During the student lunch hour on both Wednesday, March 28 and Thursday, March 29, the Illinois Tech Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a series of debates between the candidates for each of its executive board positions. At these debates, all of the candidates had the opportunity to present themselves and their platforms, as well as answer questions about why they saw themselves as the most qualified candidate for their applied-for position. TechNews was on site on both days of the debates to provide a description of each candidate’s performance.
President: Maliq Hines-Hakande and Eric Scott
The two candidates for SGA president, Maliq Hines-Hakande and Eric Scott, both first began by describing their backgrounds as students as well as their broad visions for the presidency. Scott began by discussing his current role as an SGA senator in the Events Committee, being responsible for most of the committee’s posters as well as working with current President Morgan Peters to meet with student government bodies at other universities. Scott’s main goal for the presidency is to “take student government out of its little corner,” as he envisions an SGA that works in tandem with other student organizations to solve collective campus issues. Hakande began by recalling that he was nominated for the same position last academic year, but did not go through with his campaign as he did not feel ready at the time. By pursuing a variety of leadership opportunities, including working with the university president and provost, Hakande felt that he was now much more qualified to serve the student body as SGA president, looking to address the lack of unity he sees among our diverse student body.
The first question asked of both candidates was what made them both want to be on SGA’s executive board. Hakande answered by speaking of the “hidden gems” he sees in our diverse student body and how his work opportunities and personal education have inspired him to follow his passions - a passion he wants every student to find. Scott’s response was much more personal in nature: “I love student government, in every aspect of the word.” Scott further added that he wants to put more work into making SGA strengthen and expand, and he sees holding a higher position in the organization as necessary for this goal.
The next few questions asked both candidates their thoughts on what SGA is doing well, how they would improve SGA’s current efforts, what else they want to do as president, and what sets them apart as candidates. Scott’s answers to these questions were all based on his past experiences as an SGA senator, referring to the ongoing SGA effort to create an online wiki for student organizations as his favorite SGA project, his desire to set up official, perpetual working relationships with student organizations, and how his love for SGA leaves him willing to do whatever he believes is needed to get the organization to thrive, despite any personal failures that may occur along the way. Hakande’s answers were more ideological in nature, applauding the “energy and passion” he currently sees within SGA, citing his desire to centralize its communications and have a solid foundation, and placing trust and transparency above all else.
How both candidates lead and how they would translate this into working with both students and administration defined the next series of questions. Hakande stated that he sees himself as a transformational leader who embraces the differences between his subordinates and provides them with the resources and opportunities to help them individually grow. He stated that he is “old-fashioned” and prefers to go out and directly talk to people to gather information on campus issues. His previous leadership experience has led to him already establishing working relationships with various campus administrators. Meanwhile, Scott responded to this series of questions by labeling himself as a “forceful and direct” leader who is not afraid of honesty or of getting direct feedback from groups. He stated a belief that SGA’s executive board will lead him more than he will lead it, and that he values being an open and approachable leader by any means necessary - in person or digitally.
Moving away from ideologies and values, the next series of questions asked both candidates their thoughts on what the largest issue is currently affecting the Illinois Tech campus, and what they would have done differently if they were SGA president this past academic year. In his answers, Scott stated that “culture” and lack of pride in the university are the largest issues on the Illinois Tech campus. He wishes to tackle the “get my degree and leave” mentality that he sees in many students by giving them something to be proud of. If he were SGA president this past year, Scott stated he would have been more active in directly working with student organizations that reached out to SGA, citing the example of Prism as a student organization that has successfully enacted such efforts. To the same questions, Hakande similarly sees the issues of trust and school spirit as the biggest current problems, and his improvement with the current executive structure would have theoretically been to better distribute SGA’s workload and operate in a more efficient manner.
Finally, both Scott and Hakande were asked how they would actually implement the broad ideals present in many of their answers. Hakande stated that his implementation would take the form of him and his executive board reevaluating SGA’s constitution and bylaws to gain more clarity and a solid pivot point for the future, working as a team alongside students, administration, and alumni. Scott’s response was that he would collaborate with student organizations by actually sitting down with their members to have candid conversations on how to better help each other and work together towards shared goals.
Scott and Hakande concluded their debate by answering how they would contend with disagreeing student desires. Both candidates stated that as SGA president, it would not be their sole decision to make; according to the candidates, the opinions of all are needed in divisive circumstances, and the SGA president should facilitate discussions, not decide them.
Executive Vice President: Monica Bhagavan
The sole contender for the position of SGA executive vice president, Monica Bhagavan stated that she primarily wishes to “streamline the senate process, as well as make the internal finance portions of the organization more effective.” In her time as a senator, she has noted the “problems of timing, efficiency, and staying on-track,” and wishes to make sure SGA is both able to hear all voices and operate in a productive manner.
When asked how she believes the position of executive vice president is different from other positions, Bhagavan demonstrated her knowledge of the title by correctly stating that her duties would be to oversee and monitor the student senate, serve as an administrative assistant the SGA president, maintain communications between the student body and SGA, and serve as SGA’s treasurer.
Bhagavan was able to expand upon this last point in the next question by citing her experience as the events coordinator for the Illinois Tech chapter of the American Medical Students Association (AMSA) and how this led to her working with the organization’s treasurer to submit purchase requests and draft organization budgets.
Bhagavan was then asked what the one thing she would want to change about SGA senate is, and she responded with one word: “productivity.” She believes a lot can be done to streamline SGA's processes and make its meetings much more open to discussions and accessible to more students. In her concluding statements and answers, Bhagavan stated that she sees great opportunity for SGA to better showcase what it does and engage many more students.
Finance Board Chair: Jorge Morin
The only candidate for finance board chair, Jorge Morin, was first asked if he could explain what the Student Activity Fund (SAF) is and how it functions. He answered that the SAF is a pool of money that is allocated by Finance Board to all student organizations on campus following a set of codified guidelines. Finance Board evaluates student organization budgets, holds advising periods for them, and then decides its allocations at regular Finance Board hearings.
Morin was then asked how he would handle potential issues with Finance Board decisions, as well as his plans for change if he is to be voted into the position. He responded by accurately describing the appeals process that student organizations can utilize with both SGA’s Finance Board and its Judicial Board to possibly overturn a Finance Board decision. Looking ahead, Morin also wishes to better streamline communications with student organizations and address the current issue of capital items stored in the MTCC basement, which are largely underutilized or entirely forgotten by the student organizations which technically own them.
Morin was finally asked if Finance Board would be open and transparent in its actions and decision if he was elected to the position. He responded resoundingly, “Yes. Finance Board will definitely be open to publicizing events.”
Vice President of Academic Affairs: Aaditya Mittal and Erin Nelson
The two candidates for vice president of academic affairs, Aaditya Mittal and Erin Nelson, first introduced themselves by citing how they both have experience as SGA senators and have worked in the Academic Affairs Committee under current vice president Golzar Shobeiri. Both candidates gave similar accounts of strong work histories in the committee and intimate familiarity with its requirements and projects. When asked why they both want to be on the executive board, Mittal responded that he simply wishes to continue the work of his predecessors. Nelson cited her experience as the SGA secretary and how it has led to her understanding how the organization works internally while also fostering within her a desire to have a more hands-on work relationship with students, senators, and administrators.
Mittal and Nelson were then asked what they think SGA is doing well, how they would further this progress, and what their top priorities for the position would be. Nelson first answered that SGA has taken many strides in improving its transparency and she would further this task by prioritizing the bridging of the gap between various campus resources and departments. Mittal responded in a similar manner by stating that he sees SGA’s transparency as its greatest accomplishment this past year and that he wishes to better bridge the gap between classroom education and career development.
Both candidates were then asked what their leadership styles are and their thoughts on what the largest academics-related issue is at Illinois Tech. Mittal responded that he is a rather democratic leader, describing how his leadership process would consist of assigning a task, ensuring the assigned subordinate is comfortable with it, and then providing the freedom to have the task done however is best seen fit. He sees a gap between students and faculty as the largest academics issue, and he wishes to equip both sides with the knowledge and resources to deal with a variety of situations that may arise between them. Nelson, bubbly, responded that her leadership style is based on being friendly and open to talk to. She believes this will allow her to bring many more experienced individuals into SGA and have many students to delegate projects to. This will then help her address the perceived campus issue of faculty expectations and how they line up with ensuring the best education possible for Illinois Tech students.
Nelson concluded the debate by stating that she will make sure senators get their tasks done. She expressed that she is “very open to hearing what students, senators, and others want.” Mittal, meanwhile, offered closing remarks that “since we are an academic-focused school, my role as vice president would be to bridge the gap between faculty and students.”
Vice President of Communications: Narkis Anthony Garcia
Running unopposed to lead the Communications Committee, Narkis Anthony Garcia III opened by describing his experience with the position, working very closely with its current holder, Nathan Cooper Jones. He expressed his belief that SGA is currently doing a great job with its transparency efforts, but that it can still do a lot more to engage students and student organizations.
When asked what projects he would like to further, Garcia responded that he would very much like to expand his current work managing SGA’s social media presence, including its Instagram (@illinoistechsga), Facebook ("Illinois Tech Student Government Association"), Twitter (@iitsga), and Snapchat (@IllinoisTechSGA). Garcia was then asked what he believes sets him apart from other leaders, to which he responded that he is “a very extroverted, outgoing person that can adapt to other personality types well.” As the current music director for WIIT, Garcia stated that he is already used to dealing with upwards of 100 emails at a time.
Finally, Garcia was asked about his dedication to SGA. He responded that, even if not as the vice president of communications, he would definitely still serve SGA as a senator or even as a volunteer in the future. “I really love SGA, and I just want to watch it continue.”
Vice President of Student Life: Lin Abu-Amara, Katja Berthold, Thomas Doyle, Yuehan Gao, and Tapishwar Singh.
The five candidates for the vice president of student life, Lin Abu-Amara, Katja Berthold, Thomas Doyle, Yuehan Gao, and Tapishwar Singh, all opened their section of the debates by speaking on their experiences with SGA and on campus and how this made each of them a suitable candidate for the position. Amara referred to her status as an international student and her current leadership position within the Office of Institutional Advancement, which has developed her communication skills and ability to deal with multiple personality types. Berthold referred to her overall goal of helping individuals’ cultures emerge on campus and draw more students to explore Chicago and participate on campus more. Doyle discussed how he has been working with SGA for over a semester and sees the opportunity to take his leadership in it further to bring more students to work together. Gao admitted that his decision to participate in the debate was somewhat last-minute, but that he would demonstrate his competency as the debate went on. Finally, Singh stated that he believes that student life is absolutely necessary so students can focus more on building their futures than on worrying about their basic amenities.
When asked why they want to be on the SGA executive board, as well as how they would further its current projects, each gave varying responses, but all centered around bringing the Illinois Tech community closer together. Amara claimed that she has been inspired by past tales of SGA members serving as effective leaders, and she thinks that she can work towards being an inclusive leader who plans and works with the community. Berthold stated that she sees a lot of potential for greatness in the Illinois Tech student body, and that it just needs an approachable advocate that isn’t afraid to voice students' opinions. She believes that she can be that advocate. Doyle referred to his current project to address smoking on campus as an example of how he would prioritize community and safety. He would also prioritize SGA over other obligations, even claiming he would drop his involvement with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers just to serve SGA. Gao simply answered that he isn’t very interested in academics and that he aims to create a better life for students while continuing SGA’s current transparency. Finally, Singh similarly cited his desire to address issues beyond academics while also increasing general awareness of SGA among larger groups of students.
The next questions, on their leadership experiences and agendas for the position of vice president of student life, prompted similar responses from each candidate, with Amara stating that her experiences in SGA's Communications Committee and the Office of Institutional Advancement have led to her seeing valuable leadership examples and equipping herself to deal with the lack of belonging on the Illinois Tech campus, Berthold referring to her current work as a student ambassador and desire to make students love the university, Doyle citing himself as a well-rounded student based on pursuing the ideals of community and safety, Gao admitting his lack of experience with SGA but demonstrating a willingness to learn everything necessary and be expedient in his actions and communications, and Singh being involved in various activities since high school that has prepared him to deal with the perceived lack of multicultural programming bringing different people together on campus.
When asked, every candidate stated that they would be more than willing to stay involved with SGA if they do not win the position of vice president of student life. Each member stated that they would absolutely choose to run as a senator in the Fall 2018 semester if they do not win the election.