Candidates for VP of communications, academic affairs, student life debate on 3/29

Date: 
Fri, 2017/03/31

The first day of the Student Government Association (SGA) debates included candidates for the vice president (VP) of communications, VP of academic affairs, and VP of student life.

The only candidate running for VP of communications, Nathan Jones, came up to the microphone first. Jones then briefly introduced himself as a first year studying computer science, and explained that he was currently an SGA senator, part of the Communications Committee, and an active leader on campus. He realized that there were faults in the Communications Committee, but he also saw ways to fix them. Additionally, he planned to make efforts to make SGA completely transparent.

The first question asked of Jones was how he planned to better communication between SGA and the student body. Jones explained that he wanted to make the SGA website a “hub” for information that students can constantly access, detailing things about the student discount card, SGA projects, Interprofessional Projects (IPROs), and more. Additionally, he expressed a wish to increase opportunities for SGA on the bridge, where SGA representatives can talk to students, find out what they’re having trouble with, and brainstorm how to help them.

Secondly, Jones was asked what role the Communications Committee will hold in SGA as a whole. He responded by emphasizing just how much power and potential SGA had to make change, and what important decisions the body makes throughout the year. The job of the Communications Committee, he said, was to share these important decisions to the student body.

Jones was then asked to name some specific challenges he saw facing the committee and what potential solutions he had for these problems. He answered that he saw a lack of delegation to certain roles, and while there may be a lot of good ideas, the Communications Committee has not followed through with these ideas unless one person takes control. The committee was a team, Jones continued, and everyone should be aware of the plans and steps to achieve their goals.

Lastly, he was asked what actions he planned to take during his first 100 days, particularly during Welcome Week, when many freshmen are looking for organizations to join. Jones explained that he planned to promote the website, talk to students about getting involved, paint the windows on the bridge, and put up posters around campus.

Candidates for VP of academic affairs were then invited up to speak. There were two candidates for this position: Golzar Shobeiri, a third year student studying engineering management, and Thiha Thway, a freshman studying materials science and engineering.

The two candidates were first given a minute to introduce themselves. Shobeiri started off by explaining that she was currently an SGA senator under the academic affairs committee, and had completed two projects during her time there. Firstly, she had created the Career Services Advisory Board, and secondly, the Intro to the Professions (ITP) awareness project, where SGA members will go into ITP classes in order to introduce themselves and explain what SGA is. Thway introduced himself by stating his name, major, and explaining that this would be his first time getting involved in SGA.

The first question asked of these two candidates was how they planned to strengthen relations between the student body and academic departments. Shobeiri said that she had attended undergraduate studies committee (UGSC) meetings in the past, and has seen how they run, and is confident in using this group to benefit the relationship between the student body and academic departments. Thway explained that he planned to be a bridge between the student body and academic departments, and in addition, would remain open for students to discuss with him academic affairs.

When asked what actions they planned to take within their first 20 days as VP, Shobeiri said that she would have senators split up into their own respective colleges, assigned to ITP classes within those departments, and then visit those classes in order to introduce themselves as senators. Thway said that he would team up with Finance Board in order to gift all students with a 3.8 GPA or above free access to WebAssign and FlipIt Physics.

Next, candidates were asked how they would tackle the nature of extended project timelines for academic affairs, and how they planned to ensure that projects that go over their term as VP would continue. Shobeiri responded by saying that if a project lasted over a semester, she would give senators accountability and ensure that it was still being worked on over winter break. If a project lasted over her term, she explained that she would make a complete turnover document that explained what still needed to be worked on. Thway was confident that he could implement his projects within 20 days, but if they did go over his term limit, he would continue to advise the next VP of academic affairs.

When asked about their leadership styles, Shobeiri explained that she led through constant communication and accountability. Thway said he led through collaboration, unity, and teamwork.

Candidates were then asked what their primary agenda would be for the following year or what one project they would focus on. Shobeiri said that she would take whatever projects that student came to her with and implement them as well as possible. Thway said he would collaborate with any student to discuss academic issues and collaborate with academic departments in order to fix those issues.

Lastly, an audience member explained that according to a recent students speak survey, many students have experienced discrimination, and asked the candidates how they would make it easier for students to report this. Shobeiri shared that she herself wasn’t aware until recently that there was an open and anonymous form online with which to report things like that, and she’d like to make sure that more students know about it and know that it’s completely anonymous and safe. Thway responded with “same thing.”

There were three candidates for VP of student life present at the debates: Trixie Weiner, a second year studying social and economic development policy, Jacob DiGiorgio, a second year studying chemical engineering, and Gianni Carvajal, a second year transfer student studying biomedical engineering.

Candidates then briefly introduced themselves. Weiner explained that she was a part of the student life committee this past year as a senator and saw a lot that could be improved upon. Carvajal expressed a wish to make everyone feel proud to attend Illinois Tech, and sought to do this though communication of different groups on campus, such as VanderCook students and commuter students. Jacob DiGiorgio, currently a senator in the student life committee, thought that the group had a lot of potential, and while it was easy to complain, it was harder to do something about it, which is what he planned to do.

Candidates were then asked what their primary goal would be as VP of student life. DiGiorgio responded that he wanted SGA to be more apparent on campus; he noticed that many people don’t realize the power and potential for change that SGA has. Carvajal thought that there should be more interaction between the student body and student organizations. He thought that certain communities on campus were very separate, such as the athletic community and Greek community, and thought there was potential there to work together in order to improve the campus. Weiner thought that the student life committee often had big ideas to create inclusiveness, a sense of community, or overall improvements, but what really brings those ideas to fruition is the smaller projects in committees. Weiner’s primary goal would be to improve efficiency for these projects, because due to a lack of accountability, some projects fall through the cracks. In addition, she would make an effort to fix issues with communication between students and administration by implementing some form of administration accountability.

Next, the candidates were asked what actions they would take within the first 20 days. Carvajal would rework the students speak survey to be more accurate for specific groups on campus and talk to all student organizations so they can interact with each other. Weiner had three main ideas: firstly, to open communications with the students and have their ideas heard by the committee, secondly, to work with student Gabriel Connors on the “Idea Exchange,” an app to gauge popularity with issues on campus, and lastly to implement project plans with goals and timelines for SGA committees in order to provide more accountability for the projects that are happening. DiGiorgio would make efforts to form better, stronger bonds with advisors.

Candidates were then asked what they would do about the issue of many student workers working shifts unpaid or for minimum wage. DiGiorgio explained that he himself was a student worker, and realized that some students lived on that wage to buy food and rent, and would work with the payroll department to work something out. Weiner thought that a student worker union would be beneficial as a means of negotiation between students and employers.  Carvajal also emphasized that he understood the gravity of this issue, that some people actually live paycheck to paycheck, and explained that he would work with the student employment office and student financial office to negotiate a change in wages.

When asked about how to create accountability for senators within their community, Weiner responded that she planned to make a dated and structured plan for their projects, like a “syllabus” for the project, in order to prevent projects from falling through the cracks. Carvajal explained that he currently serves as the committee chair for his fraternity, and in this position experienced the need to keep officers accountable through emails, text messages, and chats during meetings. He planned to do the same if elected VP of student life. DiGiorgio said that he would build relationships with the senators in his committee, which would make it easier to hold them accountable. People don’t want to let down their friends, he reasoned.

A question from the audience then asked what candidates planned to do about the recurring issue of student organization leaders graduating and leaving their organizations to whither away; how would they create an environment so they can survive and thrive? Carvajal said he would talk to all student organizations and make sure that advisors keep tabs on their organizations. He also wanted to get organizations’ names out there more frequently and obviously, instead of just having two student organization fairs every year. DiGiorgio thought that SGA should keep tabs on organizations continually after they are approved. Weiner said that student organizations should have more opportunities to come to SGA for advising.

The following question asked candidates what specific plans they had to celebrate diversity and inclusion on campus. Weiner though that the student population should receive more education about the cultures that exist around them, and would work with many organizations to implement events and campaigns. Carvajal thought that student organizations already put on these types of events, but they were sorely under-advertised, and he would make efforts to push for more advertising. DiGiorgio thought that Illinois Tech was a beautiful place due to the opportunity students have to make friends all over the world. In his opinion, international students need to be “more out there for everyone to see.”

Lastly, candidates were asked what they considered their role to hold administration accountable. DiGiorgio explained that as a senator, he experienced the frustration of having administration that doesn’t want to work with you. He thought this problem could be solved by having students group together when advocating for an issue in order to catch and hold administration’s attention. Carvajal thought that data is something the whole school cares about and pays attention to, so he would utilize more surveys and polls throughout the year in order to make administration realize what is and is not an issue. Weiner would sit down with any uncooperative part of administration and tell them that they need to play a part something and implement a recurring accountability system.

All candidates that had previously come to the microphone were again invited up at this time for final questions and closing remarks. Thway, however, had apparently left early, and was absent for this section.

First, candidates were asked how they would deal with the students that believe that their voice won’t change anything about the situation around them. DiGiorgio thought that there was a huge problem with students not knowing how to reach someone who has the power to fix a complaint, and wanted to increase the awareness of SGA. Shobeiri emphasized the fact that every single candidate speaking that day would gladly hear and do something about any student’s complaint. Carvajal agreed with DiGiorgio, saying that many students didn’t know their senator or who to bring it up to. He believed very strongly that SGA members were not there for themselves, but were there for everyone, and he would get back to any student that complained and explain that they would do their best to do something about it. Jones thought that many students didn’t realize how much power SGA had, and once they realize that, they will be more willing to voice their opinions. Weiner said that there was a lack of accessibility for information about SGA, which needed to change. She also thought that the dated plans for SGA projects needed to be publicized and updated online in order to show students that they are actually making change.

One audience member then expressed the opinion that SGA seemed to have no large-scale vision, and asked the candidates what their position might look like when possibly working with other schools and pushing administration to do more. Weiner thought that while small projects like getting healthy food in vending machines was important, “real and hefty” projects like helping students feel safe were more important. Jones said that Finance Board, the Judicial Board, and Senate all need to be connected and realize what tasks are necessary with every project, and even communicate with policy makers, if necessary. Carvajal argued that the overarching vision of SGA does exist, and is to make student life better for all students. He thought that reaching out to campuses was a great idea, because it seemed like the only interaction that Illinois Tech had with other schools was through sports teams. Shobeiri recognized that if she is elected as VP of academic affairs, SGA senators will be asking her what the students want, and she feels like she will do a great job of communicating to the group what student opinions are. DiGiorgio thought that a huge problem on campus was that students feel like administration doesn’t care about them, and he wanted to make administration’s caring more apparent.

Candidates were then invited to make closing statements to end the debates. Jones started off saying what an honor it was to have the opportunity to run for as VP of communications, and explained that what SGA has done this year could be a fraction of what they did next year. Shobeiri said that if elected as VP of academic affairs, she would open it up to the students, ask what they needed, and make sure their voices are heard. Weiner explained that her end goal was not to become VP of student life; her ultimate goal was to improve all aspects of student life and to see that students get what they want and need. Carvajal said that if elected, he will listen to students and help them be proud to attend school here. DiGiorgio concluded by expressing a wish for all students to feel like they’re cared about and feel that if they have a problem, they can come to SGA and change will be made.

If you’d like more information on each of the candidates, please visit https://sga.iit.edu/executive-board-candidates/. To vote, visit http://tiny.cc/ivotedsga. Remember that voting ends at midnight on April 4!