Candidate Profile

Ria Massoni candidate profile

By Ria Massoni March 17, 2024

The Poly sent out a questionnaire to every candidate running for Grand Marshal, President of the Union, and Undergraduate President. Below are the unedited responses from GM candidate Ria Massoni ’24, ’25G.

Why do you want to be Grand Marshal?

RPI has undergone many changes in the past four years I have been here and many are still ongoing. First with the COVID-19 pandemic, RPI had very strict policies and when the policies loosened, we had to find ways to bring back the vibrant student life that used to exist. Then we got a new president, Dr. Schmidt, and many changes have since occurred. But prior to my time at RPI, students once held much more power than they used to.

The Rensselaer Union was formed in 1890 by students for students. For 127 years, it was entirely student run. Student Government had the direct capacity to effect change that significantly impacted the lives of students, inspiring people to devote countless hours to the Union. But from 2008 to 2022, the Union's influence was gradually stripped away. In the past two years, the new administration has begun to restore some of the lost power to the students, but there is still more to be done.

With the ongoing cultural shifts as we recover from the pandemic, coupled with structural changes in the administration and everyday operations of the institute, many problems have arisen and they continue to arise each and every day. But, serving as the Undergraduate President for the past two years, I recognize the power students have to make a meaningful, positive impact on campus. We have the chance to speak up and advocate for changes, improving RPI for future students. I recognize that there are many issues, but we have the power to do something about it, and that is exactly why I want to be Grand Marshal. We have the power to redefine our relationship with the administration, as the Office of Student Life shifts under the Provost. We can propose actionable solutions to make campus safe, ensuring that students can cross the street to walk to class without fearing they may be hit. We can make campus more accessible, working to increase academic support, advocating for structural changes as part of the campus renovation projects that are soon to come, and we can cultivate a community that includes and empowers all individuals. We have the power to improve the policies in the dining halls so that plates and silverware are properly washed. We even have the ability to bring up difficult discussions about Title IX and the institute's Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures or about mental health and depression. We can push for increases to graduate student stipends and work to provide more support and open discussions for graduate students. As students, we have the ability to affect the RPI community for years to come, and there are meaningful, actionable steps we can take.

I want to be Grand Marshal to do exactly that—represent the student voice and advocate for these necessary changes. For each and everyone of the issues I recognize, I want to take hold of the timely opportunity and make a difference, improving RPI for each and every one of us.

What makes you qualified for Grand Marshal?

In my four years at RPI, I have seen a vast change in the culture. When I first came to RPI in Fall of 2020, campus experienced a dramatic shift under the strict COVID-19 policies. I decided to run for Class of 2024 Vice President with the hope of bringing life back to campus. As Vice President, I advocated for the Class of 2024 and influenced decisions regarding improved residential policies and increased activities and gatherings on campus. The following year I ran for Class of 2024 President, where I planned many events and activities for my class and created the Undergraduate Council’s Arch Task Force, a revival of the former Senate Committee.

For the last two years, I have served as the Undergraduate President—one of the highest elected positions in Student government—overseeing the Undergraduate Council, the Union's undergraduate legislative body. In this role, one of my biggest priorities has been improving the Arch. Through the Undergraduate Council's Arch Task Force, I worked to expand student representation in the decision process, obtaining a direct line of communication with the administrators involved in the Arch. I also ensured students were represented at the annual Arch Town Hall, where various personnel across the institute meet and discuss changes to the Arch. Because of this, we were able to secure on-campus research as an option for the Arch Away semester, improve the Arch exemption process— which now allows more students than ever to pursue opportunities outside of the typical Arch timeline— improve the Arch preparation course and preparation materials, better the summer Arch experience for all, and more. But more work is still to be done.

Outside of Arch, I have developed long-term plans to improve student mental health, advocated for increased safety on and off campus, created the Union's Weekly Events emails to publicize upcoming club events, started a project to connect students with alumni to aid in the job finding process, improved communication between students and administrators, planned countless events and activities for undergraduate students, and much more. As Grand Marshal, I will continue these same initiatives along with many more to ensure the best possible RPI experience for all.

In addition to being Undergraduate President, I also served as the Communications Director and Project Lead for the Student Senate's Facilities and Services Committee for a year, and I also was the Panhellenic Director of Communications. Across both positions, I have made communication a priority, striving to be as transparent as possible and ensuring that I represent the student body to the best of my ability, which is something I plan to continue should I be elected Grand Marshal.

Being part of Student Government for the last four years, I can truly say I have learned an incredible amount. I had to quickly learn on my feet how to advocate for myself and my peers as early as the second month of my freshman year. Then as Class President and Undergraduate President I enhanced my time management and conflict resolution skills, learning how to manage many projects and meetings on top of schoolwork and navigating difficult relationships. I have also developed strong relationships with administrators across the institute, providing invaluable connections.

Overall, we need a leader with experience, knowledge, and proven dedication to the RPI student body. We also need a leader who is willing to be honest and who is not afraid to speak up. As Class President and as the Undergraduate President, I have stood up to the previous and current presidents of RPI and other administrators on numerous issues, despite the potential consequences I would face. As Grand Marshal, I will continue to do the same, fighting for the rights that students deserve.

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.

Short Term Goals:

  1. Demand better food safety protocols in the dining halls, ensuring dishes are properly cleaned and preventing the spread of illnesses
  2. Work with the Center for Career and Professional Development and multicultural clubs and organizations to host an underrepresented minority career fair with companies that are truly inclusive of women, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC individuals
  3. Improve pedestrian safety on and off campus and ensure students can safely walk to their classes without risk of serious injury

Long Term Goals:

  1. Push for the reinstatement of student representative positions to the Board of Trustees’ Finance Committee
  2. Call for a review of the institute's Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures, advocating for improvements to the Title IX training and educational programs for all students, staff, and faculty
  3. Demand higher compensation and increased support for graduate students

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? If any, what changes could be made?

The Student Senate is the chief legislative body, meant to represent and fight for students. It is a place for meaningful discussions about RPI, a place to voice concerns and solve problems. Senators are responsible for representing their respective constituents, speaking to the relevant administrators to address problems and creating projects to enhance the RPI community. The Grand Marshal is the leader of the Student Senate and oversees all committees. They also serve as the chief spokesperson for the Student Union, responsible for representing all members of the Union. The Grand Marshal must listen to their peers, attending events and club meetings to hear student concerns and provide solutions to the issues they share. They are also responsible for empowering others to get involved and creating new spaces for students to have a voice and new avenues to make a positive difference. The Grand Marshal trains each Student Senate, creating a culture of collaboration and inspiring passionate students to get involved.

While the current Senate has made progress in decreasing costs of textbooks and other academic resources for select classes, it has not focused on many of the pressing issues. The Senate also has many open positions and lacks representatives from the Class of 2025. Many members of the Senate are passionate, but lack the necessary direction and guidance to carry out their ideas. The Senate should begin each term with training and should be focused on fostering open and inclusive discourse. Additionally, the Senate should advertise meetings and encourage other students to attend and voice their concerns.

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?

The Grand Marshal, as chief representative, is responsible for listening to and voicing student concerns, providing solutions and leading the Senate. While the incumbent Grand Marshal has tried to do so, he is committed to many other organizations and the Senate has not been his priority. The Grand Marshal has also struggled to recognize graduate student issues, and has not been open and active in communicating with the student body.

If elected Grand Marshal, I will focus on fostering an open and inclusive culture within the Senate. I will host open office hours, allowing for discussions and being available for students to raise concerns. Additionally, Senators should be trained not only on Senate processes and procedures, but also on the history of Student Government. With this knowledge, they will gain a better understanding of what is possible and within their power as a senator. I will also ensure that Senate Officer and Senator positions are filled and will focus on empowering passionate students to get involved, ensuring the most effective operation.

What does the student-senator relationship look like? What should it look like?

The student-senator relationship has been declining every year. Students are not aware of who their representatives are and they do not know who to go to. Senators currently gain information about the campus climate from friends and are not publicly visible to many.

The student-senator relationship must be open and inclusive, and it should be based on mutual collaboration and respect. Students should be aware of who their representatives are and should be comfortable going to them. Senators should be proactive and accessible, attending campus events and actively speaking to their respective constituents. They also must be receptive and validate students’ concerns, providing them with appropriate solutions and actions to take.

What does the senator-administration relationship currently look like? What should it look like?

The senator-administrator relationship is based on the idea of shared governance. It involves active collaboration and honesty to develop trust between Senators and the administrators. In the past two years, President Schmidt has been open to listen to students and actively meets with student leaders. However, other administrators have withheld information and are less open and receptive to student concerns. While this is changing, there is still much progress to be had. Many senators do not regularly meet with administrators, which only furthers the disconnect between them and the administration. In an ideal world, the relationship should be built upon honesty and trust. Senators and administrators should work together to identify and solve problems, treating each other with mutual respect.

How do you plan to engage with the president of the Institute and the rest of Institute administration?

In my current role as Undergraduate President, I regularly meet with the president of the Institute and other administrators. President Schmidt is a visible face around campus, attending events and activities. I hope to continue this open communication, inviting the president, provost, and administrators to Senate meetings and advertising this to the student body. I want to have regular meetings and enhance our current relationship.

Should I be elected Grand Marshal, I will advocate for the return of student representatives on the Board of Trustees Finance Committee. The position used to exist until it was removed in 2008, along with the student representative positions on the Student Life Committee. While the representatives on the Student Life Committee have since been reinstated, the representatives on the Finance Committee have not. As Grand Marshal, I will make this one of my main priorities, as student voices should be heard, especially in regards to the influential decisions the Finance Committee has the power to make.

What qualities should a leader have? How are you a leader?

A leader should be trustworthy and approachable. Students should be able to go to their leaders and representatives with their concerns and know that they will be recognized. Leaders should be passionate and willing to dedicate themselves to representing the views of their constituents, even when they may personally disagree. They should also be confident and willing to speak up; they need to be able to have uncomfortable conversations in a respectful but productive manner, ensuring that the student voice is heard and recognized. A leader should also be honest with themselves and their constituents, being open about the work they have done. While this may lead to criticism, the best leaders are ones who can learn from their past mistakes, and this can only begin through honesty and open communication.

I am a leader each and every day, and have been one since I first came to RPI. I consistently advocate for students, ensuring their voice is heard. I try to actively talk to students of all classes, ensuring that I am accessible and open, and many now recognize that I am someone they can come to with problems or concerns. For example, many students in my classes have brought up issues such as lead pipes around campus, concerns about the lack of sanitary dishes in the dining halls, problems with the Arch and struggles in finding an Away Opportunity, and much more. Each time I explained the context of what I am able to do and have done my best to advocate for these issues, ensuring that they are heard. Additionally, I am able to recognize and take criticism. When I first became Undergraduate President, a few people in Student Government came to me with concerns about how I previously led the Class of 2024 Council as the Class of 2024 President; they believed I was too involved with the committees, and I took the time to reflect about how I could change my future level of involvement, giving the Undergraduate Council committees the freedom to operate as they wish but still supporting them and offering guidance. It is in these ways, through honesty, open communication, and a willingness to fight for students that I have been and continue to be a leader.