SBVPO Candidate Profile: Urvish Thakker
Urvish Thakker is a first-year graduate student in the Information Systems and Management program, and he is running for Student Body Vice President of Organizations (SBVPO). His platform centers on increasing funding for student organizations by 150%, revamping The Bridge website, and supporting new organizations through guided training and building collaborative club networks.
His campaign is part of a coalition with Jacob Chan and Sarah Abrams, who are running for Student Body President and Student Body Vice President, respectively. Thakker has a background in finance, having worked as Vice President of Finance for the Graduate Consulting Club. Thakker has also worked with the Graduate Student Association and Scotty Survivor, but has no experience working with the Committee on Student Organizations (CoSO).
Thakker first realized the difficulty of starting a new student organization when he tried to start a poetry club. "I had so many questions in my mind when I wanted to do it," Thakker said in an interview with The Tartan. "First of all, how can you start a club, and what if there is an already existing club?"
Club registration is one of the student organization processes normally handled by The Bridge, an all-in-one website that aims to let students discover organizations of interest, organizations publicly advertise events, and even handle internal processes like club budgets. But even with all this information, The Bridge can be difficult to navigate.
To Thakker, this has led to "a gap between the students and organizations. Students are always seeking for an organization, and organizations are always seeking for students," but even when both parties stand to mutually benefit, students still might not be able to find an organization simply because of the lack of updated information on The Bridge. "People are not available on The Bridge," Thakker said. "The Bridge is not updated regularly, and there are a lot of technical issues related to it."
To improve the club recognition process, Thakker would update The Bridge. Then new student organizations could more easily find whether there is an existing club that conflicts with their idea. If there is no existing organization, the new organization could file a petition through The Bridge, which is currently available on the website but not very well-known by students.
But even after the process of creating the organization, there are still hurdles. According to Thakker, it is difficult for organizations to procure funding, as budget requests for student organizations are due by January and not accepted afterward. There is then a seven- to eight-month waiting period for budget approval. Thakker would like to change this so that requests by new organizations can be received as soon as possible.
Thakker would also like to give training resources to new organizations, such as sample budgets, information on branding and social media use, and Canvas modules on how to use The Bridge. He would also like to "magnify the impact" of organizations by fostering "cross-campus collaboration" between student organizations. For example, similar organizations could aggregate resources and also likely host larger-scale events. Thakker also emphasized connecting old leaders to new leaders, especially since over the pandemic, it has been harder for new leaders to succeed old leaders as they lack information.
"I would like to give [organizations less than five years old] adequate resources and make the resources accessible to them as well, so they can grow and actually foster," Thakker said. "Because in this environment the student typically is [on campus] for four years, but the organization itself takes years just to get a start. I would like to give all less than five years old organizations a head start."
Thakker also wants to increase the impact of currently established organizations. One of his ideas is to give incentive by creating awards for student organizations, such as an award for most societal impact or award for most beloved by students. "We appreciate teaching assistants by giving them awards. We appreciate great students who are like very good academics by giving them awards. So why not award student organizations and student organization leaders by giving them awards at the university level?" Thakker said.
How would all these changes happen? A major goal of Thakker's plan is to increase the pool of funding allocated to student organizations by 150%, from the current $2.1 million to $5 million. In Thakker's vision, this funding would come from three primary sources: crowdfunding from Carnegie Mellon alumni and the public, reaching out to Carnegie Mellon's industry relations, and individual donors. Additionally, Thakker is considering reaching out to Carnegie Mellon students themselves for donations and perhaps partner with the City of Pittsburgh.
Regardless, Thakker would like to encourage Carnegie Mellon students: "Sometimes [you may have] challenges thrown in your way. But you should be very audacious in facing those challenges. And irrespective of what comes in your life, you should try to make the best out of it without being afraid."
Thakker states that he would like to implement an award for the club most beloved by students; SLICE already gives the Outstanding Student Organization Award annually.
It should be noted that financial matters are not under the purview of the SBVPO according to the Student Body Constitution (Art. VII, sec. D, cl. 4).
In regards to Thakker’s plan to increase the pool of funding allocated to student organizations:
Student organizations are funded mainly by the JFC budget, and clubs may receive donations individually. According to CMU’s Student Government, the JFC budget is funded only by the Student Activities Fee, which is paid as part of each CMU Pittsburgh Campus student’s yearly fees (and is not supplemented by external sources such as donations or crowdfunding). According to Art. 3, sec. B of CMU’s Student Government Fiscal Policy, the process for changing the Student Activities Fee must first be recommended to the Student Body Vice President of Finance (SBVPF), and must then be approved by supermajority in the JFC, Student Senate, and GSA, before being approved by the Board of Trustees. The SBVPO may submit the initial request to the SBVPF as a member of the student body, but does not have any direct involvement in the process.