Candidate Profile

Vivian Rost-Nasshan candidate profile

By Vivian Rost-Nasshan 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 Vivian Rost-Nasshan ’26.

Why do you want to be Grand Marshal?

The Grand Marshal is a position that can change the Institute with the power of the student voice. As the Grand Marshal, I would be in the best position to amplify and protect student voices. Though I am just a sophomore, the changes that I will make in the coming year will outlast me and my term. I want to begin a change that I can live through the year after my term. In my time on Senate this year, I have reconnected the Faculty and Student Senates, pushed for more transparency in the

I want to build upon my momentum, branch outside of the realm of academics, and begin representing the whole student body. I see a future where student passions and projects are more heavily advertised and supported by the Institute, where student affinity groups are included in Student Leaders meetings, and students have the opportunity to change the world. The best way for me to push for this future is as Grand Marshal, and that is what I want to achieve.

What makes you qualified for Grand Marshal?

My positions on the Senate have included Independent Senator and Academic Affairs Committee Chair, but my involvement began as a simple peaceful observer. I would attend meetings, listen, and sparsely participate. I participated in the annual Light Walk, where Public Safety and administrators walked with students to ensure proper lighting around campus, and the Student Government training session where the Executive Board and the Senate completed activities with the Archer Center to improve our inter-board relationships. Coming in as a Senator, I aimed to take these Senate-student interactions and incorporate them into my advocacy. As Grand Marshal, it is essential to have experience in the Senate as its relationship with the Executive Board and administration is unique. Having been Academic Affairs Committee Chair I have had the opportunity to collaborate with students, administration, and the Faculty Senate. As Independent Senator, my constituency included the majority of the population and encompassed all students not participating in Greek Life. Above all, my intrinsic motivation to connect and advocate for students makes me extremely qualified for Grand Marshal.

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:

Physically, financially, and mentally, accessible education:

As Grand Marshal, I want to ensure that education is accessible physically, financially, and mentally. This includes building upon this year’s Accessibility Walk to renew the annual Light Walk and include a Pedestrian Safety Walk for administrators and staff to walk in the footsteps of students for a night. This also encompasses continuing projects to lower textbooks prices and explore options for the vast amount of Institute scholarships to include textbook materials. I want to ensure extended breaks can be fully utilized for resting and mental health breaks by clearing the first days back from break of exams.

Career Preparedness:

A college degree no longer distinguishes one job application from another. In building upon President Schmidt’s Rensselaer Forward Translation pillar, it is essential that students are supported by the Institute in exploring passion projects. This includes building upon the Undergraduate and Graduate Research Symposiums to include semesterly research career fairs and opportunities for student projects to also be highlighted.

Collaborative service:

My term as Grand Marshal would not be possible and will not be successful without the successful collaboration between student groups. There are a wide variety of distinct student groups on campus that provide unique experiences for self expression. I want the Student Government to acknowledge and build upon the fact that issues that can heavily affect one student group in actuality affect all students. For example, the Folsom Library is only staffed by graduate students. If the graduate students are overworked with limited time to staff the library, both undergraduate and graduate students suffer.

Long Term Goals:

Project based learning:

Building upon established curriculum to adjust student learning to be more project based will ensure that students can learn to apply their technical skills and build soft skills that employers desire.

Common understand of the student experience:

While there is a disconnect between the needs of the students and the actions taken by the Institute, neither can be truly successful. Whether this comes from ensuring that data regarding lead pipes on campus is made public or ensuring that students are present at Board of Trustees meetings is yet to be seen, but there is a wide range of possibilities.

More on campus learning environments:

The Union is crowded and is unable to simultaneously be the main academic and social space on campus. Exploring ways to incorporate collaborative learning spaces on campus will greatly improve the student experience.

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 Senate serves as the chief advocacy body of the Union. It is tasked with hearing student concerns and completing projects to improve student life.. The nine Senate committees, including two joint E-Board committees, are dedicated to advocating and acting on behalf of students.

The Senate has room to grow in its communications with Union clubs. While our Facilities and Services Committee worked with the Disabled Students at RPI (DSR) for an Accessibility Walk and the Student Life Committee was successful in working with Active Minds for mental health week, the crossover between Senate and club initiatives was minimal. If the Senate were in contact with mission-oriented clubs, similar to E-Board Club representatives, I believe our advocacy and voice would only be strengthened. Ways of accomplishing this include holding “GM Office Hours,” publicizing the ways to attend Senate meetings and committees, and holding an increased number of town halls as the Graduate Council has exemplified.

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?

Ben Viner was fantastic in letting committees choose their own projects and oversee them from a distance. However, this meant committee activity was fluid and not consistent. Few Senators met their requirement to be on two committees which negatively affected the impact a Senate committee could have. Improving this starts with enforcing the committee requirement and checking in with committee Chairs about their progress more than once a semester.

Additionally, Ben onboarded new members of the Senate well, providing and identifying resources that would make them successful. Unfortunately, a few times this semester the Senate was unable to vote due to not fulfilling quorum. If the attendance of a Senator is consistently insufficient, I would discuss their attendance directly with that Senator and the head of the Council they represent. Since Senators are elected representatives of their constituencies, it is necessary to convey that the constituency is being underrepresented and to allow each Council to take appropriate action.

Furthermore, the low student presence on Board of Trustees committees is unacceptable. Ben was dutiful in appointing student representatives to a multitude of committees and aiding in the solidification of the graduate student voice. However, the Board of Trustees has immense decision-making power and the lack of adequate student representation is detrimental to student life.

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

Currently, the student-senator relationship is disconnected. In my two years participating in the Senate, I have seen a multitude of Senators bring up student issues, most frequently when a Senator is passionate about an issue or personally affected. I rarely see non-Senators calling the Senate’s attention to issues they are experiencing. The lack of crossover represents a disconnect between the changes the Senate is pushing for and the changes that would most benefit the student body.

I would like to see Senators actively engaging with student groups and encouragement from Senators for students to discuss missions that could benefit from Student Government support.

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

In my time as Academic Affairs Committee Chair, I was successful in meeting monthly, or more, with Provost Rebecca Doerge. The meeting served as an opportunity to provide updates on each other’s projects and goals. This time also allowed us to combine our efforts, as we are doing right now in bringing proposals to the Faculty Senate to effectively protect Reading Days and clear the first few days back from break of exams. Our want to support student health and wellbeing and our frequent meetings, enabled us to be overall more successful. Additionally, I was able to directly convey student feedback on her 5-day Excused Absence Policy, which administrators are frequently left without.

This budding relationship is not the same across the board, but in President Schmidt’s efforts to hold monthly Student Leaders Meetings the tides have changed to make student input a norm and a priority, rather than an afterthought.

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

I want to continue to attend Student Leaders meetings, bring administrators to roundtable discussions, and encourage members of affinity groups to attend both. I would like to attend committee check-ins with administrators and hold town halls for students to personally raise concerns that can be directly and immediately addressed by administration or members of the Senate. I want the Senate to be a voice that students can use to present concerns to administration and faculty.

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

A leader does not presume to understand their constituents but actively pursues understanding. I have worked diligently to outreach to my constituents and meet them where they are. While it is key to be an open listener, being in active communication and demonstrating attention to individual problems hones an important relationship between people.