President of the Union candidate profile
The Polytechnic asked President of the Union candidate Yaseen Mahmoud ’22 to discuss his goals and to reflect on his experiences in Student Government. Here are his 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?
When I started at RPI in Fall 2018, I was amazed by the sheer number of Union organizations on campus. As I began to settle into college life and started to meet various clubs’ members, I was intrigued; these students all shared a drive and enthusiasm I had never seen before. I met RPI TV members discussing methods of storing video files, RPI Ambulance EMTs teaching Stop the Bleed courses, members of the Pakistani Students Association planning an event to showcase their culture’s unique traditions, and Outing Club members explaining the best techniques for rock climbing.
While their passion was not unique, the Executive Board’s work funding clubs allowed them to pursue what interested them. That is what makes RPI a school like no other: no matter what your hobbies are, you can find others that share your interests and you can create a club and receive funding to do what you love.
What qualifies you to be President of the Union?
I have been an active member of student government for the past three years. In that time, I have served in many roles: as a club financial advisor, Member-at-Large Representative, Class of 2022 Representative, Business Operations Committee interim chair, Business Operations Committee vice chair, and Vice President for Board Operations. This involvement has given me familiarity with the Executive Board and the Union and has allowed me to forge strong working relationships with Union administrators. I believe that this experience will allow me to fully complete my goals as President of the Union.
Name three short and long-term goals for the Executive Board.
- Work to improve club membership and retention following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aside from its effects on day-to-day life around the world, the pandemic has had countless, serious consequences on higher education. One outcome has been the pandemic’s effect on clubs: member retention is proving increasingly difficult over virtual platforms such as Webex and Zoom, and many clubs—especially clubs that focus heavily on in-person gatherings—are having issues recruiting new members. As President of the Union, my foremost goals will be to guide student clubs through the last months of the pandemic and to address recruitment and retention issues by working with club officers to create detailed marketing plans to increase campus awareness of their clubs. In the event that clubs fall below a safe number of members and may be unable to continue, I will work with the Club Operations Committee to create club transition documents detailing leadership structures and important information to prevent the loss of years of club leadership expertise.
- Reinstate the Marketing and Strategy Committee.
Branding is a cornerstone of any successful marketing campaign, as it prevents poor design choices from detracting from the underlying message and encourages favorable views on whatever is being advertised. Since the Marketing and Strategy Committee was dissolved as an official Executive Board committee, poor branding has been evident in all aspects of Union marketing. The lack of a Union branding guide has contributed to this, leading to confusing color coordination, mismatched typography, and poor image quality. The reintroduction of the Marketing and Strategy Committee will help to create and implement strong guidelines that clubs can use to ensure the message they are trying to convey is received in a consistent and high-quality manner.
- Improve health and safety standards and mental health support.
The current pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental and physical well-being. It has also highlighted RPI’s shortcomings, specifically with regard to subpar mental health support and poor access to first aid kits and other life-saving devices. I believe we should focus on addressing these deficiencies now, especially given that many of these issues occurred prior to the pandemic and will continue after its end.
During my tenure as vice chair of the Business Operations Committee, I worked to ensure the availability of AEDs, menstrual hygiene products, and bathroom door pull plates in the Union and other campus facilities. As President of the Union, I will ensure that Union facilities continue to improve and that they meet or exceed guidelines set forth by the American College Health Association, the New York State Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to this, I will work with the Grand Marshal, Student Health Center staff, and other stakeholders to improve upon our current mental health support systems on campus.
- Hold student leaders and campus administrators accountable for their actions
Accountability is the single most important foundation of any successful leadership structure. At RPI, a lack of accountability has allowed for decisions made by student government and campus administrators alike to avoid proper vetting and has created an environment in which students feel underrepresented. I believe that pushing student leaders and campus administrators to take responsibility for their actions will improve accountability, and this will create an environment in which students are encouraged to voice their concerns.
- Work to restore the Union’s self-governance
The Union has been the heart of RPI since its founding in 1890. In that time, it served to prepare students for their future careers and allowed students a means through which they could help support their fellow classmates in pursuing their passions. Since the early 2000s, Shirley Ann Jackson’s administration has dissolved the Union’s self-governance, slowly but meticulously stripping away what made our Union special. Now the damage has been done, and the Union is a shell of what it used to be.
As President of the Union, I will work to restore our Union to its past glory by improving student awareness of the issue, demanding administrators restore the students’ rightful power, and pushing to include Renew Rensselaer—an alumni group centered around campus reform—in applicable Union discussions.
- Improve communication between student government and the student body.
Communication issues have unfortunately been commonplace between student government and the student body and between student government and campus administrators. These communication issues have prevented students from being informed on important issues and have allowed administrators to make last-minute decisions that affect a majority of students without fear of pushback. As President of the Union, I will schedule weekly meetings with a roster of campus administrators to track upcoming administrative decisions, and I will send out monthly emails to the student body to keep them apprised of ongoing events. In addition to this, I will do everything in my power to ensure that campus administrators are not able to make sweeping decisions without proper notice. If they do, I will make sure these decisions are quickly revealed to the student body and, if harmful to students, lead the push to get them reversed or resolved.
What do you feel are the roles of the President of the Union and the Union Executive Board?
The Executive Board is predominantly charged with determining the Student Activity Fee and how the funds collected are allocated to club operations, facilities, maintenance, and more. The Board must do this in a manner that both ensures that funding is dispensed equitably and that certain clubs are not given special treatment due to influence or personal relationships.
The Executive Board is able to accomplish this through its general body as well as its six committees:
- Business Operations Committee (Biz Ops)
- Club Operations Committee (Club Ops)
- Multicultural Leadership Council (MLC)
- Student Government Communications Committee (SGCC)
- Union Annual Report Committee (UAR)
- Union Programs and Activities Committee (UPAC)
These committees help to segment the more detailed responsibilities of the Executive Board, which allows for more care to be taken when researching details that help make decisions. The Executive Board proper then vets these decisions.
The President of the Union serves as the chair and leader of the Executive Board. In this role, they appoint the members of the Executive Board with the consent of the Student Senate, ensure that Executive Board members continuously fulfill their responsibilities, and work with committee chairs to plan and guide long-term projects.
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?
Anissa’s greatest strength is her commitment to serving clubs. All of the actions that she has taken this semester were taken because she believed that they would serve the best interests of Union clubs, and she worked tirelessly to ensure that clubs would be able to hold in-person events as soon as it was safe to do so. I very much respect this dedication, and I hope to exemplify these traits. As President of the Union, I will continue her commitment to clubs, and I will work with Dr. Lawrence and other health officials to create a “road to recovery” plan to detail the process through which clubs can safely return to in-person events.
Anissa’s greatest weakness is her poor communication with the rest of the Executive Board. Anissa has had a great deal of responsibility placed on her shoulders, particularly over the last school year, and she has had to oversee a large number of projects. Due to this, she frequently failed to discuss ongoing projects or initiatives with her VPs and committee chairs. This led to clubs receiving disjointed and spotty information, and it reduced the productivity of the Board. As President of the Union, I will hold regular meetings with my VPs and committee chairs and will keep notes on all ongoing projects and their shareholders so that I can keep everyone apprised.
What does the club-Executive Board representative relationship look like? What should it look like?
Currently, the club–Executive Board representative relationship is very healthy. Nate Sullivan, the Executive Board Vice President for Club Relations (VPCR), worked tirelessly to ensure that clubs and Executive Board representatives stayed in close contact over the last year. Through this work, clubs were able to get answers to questions more quickly and had much more guidance this semester than in semesters past. As President of the Union, I will continue this trend, and will work with my VPCR to ensure that progress is not lost during the transition back to normalcy.
How would you evaluate the current Union budget situation? What do you foresee as future budget concerns?
The Executive Board was able to reduce spending during this semester such that the Union is in a very healthy financial situation. Going forward, this money can be used to help kickstart clubs returning from a year-long hiatus and can be used to help improve Union facilities.
In 2025, the Union will finish paying off the loan taken out in the early 2000s to fund the renovation of the Union building. With the repayment of this loan completed, the Union will be in a position to look towards larger capital expenditures. While this is an excellent opportunity for further growth, we must be prudent in our expenditures and ensure that financial decisions made will not be shortsighted, or lead to financial troubles in later years. As President of the Union, I will do this by working with the Director of the Union, Union admin staff, and the Executive Board to create a concrete plan for potential expenditures following debt repayment.
What is your plan for dealing with the changes that accompany the rollout of the Arch?
Now that the Arch has been fully implemented for two academic terms, we have seen the detrimental impact the program can have on students’ mental health and academic success. In my experience—and in speaking with peers—the Union plays a fundamental role of a support system for students enduring the Arch. Moving forward, I believe we need to improve upon the activities planned by the Division of Student Life and host more Union-funded events for students enrolled in the Arch Summer semester.
While we mend the present, we also must work to correct for the future. I will support the grand marshal in pushing for the Arch semester to be transitioned to an optional program. This would allow students to more easily pursue traditional co-op and study abroad opportunities, and it would help to restore students’ ability to make important academic and career decisions without Institute oversight.
How do you intend to encourage students to fully utilize the resources of the Union?
As with any campus resource, student awareness is the largest issue that prevents meaningful utilization of Union resources; students who do not utilize the resources of the Union generally are unaware that such resources exist. In line with my short-term goal number two, as President of the Union, I will work with the reinstated Marketing and Strategy Committee to create awareness campaigns to improve knowledge of available Union resources.