Student Government Association lays out new executive board initiatives, emphasizes student input and engagement

Fri, 2017/08/25
Ethan Castro

As the ashes settle from another finished first week of classes, the Illinois Tech Student Government Association (SGA) would like to welcome all new and returning students back to campus for the 2017-2018 academic year. For those unaware (or otherwise out of the information loop), SGA is the primary governing body of all Illinois Tech students. This body serves the student body as the primary liaison between them and the university’s administration. Any concerns or suggestions about the university’s academics, student life, or other communications can all be brought to the attention of SGA, and from there it will be brought to the proper university administration. More specific items under the jurisdiction of SGA include the creation of new student organizations, the allocation of the Student Activity Fund (SAF) to student organizations for use in events and other related items, and undertaking specific projects to turn student issues into tangible university changes.

To accomplish these goals, SGA is split into three different branches that work in tandem under the guidance of a single executive board. The first branch is the Senate, composed of an elected body of students from each academic college as well as a number of specially selected represented groups. Each of these factions are allocated a certain number of senators (this number is decided by a mathematical formula explained within the organization’s bylaws) that are then elected by that respective body. In addition to the Armour College of Engineering, College of Architecture, College of Science, Lewis College of Human Sciences, School of Applied Technology, and Stuart School of Business, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Greek Council, Residence Hall Association, and Vandercook College of Music are all also allocated senate seats. As a whole, the Senate serves as the legislative body of the student population. Individual senators are tasked with connecting to their respective communities and serving as the official mouthpiece of those communities to campus administration. Senators undertake projects throughout the academic year to translate these concerns into actionable changes across the campus. Examples of projects undertaken this last academic year by student senators include the addition of healthier “Hello Goodness” vending machines across campus, offering healthier snack and beverage options than was otherwise available in campus vending machines, the revival of the Food Advisory Board to give students a formal platform to offer feedback and suggestions to Illinois Tech Dining Services, and the continuation of Town Hall forums where various administrative departments hold open question-and-answer sessions with the student body. In addition to their roles as student liaisons and project executors, student senators are also responsible for attending biweekly senate hearings. These hearings are open to all students, where new student organizations must be voted on and senators are given an open floor to discuss their projects.

The Senate is further broken down into four main committees that each specialize in a particular area, headed by a Vice President. Senators and volunteers are free to choose one of four committees to join, including the Academic Affairs Committee, Communications Committee, Events Committee, and Student Life Committee.

The first of these committees, the Academic Affairs Committee, is led by Vice President of Academic Affairs Golzar Shobeiri. All academic affairs and endeavors of the university are subject to this committee’s jurisdiction. By merit of this position, Shobeiri also has a voting position on the university’s Undergraduate Studies Committee (UGSC), a body under the University Faculty Council (UFC) which reviews and recommends new academic programs as well as whatever may be needed to implement and sustain them. Course and program modifications, external accreditation matters, and undergraduate program policies (such as testing, placement, proficiency, and grading) all fall under the UGSC, within which the SGA Committee of Academic Affairs has voting power. Outside of the UGSC, Shobeiri has also used the summer break to submit a new proposal to the university’s Board of Trustees regarding course evaluations, as well as a proposal to the university’s Office of Technology Services to consider new digital platforms for interacting with ideas and innovation. In the midst of these ongoing projects, Shobeiri maintains her position “to continue to listen to the Illinois Tech community with everything relating to Academic Affairs.

The Communications Committee, led by Vice President of Communications Nathan Cooper Jones, is concerned with promoting the efforts of SGA (across all branches). SGA’s website, social media, and physical presences all fall under the jurisdiction and upkeep of Jones and his committee of senators. In regards to this current academic year, Jones has expressed his ultimate goal for “SGA to be transparent in its communication and be understanding and appreciative of any communication we get from the body of Illinois Tech.” To this end, Jones has gone to great lengths to update the SGA website over the summer break and to create a “Wiki page” that will serve as a virtual one-stop shop for student organizations, containing “crucial pieces of information that all student organizations should know but are hard to find (either by being scattered across the [Illinois Tech] website, several hundred of pages in a lengthy PDF, or are simply something that is only word-of-mouth).”

The next committee of SGA, the Events Committee, is led by Events Chair Adeena Ahmed. This committee is responsible for planning, organizing, and advertising recurring SGA events, including the aforementioned Town Hall forums, meet-and-greet opportunities with students, and the President and Provost Forum. These events help to provide a public face for SGA, as well as serving as opportunities to connect face-to-face with various campus administrative bodies. From creating the event’s initial idea to reserving the necessary room and food, Ahmed and her committee are dedicated to ensuring SGA has a smooth and consistent public face through its events.

Finally, Vice President of Student Life Trixie Weiner heads the eponymous Student Life Committee. Issues concerning the overall surface-level quality of student life on campus are worked on by Weiner and her committee. By the nature of this goal, this committee works in tandem with many other campus bodies, including the Residence Hall Association, Office of Campus Life, Residence and Greek Life, and Illinois Tech Athletics. The use of The Bog as a commuter lounge during weekdays, the extension of Center Court hours, the opening of the One Stop, and the creation of the HAWKi mobile app are all examples of this committee’s work. Under Weiner’s tenure, this committee will continue to seek improvements for the student experience in the residence halls, dining locations, common spaces, and all other locations of student life.

Moving past the Senate, the second branch of SGA is what is known as Finance Board. Led by Finance Board Chair Nina Tamras, the primary duty of Finance Board is to fairly allocate the Student Activity Fund (SAF) to student organizations.  The SAF is a fund that all students pay into as part of their university tuition to be used for student organization activities, under the charge of Finance Board and the Office of Campus Life. Following a set of guidelines (available on SGA’s website), Finance Board works with the treasurers of all student organizations to provide funding for organizations’ programs and events. Alongside a Finance Board Director and eight Finance Board Advisors, the Finance Board Chair handles all student organization budget proposals a series of advising sessions throughout the semester. If not for Finance Board, no student organization would be able to have funding for meetings, presentations, or conferences.

Finally, the third branch of SGA is the Judicial Board. As SGA’s investigatory and trial body, Judicial Board holds disciplinary hearings of and within SGA, as well as hearing appeals on Finance Board decisions and requests for impeachment of SGA members. This branch of SGA is led by Chief Justice San Dinh, and it consists of him, an Administrative Justice, and five other Justices. Thus, Judicial Board exists to provide a fundamental check on the two other branches of SGA. By being its own separate branch, Judicial Board Justices have the authority to act as nonpartisan arbitrators in the event of a dispute between the student body and SGA or even between internal members of SGA.

At the head of all three branches of SGA is the Executive Vice President, Alyssa DeLuca, and the President, Morgan Peters. The Executive Vice President serves as the functional head of the Senate, leading the biweekly Senate hearings and holding all senators accountable to their duties and obligations to serve the student body. Finally, the President sits at the highest position of power available to students. The SGA President regularly meets with the President of Illinois Tech, Alan Cramb, as well as the Dean of Students, Katherine Stetz, to discuss the overall state of the student body and broad initiatives for change and empowerment. In addition, the SGA President represents the student body to the Board of Trustees. At her most recent discussion with the Board of Trustees over the summer, President Peters talked about “how the student body wanted more Innovation, Transparency, and Dependability." Peters says she "talked about knowing [Illinois Tech's] budget or where our tuition is going. Other important discussion points were classrooms that promote learning rather than memorization, classes that prepare students for their future jobs, and spaces that make students feel at home away from home.” As a fellow student, President Peters is able to convey the true sentiments of the student body to the absolute highest echelons of university administration in an effort to promote desired change for this and the coming generations of students in the university.

However, despite all of this bureaucracy and (at times) vague rhetoric, SGA, at its heart, is an individually-based organization. The end goal of SGA is to better each student’s individual experience on this campus, and that can only occur at the individual level. Thus, every member of the organization stands ready to have a discussion with any student about what can be done better for the overall campus experience. More than that, students who are looking to promote their own brand of positive change on the Illinois Tech campus are highly encouraged to join SGA in a volunteer capacity. Biweekly Senate hearings are open to the public and will be officially advertised by SGA in the coming weeks. On the off weeks, the Senate’s committees meet instead to discuss their projects, and these meetings are also public. At its heart, SGA is an organization dedicated to individual betterment, through individual empowerment.