Director of Finance Candidate Profile: Shawn Noronha

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

The Director of Finance is known for being the head of the Joint Funding Committee (JFC) - the organization in charge of collecting activities fees from every student on campus and distributing that money to every single student org. In just a few months. While also being as equitable as possible. When I first joined the JFC, I was overwhelmed by the size of this task - however, I now have come to appreciate the effectiveness of the well-oiled machine that is the JFC. As Director of Finance, I would be responsible for successfully delegating tasks to assistants, vice chairs, subcommittee heads, and each individual member of the JFC, who together make this job feasible. I believe the primary responsibility of the Director of Finance is, at its core, staying organized. With so many different responsibilities and people to keep track of, juggling several balls at once is a must. Additionally, communication is key - as a liaison between the JFC, other student government branches, SLICE, and other campus leaders, the Director of Finance has to be capable of staying on top of everything.

The Director of Finance is more than just a committee president, however. They are responsible for not only maintaining the current budget allocation process, but improving it for the next generations of CMU students. The work that the Director of Finance does will have a lasting impact well after they leave CMU. The Director of Finance holds a truly unique position in that they can effect change for student orgs both now and for years to come, and it is a position that I hope to fulfill with my complete effort and dedication.

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

I am currently serving as a committee head on the JFC executive board and have been a member of the JFC for the past two years. Throughout my time in the JFC, I have become well-versed in the metrics and bylaws that serve as the foundation of our allocation process. Beyond that, however, I have helped cut the budgets of hundreds upon hundreds of student orgs, which has given me an eye for instances where we should give orgs more money or cut them dramatically. This experience is one of the most important qualifications of a Director of Finance - it allows the JFC to continue to move towards finding the most equitable distribution of our funds and ensures fairness for as many orgs as possible.

Outside of the JFC, I’m involved in a wide variety of student organizations, including CMU EMS, Scotty Survivor, First-Year Orientation, Engineering Student Council, and various South Asian orgs. Having been involved in clubs with so many unique groups of people has given me insight into the many different financial needs of student orgs at CMU. I hope to use this perspective to serve as a fair and unbiased Director of Finance capable of addressing the specific needs of CMU’s diverse population.

As someone who went from nearly not returning to the JFC to now overseeing subcommittees and helping pilot new JFC programs, I have grown immensely throughout my tenure in this organization, and hope to take this next step to get even more involved in the financial behind-the-scenes of CMU student government. With my organizational skills, leadership experience, and devotion to the students of CMU, I believe I am more than qualified to become the next Director of Finance.

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?

I personally believe our current fund allocation distribution system is doing a very good job, especially when I see student orgs take the money we provide and actually make a positive campus impact. While the system will never be perfect, with no way to ensure that every single cent is well spent, I believe the JFC has become increasingly better at honing our budgeting and allocation processes.

The biggest step in the right direction that the JFC has taken this year and will continue to do in the future is actually looking at club spending through TartanConnect. We are not able to check whether they were using JFC funds in the way their budgets claim to. The introduction of TartanConnect to the budgeting process allows us to identify organizations which are misusing or wasting their funds and re-allocate that money to organizations that can spend it more appropriately. I plan to create more concrete guidelines surrounding this process to ensure more equitable budget cuts.

One of my main priorities as Director of Finance is to increase resources and training for student org treasurers and authorized signers to help them through the budgeting process. I’ve found that many orgs give newly elected executive boards little to no information on this, leaving their next leaders unsure on how to create budgets for their orgs. Additionally, I would like to refine the documentation that org leaders have to complete. Between spreadsheets and Tartan Connect, it can get confusing for orgs to complete everything. By re-examining how we do documentation, I hope to minimize the work that both orgs and the JFC have to do, while still maintaining the same level of thoroughness.

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

I believe a major flaw in our JFC’s current membership is a lack of graduate student representation. Of the 30 students in the JFC, only five are graduate students. Considering the fact that graduate students actually outnumber undergraduates on campus, our current ratio simply does not accurately represent our student population. I hope to work with the GSA and major graduate student organizations to bring more grad student attention to the JFC and recruit more of them.

Additionally, many of our current members joined JFC as members of other student government groups or through word-of-mouth from previous members. While this is by no means a bad thing, it means that we are not necessarily reaching new audiences. For example, the JFC is currently dominated by Tepper and Dietrich students, with us having only one CFA student, one MCS student, and a small handful of SCS students. While this might make sense for a “finance” committee, it is still imperative that we continue to strive to represent as many people as we can. Until we become more representative of the CMU population, we will never be able to be completely equitable in our allocation of funds to our diverse pool of student orgs.

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?

Over the last couple months, we have been piloting an auditing committee that looks closely at org transactions and ensures that they are using their budgeted funds appropriately. I believe that this committee will be crucial in the year ahead in terms of making sure that JFC funds are being put to good use and maximally benefiting the CMU community. By making full use of the information that we have at our disposal, I believe that the JFC will be able to do a much better job of scrutinizing orgs that may not be spending responsibly while still continuing to support student organizations that have positive campus impact and properly follow JFC expectations.

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

I always welcome feedback on what the JFC can do better and think there is no one better to get advice from than YOU! (Yes, all of you.) If you want to learn more about what we do or if you have any suggestions for the next school year, I am open to hear anything and everything. Just send me an email at snoronha@andrew.cmu.edu!

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

The organizations on campus are extremely diverse – it is difficult for the JFC metrics to fully address the specific needs of each organization. What steps do you intend to take to identify the issues that organizations face with the metrics and current budget allocation process? How do you intend to address these challenges?

Every fall, the JFC re-examines its metrics and adjusts them based on our personal observations and beliefs about which items need more or less money. However, this process is limited by the fact that the JFC is not necessarily representative of the full student body. I would propose that we hold larger meetings that invite student org leaders to offer feedback on our metrics and directly receive their input on which line items could benefit from more money and which ones may be under-utilized. This is especially important for items that appear on the majority of budgets like Food, Travel, and Campus-Wide Events. If a majority of orgs believe that these items should have higher caps, we should take that into consideration as we do our annual metric revision.

Additionally, I would like to potentially revamp the committee structure of JFC to better reflect the diversity of student orgs. We currently have a system in place where committee heads oversee a group of JFC members, each responsible for a wide variety of orgs that stretch from club sports to multicultural groups to general interest orgs to many more. I believe that each member of JFC, and in turn each committee, should specialize in one or two specific categories such that all clubs of similar structures and needs are being looked at under the same lens. In the future, I hope to have JFC members and/or committees who are specifically focused on just sports teams or just dance teams. While this is already partially the case, I would like to formalize it within the JFC structure to make sure we are equitable within each category of student orgs.

If you were elected to Director of Finance, what would you define as success at the completion of your term in the position?

When I was in high school, my student council advisor drilled one message into our heads over and over: “Leave it better than you found it.” While she often said this to make sure we properly cleaned up spaces after events, I have held this as a core belief in everything that I do, and it is how I hope to leave the JFC. As I have mentioned in other questions, I have several ideas on how we can improve our communications with student orgs, our fund allocation distribution system, and our internal structure as JFC. If even one of these changes leads to positive developments for students at CMU, I will consider my term a success.

Of course, I will also be dedicated to the students who take time out of their schedule to serve the CMU community as members of JFC. I hope that I can oversee the org in such a way that JFC members are happy to do the work and enjoy being a part of the committee. With all the work we do, it’s easy for the role to become monotonous and for the impact we have to be lost. As long as JFC members are involved and want to come back for another year by the end of my term, I will consider my job as the head of JFC well done.

How do you intend to fulfill the roles of the Director of Finance outside the JFC?

Beyond JFC, the Director of Finance has important responsibilities as a liaison between the student population, SLICE, and campus leadership, with involvement at every single step of the financial distribution process. I intend to use my leadership experience and communication skills to make sure that the needs of all parties involved in this process are met. I plan on being an advocate for my fellow student above anything else, making sure that the financial needs of student orgs are being heard by the campus leaders who directly affect them. I know that becoming Director of Finance comes with great responsibility and that people from every corner of the CMU community will be depending on me to do my job well, but I can hope that I can take what I’ve learned as a JFC member and from previous SBVPFs/DoFs to go above and beyond in making sure that student organizations at CMU can continue to flourish.