when faced with difficult issues, or allow unfair criticism to cause doubt in their minds. But, they should not be afraid to ask for help. After speaking to a true leader, you feel enthusiastic, optimistic, and confident about the future.
I know this because I’ve been surrounded by leaders from the moment I began my journey in the Senate. Former FSC Chair Nick Dybas handed me a book by Jane Jacobs during my first meeting, and I felt his passion. Former GM Meagan Lettko stood strong against the Peace Officer Bill, even while being hounded by administration to stand down. And when I speak to current GM Advaith Narayan, even in the most hopeless of situations, his confident optimism is contagious. I work hard to employ the strategies that I have taken from my experiences with others. I make sure my committee members feel comfortable telling me about their struggles, and created open forums for those who want to express their opinions. When project leads come to me feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, I enter with optimism and enhanced support. In short, I am a leader because I have learned from leaders before me.
The Grand Marshal and Senators are both strong advocacy roles, although the Grand Marshal often speaks about more high-level issues. The main difference in responsibility lies in organization. The Grand Marshal is a direction-setting role. Since they are responsible for organizing and delegating issues throughout the Senate, they are responsible for the overall direction in which the Senate moves. According to the Union Constitution, they are also the “chief spokesperson for the entire Union.” The Grand Marshal is the last defense for our entire Union. Their successes and mistakes, their priorities, and their ethos reflect on the entire student body, not an individual and not just one class. This is a truly awesome responsibility that must not be taken lightly.
A leader is someone who is capable of setting aside their own opinion in order to better the situation for those that they lead. This leader should be open, reliable, and a good communicator. A leader is someone who, when needed, can take charge of a situation in order to attain a goal. However, a leader should also understand when to step back and guide others. This last part is what I believe truly makes a good leader. To be able to guide others and teach them how to lead for themselves is important in sustaining the long-held tradition of our student government.
The Grand Marshal differs from a senator because they are responsible for the “big picture” of the Senate, and the steps that are necessary to attain those goals. The Grand Marshal is also relied on to listen and relay the opinion of all students when conversing with various administrators.
I believe that I have the qualities of a leader. Throughout my time on the Senate, I have communicated with other members of the Senate as well as students in order to contribute to improving the campus. I believe that it is important to be present to fully understand situations and have followed through with that with my near-perfect attendance for Senate meetings. During my term as Vice Grand Marshal, I have advised and guided committee chairs and members in making decisions related to projects and running meetings, which I believe have helped to accomplish goals.