Guide to Student Government

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So--maybe you just arrived on campus as a new first-year student and are stuck learning the ropes about how to get around Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and explore everything it offers to you. Or maybe you've been chilling around campus, studying hard, partying hard, and so forth. Either way, there's a damn good chance that you might be utterly confused about what student government does for you.

Student government at RPI is composed of a couple bodies of students who run the Student Union on campus. Our Union is one of very few completely student-controlled campus facilities in the country. Perhaps the best way to start is to describe the key organizations within student government at the RPI Union:

  • Student Senate: The Senate is comprised of 4 senators from each core class at the Institute--freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and up to 6 graduate senators. These 26 spots are elected positions. The titular position of Grand Marshal Week, which takes place each spring, is the Grand Marshal (GM). This student (usually a junior or senior) is elected to the office by the entire student body and serves as the chair of the Senate and the chief representative of every student who pays the Union Activity Fee each year. The current GM is Lee Sharma '12.
  • Executive Board (E-Board): The Union Executive Board is a group of students who are appointed each year by its leader, the President of the Union (PU). The current PU is Nikki Gallant '13. The E-Board manages all of the funds for virtually everything in the Union--clubs and organizations, athletics, and key stores and services, such as the Games Room.
  • Independent Council (IC): The IC provides a voice to the independent students of RPI--those students who are not brothers or sisters of a social fraternity or sorority. The IC is a project-focused body led by a President. Each class elects 3 representatives to this body during regular elections in the spring and in fall freshman elections. The IC appoints one senator from its membership each term to send to the Student Senate.
  • Interfraternity Council (IFC): Greek fraternities are represented by the IFC. Though the IFC generally conducts business outside of the frame of the RPI Union, its leadership has a dedicated office in the Student Government Suite in the Union building. The IFC is led by a President and usually meets once every other week to discuss business within the greek community.
  • Panhellenic Council (Panhel): Greek sororities on campus are represented by the Panhellenic Council. Panhel shares an office with the IFC in the student government suite. It is led by a President and usually meets a couple times each month.
  • Undergraduate Council (UC): The UC represents all undergraduate students at RPI and receives reports from each individual Class Councils of each class (more on that below). The UC is led by a President and meets at least once a month. The current president is Jonathan Goldszmidt '13.
  • Graduate Council (GC): The GC represents all graduate students at RPI and is comprised of a President, all graduate student senators, and other graduate students who serve as Members at Large.
  • Class Councils: Each class has its own Class Council, led by an elected Class President and Vice-President. The Class Councils plan social events and functions for their respective classes and are comprised of student senators, elected class representatives, and members-at-large.
  • Judicial Board (J-Board): The Judicial Board is RPI's student-run judiciary system. J-Board members are appointed by the Chair of the body and preside over cases brought to the Board by students.

So How Do I Get Involved?

Get Elected!

Applies to: GM, PU, Student Senate, IC, UC, GC, Class Councils

Elections happen twice every academic year, but it's important to note the difference between these two:

  • Freshman Elections: The new class of first-year students has its elections at the end of September. These elections are overseen by the Rules and Elections Committee (RNE). Anybody from the class can run for any of the positions listed at the RNE site. There aren't any political parties recognized during these elections, so candidates need to get their names out to their classmates.
  • Grand Marshal Week: All students--including first-year students--vote in GM Week elections each spring. Elections occur near the midpoint in the spring semester (end of March/beginning of April), and political parties are recognized. Each GM Week centers around a particular theme and includes tons of activities and events that happen all across campus. Walls are packed with signs and each student who votes in the elections receives a complementary mug designed around the yearly theme. You can find some historical information about GM Week from the Institute Archives here.

Let's get a few other things about elections out of the way:

  • Rules and Elections Committee (RNE): RNE is an independent committee of the Student Senate. It is chaired by one student and oversees all aspects of the fall and spring elections. You can visit RNE's site here.
  • Political Parties: Political parties are groups of student candidates that are only recognized during GM Week. Political parties often focus around a particular theme and/or platform of campaign issues. Expenses for all candidates registered for a particular party can pool their campaign money and resources, and often support the front-running GM and/or PU candidates who each lead a particular party.

Get Appointed!

Applies to: E-Board, J-Board, UC

Several student government organizations are comprised of students who are appointed by student leaders and sometimes confirmed by the Student Senate.

  • E-Board: E-Board members are appointed by the President of the Union each spring following GM Week elections. These appointees must each be confirmed by the Student Senate before becoming full members of the body.
  • J-Board: J-Board members are usually appointed by the Chair of the Judicial Board in the fall of each year. Judicial Board members serve from January to January of the following year. Their appointments must each be confirmed by the Student Senate in one of the Senate's general weekly meetings.
  • Undergraduate Council: UC members are appointed by their respective class councils and sent to UC meetings. They act as liaisons between the UC and their Class Councils.

Get Yourself to a Group Meeting!

Applies to: Student Senate, IC, GC, Class Councils

You don't even have to be elected or appointed in order to become an important part of the Student Senate, IC, or GC. Just show up at one of their meetings and you can jump into a project in need of your dedication and talents. Here's a sampling of ways to get involved:

  • Student Senate: The Senate is always looking for ways to better represent student interests at RPI. The Senate as a body passes Union legislation and rallies for student causes. Senate committees create and host services that benefit every member of the Union.
    • Web Tech Group: The Senate's web team builds tons of sweet web services for the sake of Union-affiliated organizations and students in general. Some recent and ongoing examples of Web Tech projects include myRPI, a revamped Senate website, and a digital bulletin board system that promises to change the way clubs advertise for events on campus. If you want to learn (or already know) how to use Ruby on Rails, Photoshop, PHP, or other web-related technologies, contact us at!
    • Academic Affairs: The Senate addresses academic concerns and problems through its academics committee. The committee is currently looking into ways to overhaul the advising system at RPI.
    • Student Life: This committee plans a wide variety of social events--everything from Twister tournaments and winter festivals to online, massively multiplayer, Risk-like games of strategic conquest. In addition, the committee connects students to the RPI administration by holding monthly "Pizza with the President" luncheons.
  • IC: Add information about IC projects.
    • RPIWiki: Add information about RPIWiki.
  • GC: Add information about GC projects.
  • Class Councils: Add information about Class Council projects.

Getting involved in student government is all what you make of it. It's a great way to make friends and work with dedicated people to serve and represent the rest of your peers at the Institute. If you like being a leader and want to jump head-first into student representation, consider running for an office as a senator or class officer. But even if you've got an interest in dedicating no more than a couple hours each week to building projects aimed at helping others stay connected and have a better time at RPI, the organizations of student government have a space for you.