Director of Finance Candidate Profile: Elizabeth Fu

To you, what are the responsibilities of the Director of Finance and why are they important?

To me, the Director of Finance plays a very crucial role in shaping the undergraduate experience by serving as the link between the Joint Funding Committee (JFC), student government, administrative bodies, and, of course, the student body. A key responsibility of the Director of Finance is to run the JFC, which allocates around $2.1 million in student activities fees towards student-government recognized organizations. Undoubtedly, the Director of Finance needs to have a deep understanding of the bylaws and metrics that govern the funds, but to be successful in this role, it's important to apply understanding of the diverse aspects of student life while remaining impartial, striving for equitable practices, and empowering student organizations. The Director of Finance is the backbone of the funding process, and their decisions impact the ability of student organizations to provide valuable extracurricular experiences and opportunities for their peers. In the future, I see the Director of Finance also taking on increasing responsibilities with monitoring the appropriate usage of the funds allocated, primarily with recent pilot program for an auditing committee that will be continued in the future to support the JFC is allocating funds fairly.

Why do you think you are qualified to hold the position of Director of Finance?

My qualifications for Director of Finance come from knowledge developed from:
- Multi-year experience with the JFC
- Direct responsibilities as the SBVPF Assistant
- Involvement in leadership, finance, and student government roles across campus

Having been a previous member of the JFC and working closely with the budget allocation process across multiple fiscal years gives me the advantage of seeing how metrics and organizations change and are managed across leadership changes and time periods. Beyond the JFC, serving as the SBVPF Assistant additionally means I work directly with the current SBVPF and gain hands-on knowledge of the day-to-day responsibilities that the Director of Finance will manage. Importantly, as the SBVPF Assistant, I have exposure to all nuanced aspects that the Director of Finance is responsible for outside of the JFC’s budgeting process, including reallocations, capital expenses, recruitment, diversity, and logistics.

Additionally, my qualifications for Director of Finance are strengthened by my involvement in other leadership, finance, and student government roles on campus. These experiences have equipped me with relevant skills and exposed me to a diversity of aspects of campus life. For instance, as a Senator, I have gained a deep understanding of how student government is connected and works with other organizations to support students.

What are your thoughts on the current fund allocation distribution system, and do you think it needs any updates? In other words, how successful do you believe the JFC is at informing organizations about the process and ensuring each organization receives the funds they need to operate?

The current allocation system is effective in being able to review many organization's initiatives, address many major spending categories, and do so in a timely manner. However, the JFC is consistently challenged by case-by-case scenarios where budgeting must look more closely at campus impact, precedent, fiscal responsibility, and utilization. This last point about utilization is an aspect that I think needs to be considered in closer detail; recently, resources to be able to more closely monitor transactions means that the budgeting process can be much more reflective of how much funds an organization needs to operate. Among other challenges with metrics that are reviewed each fiscal year, utilization metrics and an auditing committee should be considered more closely to reflect the changing needs of organizations.

In terms of informing organizations about the process, the current process with training sessions, teaching documents, and videos for student leaders and authorized signers has worked relatively well. However, there is always room for improvement. Providing resources to allow and encourage questions and communication, such as hotlines and office hours on TartanConnect earlier in the year, would reduce the chances of missing key steps in the process for organizations.

How do you plan to recruit students for the JFC and ensure the JFC reflects the wide variety of organizations they give funds to?

While continuing with recruitment through postering and utilizing digital channels, one major recruiting initiative I want to see is utilizing the FAIR as a place to get students from a variety of backgrounds. The club fair has not been focused on as a recruitment effort for the JFC in the past, but it is a great opportunity to engage with students who are also seeking to be involved in a variety of campus organizations and come from the most extensive range of backgrounds in terms of experience and knowledge.

Data that is frequently looked at is the distribution of colleges represented by members of the JFC. Historically, we have tended to have the highest representation from Tepper, due to the nature of the JFC, but this year I was highly involved in the recruitment process to push to have a more diverse representation in the committee. Currently, the JFC has representation from all colleges, with the colleges with the largest representation being Tepper at 33.3%, followed by Dietrich at 29.2%, and CIT at 16.7%, a significant improvement from the past.

The second aspect of recruitment that needs to be emphasized more is gaining graduate student population interest. Around 22% of the allocable funds come from graduate student fees, so it is important that we also focus on recruiting from that branch. While the club fair plays a much larger role in undergraduate student life, I would like to explore with the next GSA Finance Chair how to spread word about graduate student involvement and engage with them more effectively.

How do you plan on supporting the financial well-being of student organizations and ensuring JFC funds are spent properly and positively impact the campus community?

The Director of Finance’s role is all about providing the resources for organizations to be able to be successful financially, among which include distribution of information regarding authorized signer training and the budgeting process, together which include information for student leaders to learn about ways to spend their budget, earn revenue and manage the different types of accounts. In addition to emphasizing the education resources in these trainings, I plan on developing the pilot auditing committee further in the future to identify issues that organizations are facing. The committee is new resource that allows the JFC to have a more concrete understanding of how budgets are being spent, and ultimately allows the JFC to allocate towards supporting the clubs with their initiatives and changing needs, such as growing membership. Ultimately the goal is to increase the transparency and communication between the JFC and student leaders to ensure the budgeting process can be best tailored towards organizations’ needs.

What is one thing that you want potential voters to know about you that you haven't yet mentioned?

Many people come to college and struggle with developing a sense of belonging and understanding where they see themselves in the future. I definitely was not an exception when starting at CMU. Everyone learns to overcome this challenge differently, but I am extremely grateful to be able to attribute my positive experiences because of the community and support that campus organizations have been for me. Particularly, I point to my involvement with the Chinese cultural organization on campus called Awareness of Roots in Chinese Culture (ARCC). Through ARCC, I have today some of my closest friends and mentors and made some of the most defining memories of my college experience. No organization is without flaws, but the process to work through difficulties is what establishes community and forced me to learn about myself. It’s difficult for someone who is not me to understand the value of finding community in an organization like ARCC, having not experienced it themselves. But I do know that each organization on campus is a different community of its own and supports its members in its own ways. The greatest driver in my interest in a student government role like Director of Finance is simply the fact that I have had such positive experiences and personal growth because of a campus organization. How incredible is it to be able to be a part of supporting organizations that help others find their own community?

The following three questions are from Fu's fellow candidate, Shawn Noronha.

What do you think Clarissa has done particularly well as SBVPF that you would hope to continue? What would you do differently, if anything?

Working with Clarissa for almost two years has shown she has done an extremely impressive job in implementing changes to improve communication and engagement within the JFC. The budgeting process requires members who can be comfortable showing opinion and making challenging decisions, but one of the most admirable parts of Clarissa’s leadership is being able to foster a welcoming atmosphere that encourages open dialogue and the free expression of opinions. The transparency between members of the JFC itself is an essential step in ensuring budget cutting is consistent and fair.

Additionally, in Clarissa’s two terms as SBVPF, a major goal of hers was to set up strong systems for the transferring of institutional knowledge, through documentation, trackers, and updated systems like TartanConnect. The continuation and updating of these systems set up by Clarissa is extremely important in making sure that the budgeting process is successful for the long-term, thus it is something I hope to continue and to expand to the newer responsibilities of the Director of Finance as well, such as the work of the auditing committee.

A major aspect that I would improve upon would be the training for newer members by pushing the recruitment timeline earlier. This would allow for better onboarding and training to ensure that advisors are well-versed in their roles, and learning happens more efficiently during the discussion process. Additionally, I would like to improve communications on JFC timelines with student leaders to ensure that no organization is left behind. A major way I see this being implemented is pushing for organizations to reach out and utilize their JFC advisors as resources. The JFC advisors are liaisons between organizations and the budgeting process that is often overlooked.

How would you work to increase transparency and student awareness around what exactly the JFC does?

To increase transparency and student awareness about the JFC and its procedures, I aim to emphasize the role of JFC advisors as resources, not adversaries, to student organizations. Advisors provide valuable insight into the budget allocation process and help organizations navigate the system. The JFC has always aimed to be clear about its metrics and budgets are publicly posted; discussion about these will encourage students to learn how the JFC operates and where their funding is going.

While edge cases that do not perfectly fit the metrics are unavoidable, I emphasize the importance of training for JFC advisors and selecting members from diverse backgrounds to ensure that informed decisions are made. By doing so, we can increase transparency and student awareness about the JFC and ultimately build a stronger relationship with the clubs we serve.

A common perception I've heard from student orgs is that the JFC is “out to get them” and that they are unnecessarily harsh in their budget cuts. What steps would you take to improve the JFC's image and the relationship between us and the clubs we serve?

To improve the JFC's image and the relationship between the committee and the clubs we serve, there are several steps that can be taken. One main source of misconception is a sense of lack of transparency. As mentioned previously, a solution I hope to implement would be to encourage clubs to use their JFC advisors as resources more heavily. Advisors are there to advocate for clubs and give a clear image of their needs. Giving organizations a point-of-contact helps in providing resources for student leaders to understand how the process works and feel supported along the way.

Major misconceptions about the JFC are due to a lack of education about the process. There are existing resources for learning about the JFC process, such as the metrics and training resources – in the future, higher prioritization could be placed on access to such materials. We have an existing hotline for anonymously reporting suspicious financial activities, so setting up a similar resource for asking questions as a contact point can alleviate confusion.