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 the best fit to lead the student body, and how are you qualified to do so?
During my time at RPI, I have seen how passionate students are about issues important to them, whether political or social. I have met a lot of individuals at RPI from different backgrounds, many being from many different organizations, or the same groups as me, on campus. Not only myself, but my friends and acquaintances, would describe me as a very exciting and outgoing person that is willing to get to know and talk to anyone.
I feel that I am qualified to be the next Grand Marshal, as I have taken on different positions in the Student Senate since my freshman year including Class of 2023 senator and Greek senator. During my time on the Senate, I have worked in different committees, such as the Student Life Committee and the Facilities & Services Committee, where I have helped on different projects. For example, I have helped the Student Life Committee on organizing the Student Senate Survey, and addressed the shuttle routes and tracker with the Facilities & Services Committee. While I was on these committees, in addition, I, along with the other class senators, would update the Student Senate whenever concerns catch our attention while we talk to our class peers. I have also done the same while being Greek Senator, where I also consistently updated the Senate on recruitment and membership information within the sororities. Nonetheless, even with the experience that I have, I want to not only provide a voice for the student body, but also provide the opportunity for students' voices to be heard themselves.
I am running for re-election as Grand Marshal because I want to provide stability and strength during the presidential transition. For the past year I have served as the 156th Grand Marshal, and I have worked to regain vital student rights across the board. The Student Senate’s feedback has been reincorporated into the Student Life Performance Plan including high-level Institute goals. Students have been integrated into hiring processes for positions affecting students the most, like those in the Dean of Students’ Office or in Student Success.
Most notably, under my term we successfully navigated a presidential search with student input. I collaborated with the VP of Human Resources to determine student representation, as I wrote about in my Poly article. Student involvement was eventually expanded to include interviews with recruiters, developing the job description, and interviewing candidates. Students had a voice in ensuring that the next president would adequately represent our interests.
My time as Grand Marshal has helped me develop a deep appreciation for the amount of time and effort that goes into the role. At the start of my term, even with my years of experience in Student Government, I had to learn on my feet. This role requires practice in time management, professionalism, boundary setting, all on top of meetings and project work. Additionally, it took time to develop strong working administrative relationships in departments across the board, from student life to Institute advancement. These relationships will prove invaluable as RPI undergoes a radical change.
As we navigate the presidential transition on July 1st, we need a leader with experience in the role and strong administrative connections ensure that the new administration will restore RPI’s long held history of shared governance.
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 the Center for Career and Professional Development to implement a Summer Arch career fair, along with a summer town hall to better prepare upcoming juniors for the Arch summer and away semesters
- Bring back fall Greek formal recruitment for first-semester freshmen by collaborating with the Greek Dean, Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council, and Multicultural Sorority and Fraternity Council
- Demand for, not only equal, but higher compensation for Residential and Learning Assistants
- Strengthen relations with the new, upcoming administration entering RPI
- Expand the number of the Counseling Center staff and their physical office space
- Work with the Facilities & Services Committee to make campus more accessible for disabled students
- Integrate student priorities into the transition to the new administration.
- Advocate for a revamped Title IX training program that includes identifying and mitigating the root causes of domestic abuse.
- Review Institute websites to ensure information is accessible and understandable for students.
- Continue coordination of long term goals in each administrative division and the Student Senate.
- Encourage the reinstatement of student representative positions to the Board of Trustees’ Finance and Student Life Committees.
- Push campus policing culture to be more focused on collaboration and shared security rather than punishment.
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 Student Senate is the chief legislative and representative body of student government. The responsibilities entail providing a voice for the student body to the administration, through creating student government projects within the committees. Overall, the Student Senate is the “problem-solving” body of student government, with its famous phrase “by the students, for the students!”. I see Grand Marshal entails as an unbiased leader of the Student Senate, especially since the position is a non-voting member, that oversees all the committees and senator positions on the Senate. The GM leads discussion throughout meetings, while senators provide their reports.
Accountability needs to be more apparent in student government. An issue that reoccurring Senate terms have had, in my opinion, are that most senators focus too much on their personal opinions when addressing concerns. Part of their job is to reach out to their constituents; a plan that I will implement is to create surveys for senators to send to their class to ask what the most important issues are to them. I want to set that precedent under my term so that the Senate does not only rely on the Senate survey to hear students' concerns. In addition, for example, I really enjoyed how Meagan Lettko, the 154th Grand Marshal, required senators to present constituency reports in front of Senate meetings monthly to address students' most recent concerns that have occurred. These reports should then entail the results of each unique survey that they send out. Overall, there are strengths and weaknesses that the Senate has, within the structure and organization, that I want to improve upon and strengthen.
The Student Senate, as the representative body of the Union, is a forum for facilitating discussion and solving the problems facing our students. Each Senator group is an advocate for their constituents— they identify concerns in their community and work to find solutions. Since the lived experience of each community is so different, it makes sense that their core concerns are also different. The role of the collective Student Senate in that advocacy is to collaborate with other Senator groups, share experiences to garner support from other constituencies, and explore how different constituencies’ priorities might intersect or conflict.
This term, the Senate was focused on problem solving through projects and direct action more than motions and legislation. When a problem was highlighted, the Senate would identify any direct actions we could take and any administrative advocacy that needed to be done, rather than just writing a motion. For example, when the Institute started requiring VPN access in response to a cyberattack, students were concerned about the potential for spyware in Cisco’s VPN. Our Web Technologies Group created a guide to install an open source VPN as an alternative, while also advocating for privacy protections from DotCIO.
As always, there is room for improvement. This is the first in-person Senate with a required Arch semester where most of the juniors were off-campus at the same time. For a portion of the spring semester, there was only one 2023 Senator active on Senate. Maintaining representation for the junior class will require working closely with the class councils to determine an adequate procedure ahead of time.
In my experience, the role of Grand Marshal as a chief representative is to listen to and voice student concerns, solve problems, and lead the Senate. I would describe the administrative advocacy role of Grand Marshal as translator, organizer, and negotiator. When a student is actively struggling, they may not have the mental energy to self-advocate. The Grand Marshal takes on the responsibility of processing and summarizing the concerns they’ve heard from a student, developing potential solutions, and finding the right administrators to translate the issue to. This is the core of the role of Grand Marshal as a public servant— students should know that they have someone working through the issues close to their hearts.
An often overlooked role of the Grand Marshal is to lead the Senate and develop new leadership. Many students come to RPI with bright ideas about how to improve our student experience, but little idea of how to accomplish that. The Grand Marshal should find the passion and provide structure and direction. They should seek out students to cultivate future student leaders, providing long term stability to student government. The Grand Marshal is in a unique position as a representative because they must represent the concerns of all communities, even those that they are not a part of. This requires that they actively recognize their blind spots and work to overcome them. Part of this is done by building a group of advisers from communities that they are not a part of. As Grand Marshal, I noted that the newly formed Multicultural Sorority and Fraternity Council did not have a dedicated voice on Senate, so I created a non-voting liaison position to provide regular updates to our body. This position ended up highlighting integral miscommunications during MSFC’s Union affiliation processes. Should my leadership continue, I would continue to actively seek out the voices that are missing from mine and the Senate’s perspective.
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?
Cait Bennett is one of the most passionate people in student government. She is very goal oriented, and is very driven to achieve her goals. I have worked with her while I was on Senate, and really admire the accomplishments that she made. For example, Cait being able to expand the membership of the Facilities & Services Committee from ten to forty members truly represents how dedicated she was in her position as the chair. While being Grand Marshal, she oversaw the MSFC liaison position creation, which is a great first step to implementing that as a Senator position. Another one of her strengths is finding talented people to fill her cabinet. For example, the Community Relations chair, Talulah Patch, was a powerful force in better integrating RPI into the wider Troy community. The FSC chair, Alexander Patterson, oversaw a number of projects to improve services across campus including changes to the dining, COVID-19, and campus security policies. The Student Life Committee chair, Chaz Bernstein, also tackled mental health issues at RPI. In addition to being a strong talent scout, Cait was well suited to working with administrators, restoring a number of traditional norms to the Senate, including the review of the handbook and top level policy changes by the Senate.
Being passionate and having a good eye for talent has a price, however, as I feel that Bennett took on a lot of project work herself. While she is very determined to complete her goals, her lack of a participative leadership style hurt her in a number of ways. She has difficulty tempering her goals into an actionable plan, instead depending a lot on motions and presentations during meetings rather than actual action items. Her passion also is not enough to compensate for the way she handles discussions in Senate meetings, frequently calling valid points out of order and allowing unrelated and unnecessary points to stand. She also forces discussion into one hour meetings, which is not productive when considering the gravity of the issues going before the Senate. Her relationship with her student colleagues is transactional at best, with multiple instances of cooperation between herself and student leaders breaking down over her unwillingness to provide the flexibility the office of GM requires. In addition, her desire to have a good working relationship with administrators was admirable, but it forced her to accept unhelpful or even detrimental compromises with administrators.
If I am elected as the 157th Grand Marshal, there are a number of immediate changes that I would make to the Senate to course correct before the next President of RPI arrives in June. The limit on meeting length is inherently detrimental to discussions. Rather than a time limit, out of meeting communication and more targeted points of discussion can remedy the tendency for meetings to go longer than necessary. Motions have proven ineffective in a number of instances, Cait was right to limit their use, but her out right dismissal of motions and the heavy handed nature she used whenever one was recommended stifled any sort of unified voice the Senate may have had. Knowing when a motion is the right choice isn't an easy task, but rejecting most motions simply limits the ability of the Senate to function. Finally, I believe that the most important part of being Grand Marshal is communication, specifically in this instance, communicating with every member of the Senate, and offering a strong support system for when our time here at RPI inevitably gets difficult.
As the current Grand Marshal, I have had both successes and failures during my term. I work hard to self-evaluate, and I take any feedback from my Senate, Cabinet, or constituents as a constructive method for improvement. Writing about my entire experience would take up far too much space, so I have chosen to highlight a few items.
I would say my greatest strength as Grand Marshal is my step-by-step approach— breaking down a large, overarching principles into small, achievable goals. Every Grand Marshal candidate I have seen believes in the principle of student representation and promises to fight for it. Without creating a step-by-step plan with achievable goals, the threat of burnout becomes more imminent for both the individual representative and for the student body as a whole. During my term, I approached the fight for more student representation by focusing in on a few specific goals: integrate students into the presidential selection process, integrate students into Student Life hiring processes, and bring back the Student Life Performance Plan review process. When someone asks me whether student representation is improving, I can now point them towards the progress we have made for a hopeful future.
One thing I struggled with this term was board operations. During this term, I found that organizational items tended to slip through the cracks, like adding people to email lists, sending out agendas, setting up meeting times, and regularly uploading meeting minutes. In order to overcome this, I had to delegate some organizational work. For example, my Vice Grand Marshal Sean Heffernan created a Senate Setup checklist and would remind me to create agendas weekly, and my Secretary Alexander Grant took over sending out agendas. However, some of these operational issues could be improved upon. In my next term, I would evaluate further opportunities to delegate work to my cabinet or other interested Senators. For example, I could ask my Vice GM to regularly check up on email list and drive participation, and I could ask my secretary to be responsible for uploading meeting minutes to the public Box. Additionally, I would have more structured meetings with my fellow officers of the Union to coordinate our long term directions.
What does the student-senator relationship look like? What should it look like?
The student-senator relationship exemplifies that the Senators essentially work for the part of the student body that they are assigned to. That can be different class years, Greek life, non-Greeks, or the graduate student body. Senators work to gauge the concerns that these groups have, so that those concerns can be addressed in the Senate so that action can take place. I believe that senators should be continuously held accountable for making sure that they are, not only finding out what concerns students have, but also spreading the word about what student government is. I find it the case that a lot of people that I meet do not know or understand what student government is and what they do. I want to be able to work with senators by utilizing social media and word-of-mouth to spread the word.
This type of relationship should be worked to be more engaging, as there have been many cases where Senators do not expand their outreach within their constituents. One way that Senators can engage with students is to create a survey to send out to their constituency regularly to see how students feel. As I have mentioned, meeting people in-person and utilizing their social media accounts is a great way to get the word out there about it. In addition, I want to implement office hours for all senators to have where their constituency can reach out whenever they are available to have a chat. Meeting in-person or utilizing WebEx are some ways to make that idea a reality. Lastly, class senators can work to get their class councils involved in expanding the relationship, as that is a great resource to get the word out there; for example, class councils can table around campus to meet and talk to students.
The student-Senator relationship must be approachable and accessible. As their key representatives, it is important that students can easily access their Senators with as few obstacles as possible, and vice versa. To accomplish this lofty principle, Senators should aim to be proactive, visible, and receptive. For example, a proactive Senator might work to identify a problem before it affects their community. Senators might gain visibility via participation in community events or by posting often on social media. And, a receptive Senator might validate their constituent’s concern or provide them with a specific plan to address it. These three principles are fundamental to building trust between student communities and their representatives.
Currently, many of the ways that Senators gain information about the struggles their communities face are not inherently visible, which means that some individuals feel underrepresented by their Senators. Additionally, proactive problem identification has been a potential issue as the COVID-19 pandemic is so variable. For example, the Arch past three Arch summer semesters have been vastly different; Summer 2019 was in person, summer 2020 was online, and summer 2021 was hybrid. So, relying on previous experience to proactively solve Arch semester problems is difficult since each semester has been so vast different.
What does the senator-administration relationship look like? What should it look like?
I believe that an ideal senator-administration relationship is an open, honest one. However, that fails to be the case. The only positions that really talk to administrators are the Grand Marshal and committee chairs, with rare cases of senators working with them. In addition, these types of environments have grown to be uncomfortable, as it has become a norm to have a distrust of the administration for good reasons. I want to be able to change that, especially with the upcoming president of the Institute. I plan on encouraging more engagement of senators with the administration by, for example, getting senators to accompany committee chairs during their regular meetings with them. With that, accountability needs to be addressed on both sides during these meetings. That could promote a healthier relationship with the administration that I want to improve upon. In addition, if important matters are brought up to senators, more regular meetings between senators and administrators should become more common.
The ideal Senators-administrator relationship is based on the principles of shared governance. Honesty, active collaboration, and mutual respect are critical for building trust between Senators and administrators.
Honest communication requires a trustworthy environment—all parties must feel that there are minimal risks to sharing information between them. However, I have often seen both Senators and administrators withholding information for fear of the ramifications. As bridges have been rebuilt, more information about overall goals for the Institute and Institute policy has been shared to leaders.
Overall, the amount of collaboration between students and administrators has increased this year compared to last. The presentation and review of the Student Life Performance Plan by the Senate was a milestone for collaboration on high-level goals. Still, it is incredibly difficult for senators to collaborate with administrators who will not actively respond to them. Meetings with administrators tend to be updates followed by feedback, when Senators should instead be sitting in on working sessions to provide ideas from the very start.
All of this leads to mutual respect. I wrote last year that Senators work incredibly hard to reach out politely and consistently, often to no response. This is still true. Even as the Grand Marshal, I have had a hard time contacting some administrators without showing up to their office. Senators must be treated with the same respect that they give to administrators when they are working to solve problems together.
What is your plan to engage with the new president of the Institute?
With the new president entering RPI, first, I will give him a warm welcome to the institute. I want to be able to set a healthy precedent, along with great first impressions, with not only what student government is all about, but also provide a forethought onto him on the culture of RPI students. In addition, I would like to get to know him more in regards to his leadership experience and, even how his time was as a student at RPI, to gauge a relationship with him. With that, I want to be involved with planning events so groups and organizations could meet the president as well, whether that be in-person or virtual; some ideas I was thinking of were having a Q&A or “Conversation with President and Provost”.
However, not only do I want to be welcoming, but I will be stern when addressing Dr. Schmidt about students' needs and rights. Over my time of meeting him, I want to be able to list all of the grievances that students have had with the current administration and work with him to see his stance on these issues. Like how I stated on the “senator-administrators question,” I want to revamp a positive relationship with the administration, but continuing to hold them accountable so that the previous actions done by the current administration do not happen again.
My plan to engage the new president centers around visibility and education as a way to rebuild trust in the position of president. The RPI community needs to know that their president cares about them, and actions speak louder than words. We need a president who will regularly engage with campus life, instead of hiding away. Seeing Dr. Schmidt on our walk to class, at the Union for lunch, or supporting events like Hockey Line would be a refreshing change of pace. On top of showing students his investment in our community, this will also allow the new president to learn about how student life has changed since his time here.
I also believe it is important to educate the new president about the struggles we have faced in past years, as well as brainstorm potential solutions. Fundamentally, students feel disenfranchised, and our voices have been undervalued. Therefore, we need student representatives on the Student Life Committee of the Board of Trustees immediately as a show of good faith. Despite recent new hires, students are still struggling to access student support resources, like the Counseling Center. Therefore, we should focus on hiring roles that are forward facing for students, like counselors and resident assistants. These are just examples of what key changes are needed in order to rebuild trust in the position of the president.
In my current role as Grand Marshal, I interviewed Dr. Schmidt when he was a candidate for this role, and got to know his philosophy on student representation. Additionally, I am have reached out to MIT student leadership, and I am working to coordinate time for Dr. Schmidt to interact with the campus before he becomes president. Finally, alongside Graduate Senator Sasha Lutsevich, Philip Paterson, and many others, we are crafting a letter describing the specific changes we need from the new president to encourage public accountability for years to come. Should my term continue, I will work to advise and collaborate with the new president to improve the RPI experience.
What qualities should a leader have? How are you a leader? What distinguishes a Grand Marshal in your mind?
In my opinion, the best types of leaders are ones with a participative leadership style. Having that leadership style entails having all members of an organization working together to make decisions. With that, being that leader means being able to keep an open mind when collaborating with others that are from either similar or different backgrounds then them. In addition, this leader needs to have excellent communication skills, where they consistently seek input and suggestions with their coworkers. If feedback from the leader or your peers are not taken seriously, that group could face chaos in their work environment. Not only that, excellent communication skills also have to accompany great listening skills. Therefore, they encourage their peers to speak up; this way, peers also feel connected and devoted to their positions. A participative leader realizes that high morale among their team delivers better overall results. They also make sure to appreciate their colleagues for the valuable assets they provide. Lastly, these leaders are curious, always looking for fresh and innovative ideas from their team to improve on their work. They realize that inputs from others can enable them to see the larger picture from various perspectives. I believe that I hold all of those leadership qualities, implementing the participative leadership style into my own personal and work life. Moreover, a Grand Marshal should have that leadership style to not only lead a successful Senate, but also be a great leader that advocates for all types of students' voices.
A leader should be creative, encouraging, visible, and honest. These characteristics are not just for the Grand Marshal, but for all leaders, including the current and new president.
A leader should be a creative problem solver, especially in our current campus environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way that students interact with the campus community. The relationship between the student body and the current administration is turbulent, and the transition into a new administration is could create instability. A leader must be capable of synthesizing past wisdom with situational changes to determine the best solution, even if that solution challenges tradition.
A leader should be honest with themselves and their constituents. Self-awareness is a vital characteristic for leaders. A leader should be honest about who they are— a human being, the same as everyone else. It is easy to see through a perfect facade, so why bother pretending? The ability to process constructive criticism from your peers, coworkers, and media is what allows a leader to grow and change. Ultimately, it propels an organization forward. I experienced this when criticism from the Poly turned out to be valuable changes to Senate procedure. If I had shut down criticism, these changes would have never been made.
A leader should be visible to their community in order to develop interpersonal trust. They should be seen around campus, at events, on social media, engaging with student life to the fullest degree possible. They should reach out to their constituents in whatever ways are possible, and their name should come to mind when there is a crisis.
A leader should encourage students to get involved. Often times, this encouragement needs to be gentle in order to be effective, providing options for engagement without pressure. When a student leaves a conversation with a leader, they should feel empowered to be the change they want to see. In complex times, it is easy to be pessimistic— it is much harder to be steadfastly hopeful. Despite the instant gratification of a quick-witted cynical remark, it is so much more satisfying to build a bridge than to burn one.
What is your stance on transparency during Senate meetings?
Transparency is one of the key factors that the Senate should hold valuable, especially during Senate meetings. This allows for accountability from constituents when issues are being addressed publicly in meetings. In addition, it brings forth strong communication so that the student body knows what is going on, especially since meetings are mainly public. However, there are cases when the Senate has closed meetings. From my experience, I feel that it is unnecessary to consistently hold closed meetings, especially talking about vital information that the student body should know. The only necessary times that meetings should be closed if it is about sensitive, personal topics, such as Title IX, are brought up by either students or the administration; information, like this, should be held confidential if asked to by them. In addition, there are times when the administration gives confidential information to the Student Senate that they do not want the student body to know about. Although it is very unfair that that has to be the case at times, I want to be able to continue that streamline of communication; if I get rid of that opportunity, no student would be able to have access to that information. Another revenue to increase transparency is to create more surveys throughout my term, if I am elected, to hear students' concerns and opinions. With that, I want to be able to keep the comment section to be private, if information needs to be kept confidential, but make answers to multiple choice questions be public as student’s names will not be attached to it. Lastly, I will invite the Poly, multicultural groups, such as RBLX, NSBE, SWE and more, more often to Senate meetings, so they can speak more about issues that they are having. I want to be able to increase the transparency of multicultural groups on campus by uplifting their voices in student government. If any of the readers have more ideas on how to increase transparency, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can start an open conversation.
The Student Senate is a fundamentally representative body, and therefore should be able to answer to our constituents about any decisions we make. When I served as an Independent Senator, I authored a motion stating how important it is to keep all budgetary decisions entirely public for transparency purposes, and mentioned how we should model this within the Union. Additionally, I voiced my belief that all online votes should be roll call votes to allow for greater accountability to each constituency. In my personal opinion, I believe that all Senate meetings should be completely open to the public in order to maintain transparency. However, my current role of Grand Marshal is different from my previous role in that I guide the Senate, not to command it. In fact, according to the Student Senate Bylaws, Senate meetings must be open unless the Senate votes to close it with a ⅔ majority. Note that the Bylaws do not allow for the Grand Marshal to unilaterally decide to close a meeting, but rather state that the entire body must vote on it. The Grand Marshal should provide insight to why meetings might be closed or remain open, and then allow the Senate to decide the best course of action.