Those elected as officers and committee chairs for next year’s Student Senate are looking ahead and considering their priorities for the coming year.
Elections for the Student Senate Executive Board three weeks ago brought in eight students, one of whom is new to Senate altogether. Voter turnout this year was 40 percent. This is down from last year’s 47 percent, but still higher than the 36 percent turnout of two years ago.
The Knox Student this week investigated the goals, expectations and attitudes of the newly-elected senate executives.
“Student Senate exists to represent and serve the needs of the students,” President-elect junior Michael Gasparro said.
Gasparro will be serving his fourth year on Student Senate this upcoming school year.
“I really want to make Student Senate more appealing to students,” Gasparro said. “… So I really want to make Senate more of a resource for students rather than just a place where they go if they need something, or if there’s a crisis or if something comes up that makes them mad.”
To increase efforts for making Senate more accessible, he plans to start with Freshman Orientation Week, making sure incoming students “know what Senate can do from the get-go.” He also plans to expand Student Senate’s public relations campaign efforts.
“I really just want to be able to make a tangible change,” Gasparro said. “I want to be a leader for students and express what they need to faculty, to other students, et cetera. And I do enjoy Senate a lot.”
In contrast to the past years Gasparro has seen on Senate, he said he wants “Exec to be more business-like and efficient because a lot of the nitty-gritty work is done in Exec. There’s some stuff not seen, some stuff behind the scenes, and I want to make that visible to students.” Additionally, he would like to “make the committee members and committee chairs play more of a visible role in Senate.”
“I would like to change the outlook on Student Senate by spring term [next year],” Vice President-elect sophomore Phil Bennett said. “I would really like to reorganize Student Senate, make it more efficient, transparent and would like to make Student Senate a more friendly and positive appearance on campus.
“I was a little bit surprised. It was a very tough race,” Bennett said. “I was told it was the most-contested race.” Bennett decided to run for vice president in order to reinvigorate the energy within Student Senate.
“I feel like senators should be constantly talking to their constituents and just getting a more accurate sampling of what the student body is saying and thinking,” Bennett said.
Additionally, he wants to change the perception that people on Senate “take themselves too seriously.”
“I want to humble ourselves during fall term. … And I really want all students to see us as just students, and all senators to see us as just students,” he said.
“I would really like to use the restricted fund for more fun projects,” sophomore Shelly Bhanot, treasurer-elect, said. She cites student interest in projects such as a possible ice rink.
“One of the biggest challenges … is knowing exactly what is defined as a club and what is an organization, and knowing what we should be funding and what we shouldn’t be funding,” she said.
“The Finance Committee this year was just so fantastic,” Bhanot said. “I was so pleased to get to work with them, and I hope to have a committee like that next year.” Bhanot believes this year’s Finance Committee was very fluid and had similar goals and ideas, and “everyone knew how to have a conversation.
“I think a really important thing is picking the committee members,” Bhanot said. She believes that an efficient Finance Committee is comprised of individuals who “have their priorities correct and would be compatible with each other.” The biggest hurdles for next year, according to Bhanot, will likely not arise from the individuals on Senate themselves, but “making sure that all of our hopes and dreams actually get realized.”
“Definitely my priority will be to enhance public relations related to Student Senate,” Secretary-elect freshman Nafeeul Araf said, “because I understand that a lot of students don’t really know what Student Senate does. We do have the boards and we’re getting digital signage, but we should go above and beyond.
“I think Senators and Subs is a really good idea,” Araf said. “For this year, we have an upcoming outdoor Student Senate meeting. But maybe [we should] do some other things throughout the year, maybe have some events like a lot of the other clubs do, just to get people to come and ask questions if they have any or just to see who these senators are.
“The biggest challenges are definitely going to be some of the budgeting stuff and being on SMURF,” Araf said, “just because — while I have some experience actually being a co-chair of a committee that handles budgeting for different clubs or different events — I’m definitely new to that experience.” Araf will be co-chair of the Special Meeting on the Use of the Restricted Fund, otherwise known as SMURF, with Bhanot for the upcoming year.
“I will definitely encourage a lot more vocalizing from every single member,” Araf said. “A lot of the time, people are just like bodies there … and I’d definitely like to encourage people to actively participate.”
Dining Services chair
Junior David Wawzenek, chair-elect of the Dining Services Committee, plans to ensure that the committee continues to operate as efficiently as it has in the past, as well as to increase outreach efforts to the student body using instruments such as social media.
“The big challenge will be to make sure that the general voice of the student body is accurately represented and heard on matters related to Dining Services,” he said.
When asked if and what he would do differently as chair of Dining Services next year compared to the committee’s past workings, Wawzenek responded, “I’ve been very impressed with how efficiently it runs. We’re told to actively listen and hear if our friends are saying anything that might be related to Dining Services and to then bring it up at the committee. And that’s been working great. I feel like we’ve been getting a lot of great input from the student body, and I want to make sure that I can keep that going in any way that I can.”
Asked about his motives for running, Wawzenek said, “I wanted to make sure that [Dining Services Committee] continues to run as efficiently as it has been.”
Campus Life chair
For next year, Campus Life Chair-elect sophomore Paul Brar, plans to “start focusing on more exterior things outside of theme housing; the last two Residential Quality of Life chairs really focused on theme housing and making sure that was as efficient as possible. I feel like they did a decent enough job that that won’t be my primary focus.
“Campus outreach is always a goal,” Brar said. He wants to “make it easier for students to bring in their input. Though we are an important committee, it’s not going to be anything unless we can find a way to make students interested.”
One of Brar’s biggest goals is improvement of the standard of living in the Quads.
“I’m not gonna lie; I really want to work on the Quads,” he said.
“A general goal for any tech chair would be to strengthen the connection between the student body and the ITS [staff],” Nana Opoku, chair-elect of the Technology Committee, said. ITS is short for Information Technology Services, formerly known as the Computer Center. He intends to accomplish this goal by ensuring that the student body knows exactly what the Technology Chair does and by getting the student body to voice their opinions more.
“Most of the time, the problems that students have that they want to present to ITS are not solved because they do not present them at all,” he said.
Opoku is a first-time member of Student Senate. When asked about the biggest challenges he foresees encountering next year on Senate, he said, “The biggest challenge is going to be adjusting to the way Senate runs, as I’m not familiar with that system. But I don’t think it should be too much of a problem because I can adjust quickly and I play roles in so many organizations on campus, and I learn very quickly.
“The reason I ran for Tech chair,” Opoku said, “is the same reason I run for any position on Senate or any other organization on campus. I personally like to influence people’s lives because I would like to make the world a better place for people.”
“For the past two years,” chair-elect of the Sustainability Committee sophomore Nora McGinn said, “Sustainability [Committee] has done a good job.” She said it has been one of the best ways students can pursue sustainability objectives, she explains, largely due to its funding. The biggest green problem at Knox, according to McGinn, is that sustainability at Knox “is not really integrated necessarily.”
McGinn explains that by this she means that “sustainability is thought of as a separate fund,” and that the campus needs a paradigm shift in which sustainability is no longer thought of as an afterthought, but “something we absolutely consider in every decision.” The biggest challenge, she said, is “making sure that sustainability is accessible to all students, not just environmental studies majors.”