Finals Edition: Board members round up campaign initiatives

By Danielle Fox / Staff Writer

As the Student Government Board 2012-2013 term comes to a close, Board members have accomplished some of their projects, while others have fallen to the wayside. 

During each SGB campaign season, candidates run on three project initiatives, which they plan to complete if elected. Gordon Louderback, president of the Board, said the SGB members saw several major projects completed during their term. But projects do not always go according to plan. Some Board members reached success by modifying their original initiatives. Other members learned that their projects were unfeasible or unnecessary, and a few said they got off to a good start, with their projects still developing.

Gordon Louderback

SGB’s current president ran on three initiatives, including creating a campus project submission form, a fundraising and advertising chair position and improving the allocations process.

Louderback completed all three projects last spring.

Students could use the campus project submission form to propose projects they would like the Board to implement on campus.

Based on student proposals, the Board voted on Oct. 30 to purchase a photo booth, which student organizations can rent for events. Louderback also said one student submitted a proposal to establish a virtual tour of all the residence halls, and the Resident Student Association took up this proposal.

But Louderback added that the Board could not pursue every proposal. While students submitted about 20 project proposals throughout the term, he said that only five or six projects were feasible. The Board also works under time constraints, Louderback said.

“The Board members already have their three projects, and they can’t always get them done,” Louderback said. “So, adding another project makes it difficult.” 

He accomplished his second initiative by adding “relevant funding” columns to the weekly allocations minutes. The new columns list information concerning how much money the Board had previously allocated to each group. 

“It really just made the talks more efficient for the Board and easier for the student groups because we didn’t have to ask them as many questions,” Louderback said.

For Louderback’s third initiative, he proposed the replacement of the Public Relations Committee with a Fundraising and Advertising Committee. After the Board approved the switch, Louderback selected Erin Worbs, a senior majoring in political science, philosophy and communication, as the Fundraising and Advertising Committee’s chairwoman.

“The Board wanted to create a committee that could be a resource for student organizations to go to get advice for fundraising and advertising as well as have a chairperson to fundraise for SGB events,” Louderback said.

Amelia Brause

Brause promised during her campaign to try to extend the Healthy U program and to help students fundraise on campus. Brause said she will complete these two projects early in the 2014 spring semester, but in a slightly different manner than she originally proposed.

Brause said Healthy U will host a financial seminar on how to save money for the new year and a yoga event in January. The Healthy U program identifies eight areas of wellness: physical, emotional, intellectual, social, occupational, environmental, spiritual and financial.

Brause’s program will highlight a different aspect of wellness every month of the academic year. Brause organized a monthly competition through which student organizations can win prizes by attending Healthy U events.

Brause said she worked with Healthy U to release the program in the 2013 fall semester, but scheduling conflicts delayed the program.

“We finally got approval, and it’s been difficult. There were a lot of things going on, and it just didn’t happen with scheduling,” Brause said.

Brause’s program required her to coordinate activities with Student Health Services, the Office of Student Affairs, individual fitness instructors and intramural sports staff. Because so many different parties were involved, she could not figure out a schedule for the program that worked for all of them.

Brause planned to host a fundraising week this fall as part of her second initiative. She said she moved the week to the spring to coincide with a fundraising concert that Sarah Klein, an incoming Board member, has planned. The Board will direct the collected donations to Greek Life’s $300,000 three-year fundraising pledge to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Brause said her third initiative to allow student organizations to advertise through a portal with the Student Organization Resource Center turned out to be unrealistic. 

Brause said she realized after talking to administration and CSSD that she would not be able to complete the portal during her term. She said her proposed project, which would have included an interactive calendar and a board for advertisements, would have required too much web design work for her to finish within one year. In place of this initiative, Brause said she worked with Mike Nites on a book that details how to be a successful organization on campus. The book includes information such as how to reserve a table in Towers lobby and how to place an advertisement on the visual display boards. 

Brause said the center will offer the book for free to all student organizations next semester. She said she expects copies to be available through the Student Organization Resource Center in the middle of next semester.

John Cordier

Cordier promised to implement a program to improve off-campus living, to extend the range of Wi-Fi farther outdoors and to increase the number of visual display boards in campus buildings.

Cordier said he originally planned to improve off-campus living through community service events and “good neighbor activities,” but instead helped Board member Dave Rosenthal with his off-campus seminars and a guide to living off campus for students.

“When Dave’s idea came up, it was in total alignment with my goal for that project,” he said. “I felt that it would be best to team up [to improve off-campus living.]”

For his second project, Cordier met with CSSD, and he was told that it was only a matter of placing more routers within Hillman Library. 

CSSD installed more routers, so students can study in more locations, such as Schenley Plaza. 

Cordier also planned to increase the number of visual display boards in campus buildings. He wrote a recommendation to academic departments, including chemistry, biology and anthropology, to advocate the implementation of more boards. 

Cordier said the boards supplement tours for prospective students and connect students to information about events and research in a particular building. More visual display boards have been placed in Chevron and Posvar hall.

C.J. Bonge

Bonge pledged to establish a year-long alumni mentorship program, to improve the SafeRider system and to increase attendance to Pitt Arts events.

Bonge worked with Board member Sowmya Sanapala to host a networking event between students and alumni in the 2013 spring semester. Bonge also ran a student-to-alumni letter-writing campaign around Homecoming week. SGB has not established a permanent mentorship program.

Bonge terminated his project to improve the SafeRider system at the beginning of the fall semester, after reviewing it with Abby Zurschmidt, Transportation and Safety Committee chair and incoming Board member. Instead, Bonge and Zurschmidt hosted a safety seminar in November.

“We discovered there wasn’t a serious need to extend hours based [on] use,” Bonge said. 

SafeRider currently operates from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. from Sunday to Wednesday and stops running at 5 a.m. from Thursday to Saturday.  

Bonge has not completed his third project, but said he met with Annabelle Clippinger, the director of Pitt Arts, and reached out to arts-related organizations to encourage members to take advantage of Pitt Arts.

Thomas Jabro

Jabro worked to improve meal plans and communication with Sodexo and provided free lunch for some students in the process in order to persuade the University to publish Student Opinion of Teaching, or OMET, surveys and to increase funding for student organizations.

Jabro and Board member Mike Nites utilized a pre-existing Food Committee, through which students could meet with Sodexo representatives and voice their ideas or comments about the service while eating complimentary food from Sodexo.

To encourage discussion about on-campus dining options, Jabro said he added student representatives from groups such as the Muslim Student Association, the Resident Student Association, the Hillel Jewish University Center, Plant to Plate and Gluten Free My Campus to the Food Committee. 

For his second project, Jabro tried to persuade the University to publish the results of the Student Opinion of Teaching surveys, but has been unsuccessful so far. 

Jabro proposed the idea to University Senate Committee on Educational Policy, which voted to leave the decision to Pitt’s individual academic schools.

Kathleen Kelly, president of the Senate Committee, said the committee members were concerned because professors are not required to request a survey. She added that the results “capture a student’s impression of a professor,” such as the professor’s personality or information not relevant to the course, but not his or her teaching methods.

Jabro worked with Nuwan Perera, Academic Affairs Committee chair, to determine student support of the initiative by distributing a petition and developing a survey that the Academics Affairs Committee will release in the spring. 

Jabro and Perera have discussed their proposal with various deans. Perera said the Academics Affairs Committee plans to present an official proposal to the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences next year.

Jabro’s third campaign initiative was to increase funding to service organizations. He said he does not know the exact numbers, but is confident that funding has increased. 

The Board frequently voted this year to fund service requests, such as federal and state background checks, clearances and criminal history records that are necessary to work with children. Jabro said previous Board members had misinterpreted the allocations manual, which did not prohibit approval of the requests, but Board members commonly denied them during previous terms.

Michael Nites

Nites campaigned to move the SGB allocations process online, to establish an “academic grace period” to give students a few days off before final exams and to improve transportation options.

Nites has used Jotform, a site that hosts online forms, to devise a process to submit allocations requests online. He said it will decrease confusion, keep a better history of requests and reduce the amount of paper SGB uses.  

“The idea is that the online process will walk students through the request,” Nites said. “It will have more instruction that can change dynamically on the different options you choose. So, if you click that you are going to a competition, it will put in specific instruction for the justification.”

Nites said the Board will store future requests in the system, and the Allocations Committee and student organizations will be able to access them more easily.

“If we wanted to figure how much money club sports get, we could easily have a record of the past five years of data,” Nites said. 

Nites said Jotform will give SGB 100 free submissions a month. SGB would pay $9.95 for every additional 1,000 submissions. Nites said he plans to debut the platform at the first allocations meeting next semester.

Nites’ third initiative was to implement an academic grace period, which would eliminate classes on the Thursday and Friday before finals. Nites said there were mixed feelings among students about whether or not they wanted the grace period, so he stopped work on the project. The academic grace period would have extended the semester and prevented professors from having finals the few days before finals week. 

Instead, Nites has been working with Lauren Barney, a junior who ran in the 2012 and the 2013 SGB elections, to eliminate Introduction to Chemistry and Introduction to Biology exams on Monday, as well as the 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday final. 

Nites said he and Barney will meet with Kathy Humphrey, Vice Provost and Dean of Students, and Juan Manfredi, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, to present their research on other universities that have successfully eliminated these final exam time slots over break or at the beginning of the next semester. 

Nites worked with Kevin Sheehy, director of the department of parking, transportation and services, on his third project to ensure that the 10B shuttle drivers wait at the shuttle stops to allow students to board instead of just driving by.

Nites also implemented a new budget policy that allows Student Affairs Affiliated Groups to submit budgets semesterly instead of annually. These groups include the Resident Student Association, Interfraternity Council, National Panhellenic Conference, Panhellenic Association, Black Action Society, Asian Student Alliance, Engineering Student Cabinet and Nursing Student Association.

Nites said the policy will decrease problems with changes in performers’ fees and allow the groups to create more timely budgets.

Dave Rosenthal

While Rosenthal succeeded in his plans to teach students to cook healthy meals and to give students a voice against unfair practices by Oakland landlords, he missed the bus to provide student transportation to the airport during the holidays.

Rosenthal said that the University’s contract for free bussing with Port Authority states that the University cannot replicate any bus route already in place.

“This was one of the projects that I thought was going to be easy to accomplish,” Rosenthal said in an email. “I was horribly wrong.”

Rosenthal worked with the Student Dietetic Association and the Healthy U program to host three healthy cooking classes for the “average student.”

Rosenthal said fundraising and advertising were two major issues with the cooking classes. Since SGB does not fund for food, Rosenthal used an Outside the Classroom Curriculum mini grant as well as Student Dietetic Association funds.

Rosenthal said a solution to fundraising and advertising issues could be to approach organizations — sports teams, fraternities and sororities — to determine whether members would attend the courses as a team-building, brotherhood or sisterhood event. 

Rosenthal hosted two off-campus living seminars this semester and invited lawyers and housing experts to speak with students about how to deal with a bad landlord. 

Rosenthal said both events were successful and is working on a guide to off-campus living.

Sowmya Sanapala

Sanapala campaigned to increase cultural awareness on campus and to decrease unsafe sex among students through increased condom availability in residence halls. She also planned to persuade the University to affiliate with the Workers Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors conditions at factories that produce university apparel.

Sanapala belongs to Americans for Informed Democracy, a student organization that spearheaded efforts to persuade the University to align with the Workers Rights Consortium. 

Sanapala said she spent the spring semester working with Americans for Informed Democracy and found out this fall that the University joined the Workers Rights Consortium. She said the project was a “collaborative effort” between SGB, Americans for Informed Democracy and administration.

“We ended off on kind of a shaky note last semester, and we didn’t know what we would have to do this semester on our end to convince the University.” Sanapala said. “But when we sat down with [administration], they actually had good news for us.” 

Sanapala worked to improve sexual health on campus by establishing a partnership with the Pittsburgh Aids Task Force, which will donate prophylactics, such as condoms, to Student Health each year.

Sanapala was unable to persuade administration to place free prophylactics in resident halls, but worked with LGBT Outreach Initiative to develop a Student Health form through which organizations can request a certain amount of prophylactics to distribute at educational programs. 

Sanapala had initially campaigned to promote multicultural diversity by bringing back SGB’s Multicultural Committee, but changed her plans after she talked to student cultural organizations about their needs.

“[The organizations] didn’t feel like it was necessary anymore,” she said. “They already felt comfortable coming to the SGB office or a representative to speak about any issue they might have.” 

Sanapala said she instead began working with the Multicultural Association to organize events for the club and to help with allocations. 

“The committee was an effort that I realized was not necessary, and I didn’t want to create another student group,” she said. “Instead, I threw my weight behind an emerging one.”

Sarah Winston

Winston pledged to implement an online reservations system for Student Health Services, to establish a textbook swap program and to make the Green Fund Advisory Board permanent within Student Affairs. 

Winston said she envisioned a process for making appointments that would be very similar to a service UPMC offers on its website.

“Every time you sign in to make an account, the nurse and whoever will see your whole medical file will pop up,” Winston said.

Although Winston said that Student Health Services reported to her that it planned to make a system for students to make medical appointments online through its website during the spring semester, there was no such service on its website as of press time.

Winston and Perera met last semester with Debra Fyock, manager of the University Store, to discuss establishing a textbook swap through the University. 

“In working with Debra Fyock, it’s obvious that the University Store does everything it can to ensure that prices are low,” Winston said “That being said, I wanted to do more.”

While the University did not establish a textbook swap, Winston  /., an online platform where students can buy and sell textbooks to other students on their campus. The resolution passed, and there are currently about 30 textbooks posted on Pitt’s platform.

Winston’s final initiative was to establish an Office of Sustainability for environmental groups on campus. Winston worked with the Green Fund Advisory Board, a subcommittee of the Environmental Committee that allocates funding to student environmental groups, including Green Fund Advocates, to introduce a resolution advocating for the creation of an office within the Office of Student Affairs. The resolution passed in early October.  

Winston said she and members of the Green Fund Advisory Board and the Board met with administration and are continuing to work on this project.