With one new board member and a handful of new committee members joining Student Government Board, the Board took on projects as small as sandwiches and as big as mental illness.
From food, laundry and public health to human rights, diversity and transparency, the nine members of SGB faced the semester with a new president at the helm, reorganizing after the summer’s power shift. While each board member brought new initiatives to the attention of Pitt students and administrators, most of them will work on finishing their projects next semester.
Nasreen Harun, President
Nasreen Harun said she focused on helping the other Board members execute their personal initiatives.
“A lot of what I do on a day to day basis is serving as a connecting link between everything the board members are doing and administrators and guiding people on how to proceed with those initiatives,” Harun said. “I’d say we have a lot of representation in a lot of different places and we do have those connections strengthening.”
Harun became president this summer when former SGB President Graeme Meyer unexpectedly resigned in May. Harun spent this semester adjusting to the role and immersing herself in projects with the University administration and other student groups.
So far this term, Harun has appointed five elections committee members, four allocations committee members and one full board member. She has also collaborated with Student Affairs and the University Senate Council and joined several task forces, including the sexual assault task force, the alcohol task force and the search committee for the vice provost and dean of students.
Leaning on her experience transitioning to different positions on SGB, Harun started an executive board transition program, which will ensure that new board members for all student organizations get the proper information from their predecessors. Harun said she had the idea when she was Allocations Committee chair
Harun isn’t yet sure what this program will look like, whether it will be a packet of papers or an online module, but said she wants the program to be a compilation of all resources published in a public space, open to everyone.
The goal of the program, Harun said, is to have a place where SGB members can easily access the information they need and hold the SGB system accountable for training its members. Harun said the information would contain things like how to reserve rooms for events with an EMS account.
“It can help with that lag time where people have to feel out the position and get necessary information from the get-go.”
Harun plans to spend winter break increasing SGB’s visibility to students on campus by updating the Board’s website with a list of SGB’s current projects.
“One of the things I wanted to make sure happened with SGB as a whole is increase our visibility and make sure we’re seen as approachable and tie in with students,” Harun said. “We want to make sure people feel comfortable bringing initiatives to us, and I think people have seen progress with their initiatives they brought to us.”
Everett Green, Board Member, Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President Everett Green said his main responsibility this semester has been to get SGB’s Assembly — which includes representatives from Student Affairs-affiliated groups and acts as a lower governing body to SGB — running smoothly.
Though Harun created the Assembly in the spring, Green took over as speaker for the Assembly in May, which makes him the primary liaison between SGB and the student groups. Green has focused on establishing a social media presence, setting up biweekly meetings and adding new members, such as Pitt Program Council.
“It’s everyone in the Assembly that makes it happen,” Green said. “I’m just there to facilitate it. The Assembly is more about student groups than student government.”
Aside from the Assembly, Green has worked on improving communication between SGB and Oakwatch, a community group that works in conjunction with the city to enforce neighborhood laws in Oakland.
“We’ve had the opportunity to interact with the stakeholders more often, and we’re much more vocal this semester,” Green said. “It’s the point where we’re starting to have more dialogue instead of them just speaking to us. There’s been more back-and-forth conversation.”
Green wants to fit one more initiative in before the holidays and has spent the semester working on a guest pass proposal to reduce how long it takes to sign guests into residence halls. Green suggested that the University use Blackboard to register students.
According to Green, Panther Central is still investigating the costs of implementing a system like this. By the end of this semester, SGB will have data from residence halls, such as how often people swipe in and where, which will help SGB when it speaks to administration on the initiative.
Green said he sent a the proposal to Ian Snyder, Resident Student Association’s president, who will present it to the RSA board soon.
“We’re hoping they will vote in favor of our proposal and be partnered with us on the initiative,” Green said.
Matthew Sykes, Vice President, Chief of Finance
Board member Matthew Sykes has put his time and energy into mental health initiatives this semester. He and Board member Meghan Murphy collaborated to plan Pitt’s first Mental Health Awareness Week in October.
“One of our biggest things was creating momentum with this,” Sykes said.
Sykes said he also helped to change the “Talk About It” campaign, an initiative to open discussion about mental health issues. According to Sykes, SGB partnered with Student Affairs to change the name of the campaign from “Give Depression a Voice” to “Talk About It” in an effort to include all mental health awareness.
“We had a lot of students we didn’t even think we reached come up to us or their RAs and say this is is awesome that Pitt is doing this,” Sykes said. “I think we had a far-reaching impact, which is what we really wanted.”
Next semester, Sykes said he wants to “keep the momentum going” by planning a mental health awareness gallery in the Frick Fine Arts Building from Feb. 11, to March 4, and bring in speakers from Pittsburgh for future mental health programs.
Natalie Dall, Vice President, Chief of Cabinet
Board member Natalie Dall kicked off the semester by planning the Safety Fair, which she said was a success and brought 400 people to learn how to put out small fires in their homes, bike safely in the city and stay safe at night.
Dall said she has increased communication between SGB and committee chairs by serving as the first chief of cabinet.
“There’s better communication between all of us in the office [when] we can see what the cabinet is doing. It’s a better way to give a report than a public meeting,” Dall said.
Dall has also been working on the traditions committee, a committee that works on researching and promoting Pitt traditions in collaboration with the Blue and Gold Society, and serves as representative and speaker pro tempore of the Assembly, which includes RSA, Rainbow Alliance and Black Action Society.
Jack Heidecker, Board Member
With a new bus stop in Secaucus, New Jersey, Board Member Jack Heidecker saw his long time goal of expanding the reach of Pitt’s “Buses Home for the Holidays” program finally take hold.
Pitt’s Department of Parking, Transportation and Services confirmed it added Secaucus, New Jersey, which is near New York City, as a new destination as of this year. Heidecker, who is from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, said he heard students say they wanted more holiday bus service to New Jersey. According to Pitt’s 2015 fact book, 1,147 students come from New Jersey, more than any other state outside of Pennsylvania.
Now, he is turning his attention to improving student organization classification and working with the Student Organization Classification Task Force.
“Right now, it’s organized alphabetically and I dont think it’s the most specialized way to do it,” Heidecker said. “SGB services are so broad we want to make sure they are dealt with vertically, not just horizontally, so we can help student organizations and we can be better liaisons [for student groups].”
Heidecker has also worked with Marian Vanek, Pitt’s director of Student Health Service, to increase condom availability on campus. Although the Wellness Center was already working on the initiative, Heidecker said he wants to increase SGB’s involvement as the project unfolds.
Robert Tessier, Board Member
Robert Tessier, SGB’s newest member, plans to hold a human rights conference in the spring.
Tessier is planning a human rights conference for Pitt students. He is in the process of reaching out to different human rights organizations to arrange guest speakers for a conference and promote a campus-wide conversation about human rights and what types of jobs are available to students who want to work. As Tessier is still in the process of planning the event, he would not say which organizations he has contacted.
“The goal is to help students learn more about the issues that different human rights activists work on, and it’s meant to help them learn about the careers and way they can get involved in human rights,” Tessier said.
Tessier recently took on a long-term goal to increase visibility of Cross-Cultural and Leadership Development and the student organizations affiliated with Student Affairs. Tessier said he has completed phase one of the goal by meeting with student groups. Moving forward to complete the next phase, he wants to have a section on the SGB website for the student groups affiliated with Student Affairs and a resource databank for CCLD organizations.
“I haven’t figured out the distribution yet, but it will be all be available to student groups. I want to make sure my ideas represent what [student groups] want,” Tessier said.
With only one more semester before graduation, Tessier said he is not “leaving any projects on the table.”
“While something’s set in motion, anything I do has to have staying power since I’m graduating soon.”
Jacky Chen, Board Member
Board member Jacky Chen focused his efforts this semester on making sure SGB got involved with projects Pitt students were already passionate about by collaborating with groups such as the diversity council, which formed between cultural organizations last semester.
The diversity council, which formed last March, is made up of 22 student groups, including the South Asian Student Association and Residence Life. The council hopes to promote awareness, acceptance and appreciation of diversity on campus.
“Our job is to represent the students here at Pitt and theirs is to represent specific groups here on campus,” Chen, who serves as the SGB representative for the council, said. “I connect them to SGB and listen to the issues that come up in the council.”
To further improve inclusion on campus, Chen is working to organize an education panel that examines how Pitt recruits and retains minorities, including LGBTQ+ students, religious groups and ethnic minorities.
As chair of SGB’s food committee, Chen said he is focusing on improving the dining situation at the upper campus dining hall and making more late-night food options available. To start this process, Chen has collaborated with Rohit Anand, SGB’s facilities and transportation committee chair, and Abdou Cole, Sodexo’s resident district manager.
“I’ve been connecting with students to improve campus dining,” he said. “
Chen said he has also worked with Anand to improve housing on campus after students brought up issues at Centre Plaza Apartments, including unreliable transportation, no Wi-Fi or Pitt printers and coin operated laundry machines with no coin machine. To change this, Chen met last week with Jim Earle, assistant vice chancellor for business, this month.
Chen said he has also spent the semester collaborating with the Graduate and Professional Student Government Board to organize Pitt’s second annual TEDx Talk, an independently run TED Talk featuring prominent guest speakers that SGB will host March 26. Chen said the event is still in the planning stages and is still searching for people to invite. Last year’s TEDx event, which was organized by graduate students, featured local business leaders and Peter Salk, son of polio-vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk.
Lia Petrose, Board Member
Board Member Lia Petrose kept her focus on academia this semester, proposing two new programs for arts and sciences students — a public health certificate and a professional lecture series.
“In general I want to make education better for undergraduates and hear people’s concerns,” Petrose said.
While Petrose introduced the idea to the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Public Health, she said she is waiting to hear more about the possibility of a certificate program.
To help freshmen and other interested students learn more about the arts and science field they have chosen to study, Petrose introduced a lecture series to educate students about the field options available to them based on their majors and minors. Petrose and the SGB freshmen interns, Pranav Murthy and Rebecca Rohac, are collaborating to organize the lecture series, which she hopes will start next semester.
“It will be an ongoing lecture series where professors come to talk about their research to help students understand what the field they have chosen is about and garner interest in what they are looking to study,” Petrose said.
Petrose said she has not submitted a formal proposal yet for the programs because the schools would need to introduce a financial agreement first.
“The proposal would be submitted to the Dietrich council, but before we do that, we need solid financial agreement for the certificate,” Petrose said. “I see it as the biggest challenge we face, and I hope it can be overcome soon.”
Next semester, Petrose will attend meetings as a student representative for the educational excellence working group, a monthly meeting of faculty, staff and administrators that works to implement Pitt’s Strategic Plan.
Meghan Murphy, Board Member
Board member Meghan Murphy worked on mental illness and campus food this semester.
Murphy teamed up with Chief of Finance Sykes as well as students from Active Minds and “Talk About It” to form the mental health task force to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health and improve Pitt’s resources. The task force hosted the Mental Health Awareness Week this October to start the conversation about mental health and illness on campus.
The week included events such as a mental health first aid workshop, a stress-free fair and a candlelight vigil.
Next semester, Murphy hopes to solidify a four-year Pitt partnership with the Jed and Clinton Health Matters Campus Program, a program to help colleges and universities improve emotional well-being on campus and decrease consequences of the stigma of mental illness.
“The program looks at campus mental health through a holistic approach and encourages Pitt to look closely at our current mental health services to compare them with standards set by the program,” Murphy said.
Murphy and fellow Board member Chen continued hosting the SGB food committee meetings twice a month in partnership with Sodexo. As a result of the meetings this semester, which are open to all students, Sodexo reintroduced grilled cheese sandwiches to Market Central after removing them for a healthier option — cheese quesadillas — last semester.
Cole confirmed earlier in the semester that Sodexo had brought back the grilled cheese sandwiches as a result of the food committee meetings.
“A great aspect of food committee is the diligence of Abdou Cole, Sodexo manager, ensuring that student suggestions are not only heard but followed through,” Murphy said.