President of the Union candidate profile: Colleen Corrigan
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?
I have been a student at RPI for the last five years. During this time, I have enjoyed being part of our student community and seeing how far each student is willing to go to help their fellow students. I have enjoyed attending events hosted by Union organizations and wish to continue seeing these events grow as we transition back to normalcy. I believe that our Student Union and the organizations that belong to it are vital to the happiness of students here at RPI. Without these clubs and organizations, many students may have chosen a different university or transferred out. Personally, I truly enjoy helping students achieve goals set forth, especially this past year working directly with our Union and its clubs.
My primary goals as President of the Union are to ensure that our Union continues to benefit students and improve to meet growing needs. Reorganization is necessary to achieve these goals, but with training, I see a positive future for the Executive Board and its relations with the clubs of the Union.
What qualifies you to be President of the Union?
During my past year on the board, I have served as the Vice President for Board Operations. In this position, my main duties were overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Executive Board, organizing the annual budgeting cycle which is a main purpose of the Executive Board, and overseeing the Executive Board’s committees. Outside of my position’s direct duties, I have also worked individually with new and current clubs, helping with various tasks including forming the club, marketing, explaining approved budgets to currently funded and newly funding teams, as well as supporting the formation of FY23’s Union Annual Report.
Before the Executive Board, I spent four years on the Student Senate, holding the positions of Parliamentarian, Class Senator, and Vice Grand Marshal. Through these positions and my time on the Senate, I have learned the importance of communication, transparency, and holding myself accountable to the needs of my constituents. Being part of both the Senate and Executive Board has allowed me to understand their interactions and unique responsibilities between the two bodies. The lead-up to my decision to run for President of the Union may not be the most conventional, but I believe that the skills and experience that I will bring to the position will be beneficial to the Executive Board and Union 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.
- Improve club membership numbers through improved recruitment training, an updated financial workshop training to bring awareness to resources, and more support from Union resources, including marketing.
- Update Executive Board club representatives training to be more efficient so that representatives will have more time and knowledge to be proactive in building relationships and helping their clubs plan and execute events rather than expecting clubs to reach out only when necessary.
- Increase communication from myself and the Executive Board before, during, and after the budgeting period so that clubs are fully aware of the process and have time to ask questions. Also place emphasis on representatives fully reviewing approved budgets with clubs in case of further questions or appeals.
- Ensure decisions continue to be made by the Executive Board and denounce any attempt to remove student voice in matters pertaining to the Union.
- Enable decisions to be made in a transparent matter to hold student government accountable to constituents needs and build up additional interest in student government.
- See through discussion of plans for Union renovations as it becomes feasible with the Union’s debt service being paid off in 2025.
Other goals that I am looking to accomplish can be found on my platform located at colleenforpu.com.
In your own words, what do you feel are the roles of the President of the Union and the Union Executive Board?
The Executive Board is charged with overseeing any matter as it pertains to the Union. This includes the annual club budgeting, setting Union policies, approving Union administrative hearings, working with Union organizations, communicating any Union related business to students, and dealing with any business dealing with the Union’s facilities. The President of the Union chairs Executive Board meetings and moderates discussion in an impartial manner to ensure students’ best interests are prioritized. Outside of meetings, the President of the Union sets the direction and highlights important goals of the Board for the year, by working with committees and other projects. The President of the Union also works alongside the Grand Marshal to achieve goals by working with the RPI administration and communicating updates to students.
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?
After working closely with the incumbent President of the Union, Yaseen Mahmoud, this past year, I believe that his greatest strength lies in his passion to provide clubs with the resources needed for them to achieve their individual goals. Yaseen’s compassion towards each club, no matter its purpose, is what strengthens his drive to speak up for not only Union organizations, but also students as it pertains to matters at RPI. I hope to convey this same energy if elected as I work with each student organization.
This passion, however, can sometimes come at a price of impartiality during Executive Board meetings. As chair of the Executive Board, the President of the Union is to remain impartial during discussions, however Yaseen’s dedication to ensuring students receive the best experience sometimes will interfere with this will sometimes interfere with this neutral position. I aim to remain unbiased by ensuring that members of the Executive Board are trained from the start of their appointment so that thorough discussions may be held to vet proposals as they come to the board, allowing myself to chair discussion rather than guiding them.
What does the club-Executive Board representative relationship look like? What should it look like?
It is the Executive Board’s responsibility to assist clubs and ensure required processes through the Union for clubs run efficiently. Each funded club receives a voting representative on the board, who also represents their interests during budgeting. I believe that both of the Vice Presidents of Club Relations that the board has had this year have worked hard to ensure club representatives have conveyed important information to their clubs, as it has become necessary. I also believe that this relationship can be built stronger by restructuring representative training. Each member of the Executive Board is expected to understand policies as they relate to clubs and the Union, and therefore are a beneficial contact that should be utilized by clubs. It should not be the responsibility of clubs to always need to reach out to find who to contact and what steps they will need to take. Instead, representatives should proactively check through their assigned clubs’ budgets at the beginning of the year to track events throughout the semester to better assist when the time comes and ensure paperwork is filled out at the correct time. I also want to encourage attendance at club events so that representatives may better understand a club’s purpose and better represent them. By shifting this responsibility back to Executive Board representatives, it allows for members of the board who are aware of Union policies to assist clubs, giving clubs more time to focus on their functions and events.
Currently, non-funded clubs fall under the purview of the Club Operations Committee, which also has additional responsibilities including helping new clubs form and club constitution changes. Because of this, I believe that select non-funded clubs would benefit from having a dedicated Club Financial Officer, a non-voting member of the Board, to be a point of contact for any questions or help with Union resources. While this position already exists, I believe that it should be expanded and better utilized for new clubs who are adjusting to a Union status who may want the extra assistance in starting operations, as well as current clubs who would appreciate the extra guidance.
How would you evaluate the current Union budget situation? What do you foresee as future budget concerns?
Overall, the current state of the Union’s budget is healthy, but could be improved. Given the necessity of remaining flexible during the last two years, the club contingency fund has been expanded so that clubs may request money as needed to meet policy requirements. In exchange, club budgets have remained steady so as to limit the amount the activity fee has been raised in the last year in an effort to remain conscious of the effects of the pandemic. Of course, given inflation and the increasing minimum wage in the state of New York, these considerations have caused a light increase in the budget and activity fee. With a larger contingency, it is important that club representatives be extra vigilant this year in ensuring that their clubs have the money needed for their programming, as the board has seen this year through additional subsidy requests.
Going forward, as we continue to move towards a sense of normalcy, I hope to re-engage transfers to reserves, as well as increase the approval of new program requests. In 2025, the Union’s debt service will be paid off. This will allow funds to instead be used to better the Union, including facility upgrades. It is important that these conversations continue to be held and plans be put into place so that students will continue to benefit from our Union.
COVID-19 hurt club membership and engagement. How do you plan to re-engage students with RPI’s community?
For many students, RPI is chosen for its ranking and rigorous programs, but many students stay at RPI for friends made and clubs joined. Without these organizations, more students would transfer out of RPI in search of a community. COVID-19 and restrictions have limited the club's ability to host events and other programming, but with the current vaccination and booster rates, I believe a return to normalcy is within our view. To re-engage students in RPI’s community, there are a few key factors that need to be improved: awareness of resources, recruitment, and recentralizing the Union as a hub.
The Union offers many resources, to both clubs and individuals, however many are unknown to students. Improving the financial workshop training that is required of club officers is one way to communicate this information more effectively. The Union website is also a centralized location for resources and other important information, but in its current state, it is outdated. If elected, I plan to work with the System Administrators to ensure that key information is provided in an easy-to-find manner.
As of right now, the Fall Activities Fair remains the major recruitment method used by many clubs. The Activities Fair, while not intentionally targeted towards freshmen, limits upperclassmen looking for new activities from attending. Marketing the Activities Fair in a way that better invites the entire student body is important and I hope to utilize the Marketing and Strategy committee in meeting these goals. I also am interested in bringing in external facilitators to hold sessions to improve recruitment practices so that club officers who are new to recruiting will benefit and be prepared for the activities fair or other events their club may hold.
Before COVID-19, the Union was a bustling location for students to study, attend meetings, and socialize with other students. With the restrictions placed, the Union’s hours of operation have been limited and students are choosing other locations to study. I want to recentralize the Union as the student hub so as to meet students’ needs and allow for it to be fully utilized. It is my goal that the traditional Union hours be brought back, which will encourage students to stay as late night studying is approved. Also, I want to work with the Business Operations Committee and Director of the Union to ensure that every square foot of the Union is being used for its best purpose in an aim to provide a better Union for students.
How do you intend to encourage students to fully utilize the resources of the Union?
The Union offers many resources to both clubs and individuals, although many of these resources are unknown to students. It is important to me that we raise awareness of these resources so as to justify the activity fee dollars spent towards these resources. As discussed earlier, an important goal of mine is to work with System Administrators to improve the Union website with updated links to resources. This website has the potential of being a virtual central hub, and can include Union resources, as well as club and organization information to better connect students with their interests. I also believe that stronger training for Executive Board representatives is important so that they themselves may serve as a guide to resources offered by the Union. Therefore, when a club is organizing an event that will benefit from existing resources, representatives will be able to recommend next steps. Recently, the Marketing and Strategy Committee has been brought back, and I aim to strengthen this committee to help create policies guiding marketing and social media, which will benefit the student body by creating better content to advertise club events and Union resources.
What is your stance on transparency during Executive Board meetings?
Transparency during Executive Board meetings is very important to me. As someone who has served multiple years as an elected member of the Student Senate, I understand having accountability for actions and decisions made on the behalf of constituents. With this reasoning, it is why I place so much emphasis on representatives communicating with their clubs to ensure accurate representation so that decisions made within Executive Board meetings and during budgeting may be properly decided through understanding of clubs’ viewpoints. Along with this, strong communication is also important so that not only are decisions made with students’ interests at heart, but also publicized for the student body to see. By following the approved policies found in the Rensselaer Union Guidelines & Procedures and improving these policies as necessary, I believe that the Executive Board can maintain a fair system in which subsidies may be allocated out to the Union and its organizations.