For most student organizations, the process of requesting and receiving funding from the Student Government Association is one of the most important responsibilities of the year.
Now, as elections for the positions of Vice President for Student Organizations and treasurer are fast approaching, three candidates are proposing different ways of making this process more equitable.
For one VPSO candidate, Joshua Gray, advocating for student organizations means providing them with more training opportunities and allowing them to tell their stories during the budget allocation process. For the other, Ilsa Mir, advocating for student organizations means calling on her own experience as a Finance Board member to effectively help students navigate the system.
For Siri Keyaka, the sole candidate for treasurer, advocating for student organizations means embracing the opportunity for teamwork between SGA and student leaders.
As voting members of the Finance Board, the VPSO and treasurer hold a more direct role in the funding process than the president or executive vice president. As such, these candidates are hoping that their previous experience — and future interactions — with student organizations will inform and drive the change they wish to make.
Joshua Gray believes in stories.
A sophomore dance and media and communications double major, Gray served on the Finance Board during his freshman year as a First Year Ambassador and saw how the process of allocating funds to student organizations changed from one that valued students’ voices to one that showcased, according to Gray, a “lack of humanity.”
“Now, it’s a lot more efficient,” Gray said. “Of course, it saves time, [and] it gets student organizations thinking well in advance when it comes to planning events, but how are we making sure that we’re forming connections with people?”
Now, Gray is running for the position of VPSO, which he believes is the best executive board position for him to “help bring that humanity back into the process of allocating budgets [and] helping student organizations.”
If elected, Gray wants to enhance the training process for executive board members of student organizations, namely by asking returning members to mentor new members, across different student organizations. He is interested in forming coalitions of student organizations based on shared interests and goals, such as cultural organizations or intellectual sports organizations, so that they can better network and collaborate.
To increase communication and transparency between SGA and student organization leaders, Gray wants to start a newsletter so that student organization leaders “always know what’s going on on the inside,” he said.
His own experience as both a member and executive board member of various student organizations — Dance Council of Majors, Charm City Connection and the Association of Black Artists, which he founded — around campus have given him an inside look on what it takes to be on the other side of things, and he wants to take that experience into the VPSO position.
“Student organizations really do mean a lot to me,” Gray said. “UMBC has become my home over the past two years, but student organizations have become the classrooms for me. They’ve become where the learning really happens.”
As the only current Finance Board representative running for any executive or legislative position in this year’s election, Ilsa Mir is counting on her experience to mitigate a learning curve if elected as the VPSO.
Mir describes herself as “somebody who’s there to listen,” and as campaigns have turned digital, she has reached out to the 40 student organizations she serves as a liaison for to understand what they want or need from SGA.
“They feel they can be frank with me,” Mir said, noting that she has been working with these organizations for the past year.
The VPSO position does not have direct communication with student organizations built into the job position, like Finance Board representatives do, but Mir is hoping that by advertising her office hours and by hosting roundtable discussions and other events where student organization leaders can provide feedback, that will change.
One of the biggest issues, in Mir’s view, that VPSO will have to tackle next year is the question of unequal funding for organizations — namely, intellectual sports — that may already receive funding from other departments on campus.
As a member of Moot Court, an intellectual sport, Mir believes that she knows firsthand what it is like on both sides of the Finance Board table. She is excited to have the opportunity to shift to an advocacy role in SGA, where she can better support student organizations that may not receive funding or those that are just getting off the ground.
Mir is running with endorsements from presidential candidate Mehrshad Fahim Devin, executive vice president candidate Zachary Kay and treasurer candidate Siri Keyaka. By beginning to work together even before elections open up, Mir believes that they are building a more cohesive and knowledgeable executive board and helping to reduce the learning curve of tackling a new position.
“My role is not only on the finance board but also on the executive board,” Mir said. “I believe the chemistry of a group really affects how the board does as a whole.”
As the only candidate running for SGA treasurer, Siri Keyaka does not have to focus on winning the election as much as she does on learning about her future role.
A transfer student and a current fourth year biology major, Keyaka never found the “perfect time” to get involved with SGA until now. She decided to run because she remembered how much fun it was to be a part of SGA in high school. Originally, she thought she would run for a senatorial position, but when she saw that no student was running for treasurer, she jumped at the opportunity.
“If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it all the way,” Keyaka said.
Keyaka is perhaps most excited for the promise of teamwork the position and its duties bring, and she is running with endorsements from presidential candidate Mehrshad Fahim Devin, executive vice president candidate Zachary Kay and VPSO candidate Ilsa Mir.
Keyaka is working to “understand the past to prepare for the future” and has read over the SGA treasurer guiding documents and sat in on some virtual Finance Board meetings to get a better sense of UMBC’s SGA’s structure.
But Keyaka is not afraid to make the position her own. She wants to make sure her position “makes something that incorporates everyone,” she said, and she is already planning to send out surveys via email to get feedback from student organizations and schedule meetings with student leaders during her office hours.
“I’m really happy that I get to leave some kind of a legacy at UMBC before I depart,” Keyaka said.