Twenty freshman senator candidates crowded the front of Burchard 118 on Monday, Oct. 2, for a debate to attempt to convince their fellow classmates why they should be elected to one of nine freshman senator positions available.
The debate was moderated by Olivia Schreiber, chair of the Stevens Honor Board, and a member of the Stevens election committee. Members of the Student Government Association (SGA) developed questions to be asked at the debate. Each question was approved by Schreiber. The questions in the debate encompassed four topics: The Role of the SGA, The First Year Experience, School Spirit, and Academics. Due to the number of candidates, the freshmen were split into four groups of five candidates. Each group was asked two questions and had one minute to respond. Following that, there was a two-minute rebuttal period following the responses. Then, the debate was opened for questions from the audience.
The first group to debate included James Fong, an electrical engineering major who stated his previous experience in JROTC would help him, Tamer Asfar, a Quantitative Finance major who had already attended two SGA meetings, Elina Tuder, a computer science major involved with The Stute and The Link, Matthew Cunningham, a computer science major who writes a weekly column in The Stute, and Julia Meyn, a naval engineering major who is involved with SITTV.
The first question asked the candidates how all students, particularly transfer and commuter students, should be welcomed to campus during freshman orientation. All of the candidates agreed that it is difficult for everyone to integrate between groups during freshman orientation. James and Elina both noted that club meetings at night are a problem and suggested that more clubs should meet in the middle of the day. Matthew stated it was important to note that there is a difference in how transfer and commuter student should be treated as they have different hardships.
Second, the candidates were asked, “As Stevens is the innovation university, how should innovation and entrepreneurship be fostered at Stevens?” Matthew stated that getting involved with research and entrepreneurship should be emphasized more during orientation. Additionally, Matthew, Tamer, Elina, and Julia all suggested having a class or seminar designed specifically for entrepreneurship. However, each had their own approach. Matthew stated that “creativity can’t be taught”, and Elina suggested that each major should have it integrated into their existing classes. Tamer and Julia suggested a specific class or seminar for all majors. In contrast to everyone else, James emphasized his point by standing and stated that the basics need to be learned first before entrepreneurship can be considered.
The second group of candidates consisted of Harup Singh, an engineering management major who commutes, Austin Luo, an engineering undecided major who is involved with the Chinese Student Association (CSA) and the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE), Zamin Akmal, a biomedical engineer who is on the crew team, Daniel Kang, also a biomedical engineer who stated that he’s running for Senate because “every voice isn’t being heard”, and Phillip Jamison, an engineering management major and a member of the College Republicans.
The first question for this group of candidates was, “what would be the first issue you would attempt to solve as an SGA senator?” Harup, Daniel, and Phillip all stated that there needs to be more social events. In contrast, Austin and Zamin called for more physical campus improvements; Austin advocated for more study spaces, and Zamin advocated for more water-bottle filling stations and the existing SGA legislation for a smoke-free campus. Austin’s idea was ambitious and called for converting the drydock behind Castle Point Hall into a study space. Even if the other senators were not as ambitious with their plans, they all recognized the need for more study spaces.
The second question for them was, “Since the SGA is working to develop campus traditions, what campus traditions that they would try to establish on campus?” Each candidate’s suggestion revolved around sports, including having a pep-rally. Zamin, however, noted that it doesn’t have to revolve around sports. Instead, he wished to replicate the general excitement of club fair. Harup agreed with this point and said, “the fall festival was awesome”.
The third group of candidates consisted of Mark DiSpigna, a Quantitative Finance major who stated he’s running for SGA because he’s not involved on campus yet, Stephanie Roberson, a math major who has already attended SGA meetings, Lauren Chen, a business and technology major involved with the Chinese and Korean Student Associations, Gupreet Singh, an engineering undecided major who works at the STEP office, and Allen Best, a software engineering major is working to establish a software engineering club on campus.
The first question they were asked was why they were running for SGA: Was it or for a specific initiative the SGA is taking, or something they felt the SGA was neglecting? All of the candidates said that the SGA is doing a great job. A few noted there were areas to improve. Mark felt the SGA could improve its communication, while Allen felt the SGA could show better support to new RSOs trying to form.
Then, Olivia asked the candidates what the SGA could do to better unify the school. Each candidate had a different approach. Mark said the SGA should play to their strengths and recognize the musical talents of the community. Lauren agreed with this statement and added that “music and food are universal languages”, citing ethnic club events. Stephanie said that students should have a greater opportunity to reach out during orientation. Allen and Gupreet both emphasized how volunteering brings people together. However, all of the candidates agreed with each other, and Mark was glad that they were all on the same page and could move on in “an innovative way.”
The final group of candidates consisted of Madison Gemma, a Science, Technology & Society major who is a member of the girls’ softball team, Fahad Choudhary, a biology major who is currently a participant in Stevens LEADS, Kayla Folz, a Science, Technology & Society Major in the accelerated law program and member of the College Republicans, Nicholas Tom, a chemical engineering major who plays club soccer, and Zack Schaber, a mechanical engineering major who is a member of WCPR and the Audio Engineering Club.
Olivia asked the candidates how the freshman quiz should be implemented. Madison and Kayla both had not experienced a freshman quiz due to their major; however, they both recognized the difficulty of them and suggested giving more information about them or taking the quizzes during recitation. Other candidates, such as Nick, believed the freshman quiz was at a great time, while Fahad believed they should be earlier to help commuters. Kayla proposed the idea of having a “testing center”, allowing students to plan their own days and assist students with disabilities.
The final question asked the potential candidates what additional workshops should occur during Stevens orientation to help students prepare for their first semester. Both Zack and Nick loved the “hands-on” approach and said that it needed to be emphasized. Madison and Fahad believed there needed to be workshops on public speaking. Kayla believed that orientation could be done more efficiently as a lot of information was repeated; she suggested workshops on how to use professors as resources and how to explore Hoboken and New York City. Other suggestions included a workshop on how to study and a workshop for community service. This question ended the formal debate, the floor was then opened for audience questions.
One audience member asked the freshmen candidates how they would make the schedules better for commuters, specifically for clubs. Multiple solutions were brought up: Elina and Harup stated that clubs are not taking advantage of the academic breaks and that clubs should use them more. James suggested to “negotiate” with clubs to accommodate for commuters. Kayla proposed a “universal schedule” of club meetings. Madison proposed a week of club activities.
The next question came from an SGA senator who asked how recitations should be improved. All of them cited a difference between all TAs. Stephanie noted that for Math, you were on your own, while in Physics, the TA taught. Zamin and Gupreet were both critical of having graduate students as opposed to undergraduates as TAs. In contrast, Mark stated that he had no complaints about TAs as they “know more than me” and instead criticized lectures. However, he did cite there needs to be improved communication.
The last audience question asked about a controversial issue at Stevens: the naming of the Gianforte Family Academic Center. The audience members asked how they thought the SGA handled the situation and if their response could’ve been more impactful. Matt said the response “made [him] kinda livid,” and called the response “kinda heinous.” He proceeded to cite his experience as a member of the LGBTQ community in Arkansas. He said Stevens should not be associated with Gianforte’s behavior, and the SGA should detest this design. Zack noted that the decision to name the building after the family didn’t fix any of the issues. Madison, Mark, Elina, and James all stated that the SGA handled the hard-to-deliver message very well.
Following the last question, SGA President Tommy Daly thanked everyone for coming out and for an amazing debate. The freshman Senate elections are open until Sunday at 9 AM.