AMS Executive Update: How did the summer go?

Your AMS executives have now been in office for four months. Yes, they spent the summer term working! We asked each one about their goals for the school year, what they accomplished over the summer and their strategy for student engagement. Scroll down (or click the links) to read Louis Retief's thoughts on AMS food services, Ava Nasiri's plan of attack to implement fall reading break, Samantha So's strategy to get students a better Connect, how Chris Scott plans to make the Nest feel more like a community and decrease its waste, and Kathleen Simpson's plan to advocate for affordable eduction during the next provincial election.

Editors' note: These interviews were conducted in August.

VP Finance: Louis Retief

Louis Retief, this year's VP Finance for the AMS, ran on a platform of student professional development, social programming and social responsibility. Couple that with the basic VP Finance tasks of balancing the budget, managing AMS debt, and typical financial handling, as well as his very firm goal of bringing some outdated AMS ways into the modern age, he has a lot on his plate for the upcoming school year.

File photo Kosta Prodanovic / The Ubyssey

What are your overarching goals for the next term?

So I have three goals. First being "bring the AMS into the 21st century." This mainly is to, throughout financial systems, do a processing of financial systems with clubs. A lot of things are slow and inefficient, so bringing that to the 21st century with Fintech. 

Second goal would be professional development for students. This is a way to empower students — especially club executives. They currently undergo little training and a lot of them run huge organizations, so [we are] working on a service to support these individuals through their careers as a leader in their organization. 

And then the third goal is restructuring the AMS's financial resources. Currently I’m doing a lot of research on financial fee structures across the country, how other student societies do it,and also just the history of AMS financial fee structure and how it ended up here to see what a restructure will look like. Then within that, [I will focus] on all business revenues and how we can increase those to have more money for all services.

What have you been up to this summer? Have you accomplished what you’ve hoped?

So on my first goal, I’ve been really proactive on working on the new financial systems. The two main ones I’m working with are the BMO spending dynamics, which is a credit card club management tool … where all clubs will have access to a credit card so they don’t have to have students fronting money and taking a week to get reimbursed — that placed a lot of financial strain on students. And the second one I’m being proactive on is Area, which is basically an invoice management software … that’s all switching to putting those online which will really streamline the process. 

For my second goal, I’ve been working closely with Hussam, the student services manager and also the Centre for Student Involvement and Careers, to really figure out what is missing and what are the gaps for student professional development on campus and figuring out what a service list would look like. We had our preliminary discussion at Council last week to talk about the service which we’ll be working on and we’ll be looking to hopefully hire a coordinator for the service by September to work on restructuring the service.

And for my third goal, for the AMS financial restructure, I’ve been working really closely with businesses … and then also exploring other new business ideas. And then also for the fee structure, we’ve pulled all the data from multiple universities across the country and also pulled data from the last 70 years to see what the restructure will look like.

I feel like I’m very much on track. I wouldn’t say I’ve accomplished more [than what I wanted to], but I feel like I did start off with a lot on my plate. I don’t feel like I’m behind with my goals and I hope to continue the work my team has done very diligently on these things to hit my timelines with my goals.

What have you been doing so far this summer to improve / maintain student engagement? 

This doesn’t apply so much to me in my position specifically, but I know one of our executive team goals is to improve our communication with students — working on the Blue and Gold Society, working on how we can connect AMS, UBC and our student bodies. Because we have such a diverse student body, it is hard to connect everyone to one thing. Figuring out what that will all look like is one of our team executive goals. 

Also, just improving our communication platforms. We’ll be hiring a new Communications Manager soon, so [we will be] seeing what that will look like. And then just restructuring our website, our communications with clubs, so just the overall communication with students — simple things like signage is lacking in the buildings. That’s kind of an executive goal which we’ve been working on. I’m not necessarily spearheading it, but I know that it’s one of our big executive goals which we want to work on: really showing students what we do offer them. 

How do you plan to approach AMS food services this year? How are you planning for their success or changes to the existing food services?

The summer months are primarily when we test a lot of our food outlets. We don’t like testing during the year because it’s too crazy and too busy to test anything, so this summer is kind of when we do testings. For example, we launched Bubble Tea — we’re testing that. The Gallery is new now as well and we’re testing that throughout the summer. Both of those have been doing exceptionally well.

Now we’re testing Meat and Palate, and we’ll see how those do. So we’re trying to test all of these new business ideas and techniques before September so we can have a solid idea moving into September what it will look like for the year.

Generally, it’s a trial and error business just because we have a lot of diversity within the student body and it is also hard to test in the summer because we don’t have the same amount of students here. 

I wouldn’t say we [have had] any major missteps [in food services] except for the Perch last year. We aren’t throwing a lot of money at anything — putting up the Gallery [2.0] cost very little money. We used a lot of resources we already had and furniture in the building we already had. Just because of mistakes we made in the past, we’re not planning on doing anything risky that will cost any major amount of money. Any tests we’re running are going to cost minimal amounts of money. I don’t see us throwing a bunch of money at anything for the next year or perhaps longer, so I don’t see a potential of actually losing a lot of money.

Kathleen Simpson

Kathleen Simpson was elected to the VP External position after serving a year as the Associate Vice-President External under Jude Crasta. Her platform emphasized the issues that were key to students' concerns, such as seeing progress made on a concrete sexual assault policy for the university, student housing rights and voter turnout in the upcoming provincial elections. While VP External is a tough role to make real progress in over the summer, she is optimistic that she has laid the base for good progress during the year.

File photo Kosta Prodanovic / The Ubyssey

What are your overarching goals for the next term?

I’ve divided my goals up into portfolio goals and project-specific goals. The overarching trends that are across the whole portfolio is to increase research, reconnect advocacy with the AMS brand and to provide opportunities for students to get involved in all of our campaigns.

Project-specific, I have four. The first one is to increase attendance at SUDS, which is our student union development conference in August. My next one is to work on housing and to advocate for more student housing rights. The next one is having a 60 per cent eligible voter turnout for UBC students in the provincial elections. And finally, to run an affordability campaign in September that will help prime students for the upcoming provincial elections.

What have you been up to this summer? Have you accomplished what you’ve hoped?

I’m actually really happy with how things have been going this summer. My team and I have really taken the opportunity to lay the groundwork for the upcoming year, and I think that we’ve done a good job in posing ourselves so that when September hits, we’re ready to roll out all of our campaigns really smoothly. I’m really happy that we’re getting a lot of research and planning accomplished — which is what we need to do in the summer.  

For each campaign, you have to do the necessary research beforehand to make sure your campaign is well-informed. For instance, I’m really happy with the lobby document that we’re looking at finalizing right now for housing rights. I think that it’s going to be a really good and well-researched document that will feed in well to our housing rights campaign in October-November.

What have you been doing so far this summer to improve / maintain student engagement? 

Over the summer, we don’t have a lot of engagement because we don’t have a lot of students on campus, but we have been planning for the engagement starting in September. We’re doing quite a few campaigns compared to previous years this year. We’re helping with the VP Academic's sexual assault consultation campaign, we’re doing the provincial elections campaign, the housing rights campaign, and the affordability campaign. For all of those, we’ve planned opportunities for students to get involved in a small way — letter writing for instance, or providing feedback on a policy.

What are you working on in terms of affordable education?

That campaign in September/October is going to be very much directed at the provincial elections. The majority of funding that post-secondary institutions receive from the government level comes from the provincial government. There’s been a steady decrease in the amount of funding that post-secondary institutions in BC have been receiving, so the campaign is going to be all about informing students where that money comes from and really getting them ready for the upcoming elections. For instance, the campaign will inform students about [issues] like deferred maintenance — which is where the province gives universities funding to help maintain the buildings — and we will also be talking about regular issues [surrounding] core funding.

 President: Ava Nasiri

AMS President and former VP Admin Ava Nasiri will have a lot on her plate in the coming year. She has promised to, among other things, petition the university for increased student fitness space, streamline access to wellness-related services, implement a governance review, increase the amount of events that are sponsored through the AMS, lay the groundwork for a fall reading break and get serious on the ever-promised AMS brewery.

File photo Kosta Prodanovic / The Ubyssey

What are your overarching goals for the next term? 

From the beginning, I've had one overarching goal, and that's been a big focus on how we are increasing the ways that we get feedback from students and how we do outreach. That spans everything from our online presence right down to classroom announcements.

Having feedback boxes around the Nest where people can write letters and drop them into. We're looking at adding a button on the website like, "Tell us what you think," or having an ongoing survey.

Getting increased sponsors for AMS events, but in addition to that, revisiting what we get sponsorship for and thinking about what else we can get sponsorship for. So if for the past two years I give out coffee on Imagine Day to clubs, maybe DavidsTea wants to sponsor that activity. That creates a relationship between DavidsTea and the clubs, and it gives us free stuff to give out.

We're looking at a case competition for second term. Either it'll be businesses, administration and communication, or it might just be focused on one of those three.

Bring back the Gallery — it's started but it's not complete. We're looking at making the atmosphere what is expected of anything that we're going to call the Gallery 2.0 in this building and we're aiming for September for that. There's a little bit of flexibility so when students come back, if they have feedback for us, we'll be able to accommodate that.

The brewery aspect of that project is looking like we might actually end up having to do a feasibility study and revisit an action plan. That might yield another referendum question. Right now, it's very much in the planning phase. It might be something where we lay the groundwork for a three year-long project.

Blue and Gold society launched — it's going well. I really want to have something concrete in terms of why it exists by the end of summer so that we have purpose to meet in the fall.

Five-year plan for Block Party — last year we had a capacity of 10,000 but it didn’t sell out. So looking at a five-year expansion plan ... it might not be responsible if we're going to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. And figuring out a longer-term plan as opposed to not knowing what our venue is going to be in October for April.

The arts and culture referendum passed, which is really exciting. We're working with those clubs as well as the arts and culture district through the community engagement coordinator bringing in some animation in the Nest.

Advocacy week for our resource groups would be something we'd start working on in September for second term because most of them aren't as active [in the summer term] as they are during the year.

You can't really harp mental health and well-being when there's such a shortage of physical wellness space on campus. The two are just so intertwined. We started some conversations around pop-up fitness with the university … and they've been very well received. We're just waiting to hear back on what the tangible plans are.

What have you been up to this summer? Have you accomplished what you’ve hoped?

Some stuff I'm proud of with Council: we had the shortest appointments meeting in recent history because we moved to an online process. Usually it was a four-hour meeting and we cut that down by quite a bit by doing a bunch of stuff ahead of time.

There's a lot of exec support in terms of implementing things that were recommended [after the governance review]. Some of the things were actionable right away — some of the management structure things [and] concepts around bringing different parts of the AMS together as a central source. We're looking at being pretty on time in terms of what we wanted to get done in time for September [such as] revisiting seats on Council, committee structures and a bunch of stuff with ABBA [AMS Advisory Board for Business and Administration] that we made a good amount of progress on.

What have you been doing so far this summer to improve student engagement? How do you hope to continue that and further improve into the school year? 

Blue and Gold Society — I've been so thankful for how great the reception has been from our student groups. Also, I think it creates a great conversation in case tuition is increased again, or something like that, where we really want to come together as a student body.

We've also launched an internal calendar that helps us coordinate between the community engagement coordinator, the student life and communications committee, the events department, the executive special projects student life person and the Blue and Gold Society, so that's something we'll be able to share pretty soon publicly.

And student housing is one of the topics that we've highlighted as, “We want to bring this up and address it with the university.” It ties in with the Afford campaign, but that one is a little more province-centred, so advocating to the government as well as the university.

That also works internally — how do we make our food items cheaper? How can you get lunch with a drink and a sandwich for five dollars instead of eight?

Long-term for that would be finding a financial solution in collaboration with the university for student housing. Also, setting a standard for campus in terms of affordable food.

We have some campaigns that are launching in the fall. Signage within the Nest like, “Where do your student fees go when you pay them to us? Where does the money go when you buy a coffee at Uppercase?”

What does the timeline look like for a fall reading break?

Still fighting for it. It all really is dependent on the scheduling review that [UBC] is doing. Looking at the most recent meetings they (the external company hired to do the review) have had with the AMS, it wouldn't be fall reading break for this year or next year, so our goal for this string of advocacy is “now” — we want it sooner and we want it fast. Not three years from now — at most next year.

VP Academic: Samantha So

Samantha So ran her campaign on a platform focusing on engagement, access, and Aboriginal issues. Her goals for the winter session seem to cover those three areas — improving student engagement by pushing for online consultations, bettering access to open education resources through the #textbookbrokeUBC campaign, and connecting the Aboriginal community at UBC through hosting a welcome event and a regalia decorating workshop. Other projects that she’s committed to include a comprehensive database for student awards, standardizing the student experience survey and consultations for revamping Connect.

What are your overarching goals for the next term? Be concise and quite broad.

The first goal falls under student engagement so that's campaigns and consultations — we have several coming up that are very important for policy review. Affordability also falls under this portfolio, as well as open education resources. We made great progress last year [in terms of open education], so we would just like to continue that. We were also just talking about housing affordability with UBC and I believe that ties in very closely with the affordability campaign. Student well-being [is another goal] — Aboriginal student engagement as well as academic policies, temporary recreational spaces and the residential contract for UBC housing. Lastly, student experience and what falls under that is orientation and WUSC.

With sexual assault policy, we're going to have a campaign for the consultation that UBC is having. We want to make sure students are aware and that students give their feedback.

UBC's license with Blackboard Connect expires in 2019 and there's a process of evaluating what the current needs of both students and faculty are, and trying to find out what the best next step is. When Connect originally came out, it was very much IT based in terms of who they consulted [and] who they kept in mind when choosing the program. This time around, they really want to focus on the people who will be using it, so they want to work with us to get students' feedback because this is not something that most students are aware of.

We're also going to do the #textbookbrokeUBC campaign again except this time, we're going to dive more in depth into open educational resources. Last year's campaign was very introductory because it's not something that was widely spoken about between students and this year we can get right in there. So basically engaging them more and take action now.

This year, we're also going to be look at standardizing the Academic Experience Survey. We want a set of questions that will be asked every single year and then another set that may change based on the goals and projects of the VP Academics of that year.

What have you been up to this summer? Have you accomplished what you’ve hoped?

It's been a lot of beginning projects because it's summer — a lot of people are out of town and a lot of committees don't meet, et cetera. I deal with the academic realm and while UBC doesn't stop, some of it does.

For the #textbookbrokeUBC campaign and open educational resources in general, we have had discussions with the education committee. We're going to present to VP Academic caucus.

For the Academic Experience Survey, currently, we have gone over the report for the survey we just finished, so we're taking the presentation to Council. We want to better engage council with the Academic Experience Survey data, so we've created an interactive game that we presented in Council. The Academic Experience Survey is always long and we understand that it's long and hard to look at, but we feel if we engage all of Council in it, it won't only be people whose office it falls under who pays attention.

For housing, we've approached the UBC leadership office for some ideas on making housing more affordable. We've also approached SHHS to discuss the residence contract.

For academic policy, I met with senators who were on the academic policy committee and who are currently on it. We clarified with them the VP Academic goals and the student Senate goals, and how we can put them together so that we can achieve the best possible outcome for both of our goals. Currently, they're under strategic planning for their goals, so I've managed to cement the academic policies within those goals.

In terms of student experience, for orientations ... I've also brought up counselling services and they're all on board for orientation programming, covering topics of sexual assault, consent, rape culture, active witnessing and self care, which I think are all important things that first-years should know about coming in to university. So that likely won't be implemented into this year's firstweek and first-year experience type programming, but next year's.

What have you been doing so far this summer to improve / maintain student engagement? How do you hope to continue that and further improve into the school year?

We really have been stressing the importance of online consultations, as I said in my platform. It makes consultations available to students who may not be on campus and may not have access in person ones. Through that, the AMS's will also consist of in-person but also online consultation.

Every big decision that we see coming out, we want to make sure not only do we have consultations of our own and that we also ask students what they think, but we want to also make sure that we have a campaign to go with that so students realize that that's happening.

In your platform, you mentioned wanting to improve support for indigenous student communities at UBC. What steps have you taken to do this so far and what do you plan on doing to continue doing this?

I have a great Aboriginal students commissioner and we want to host three events to better engage the indigenous and Aboriginal community at UBC. The first one is a start-of-year welcome event and so far we've obtained partnership with the indigenous health garden at the UBC Farm for the welcome event, so they'll be paying for some of the food. We want to have this welcome event so that [indigenous students] have a way to collaborate and engage with each other, as well as so that they are aware that the AMS is here to support them. 

We started helping scout for location for the pow wow in April. My commissioner has also been looking into potential grants and funding for arts and crafts events to be hosted in the Longhouse. A lot of Aboriginal students, when they graduate, want to have art on their regalia and they often craft it themselves. We're looking at workshops or just a space for them to do that.

Chris Scott

Chris Scott has a full plate for the coming year as he tries to make the Nest a better place for students. As a part of this plan, he wants to transform the Nest into a more accessible and friendly place to various clubs and student societies, provide better support for those clubs and societies and decrease waste in the Nest. He also plans to make better use of the 72 pieces in the AMS's art collection, by renting pieces that are not currently being displayed out to companies.

What are your overarching goals for the next term? Be concise and quite broad.

The first one is the student Nest. So that will involve things like — this is more operational so working on things like our bookings procedure and making things more friendly to clubs and students at large. 

My second [goal] would be better supporting student groups. Every VP Administration ever has probably said this. This will be things like structurally reorganizing the way that clubs work. I’m looking at ways to make it more efficient, so that you’re not waiting weeks to hear back on things. It takes a lot of policy work to make that work, so that’s one thing I’m focusing on. 

Also, looking at how to weave things like dispute — or how to handle disputes better. For instance, if there’s someone who is sexually assaulted or someone who’s dealing with bullying in a club or anything like that, weaving that type of process or how to properly handle those procedures into the new structure essentially. 

I’m also going to be relaunching the Student Life and Sustainability Centre. We’re revved up and ready to go on September 1 with equipment rentals and we’ll have common work space down there. We’ll have things like the Adobe Suite, so clubs can go and Photoshop things and whatnot. We’re also looking at getting design services running out of there, so any of our friends from Art History or Visual Arts — basically connecting those people’s clubs so that they can commission them if they need a new logo or anything like that. So providing all those resources there.

Third goal is focusing on the Nest again but it’s not as operational — it’s more student-focused. So just making it feel like a community, planning more events in the Nest, bringing clubs to come and show off their talent, and making it feel like this is our building and we own it as students. So our community interim coordinator, Sarah, has been doing a great job with getting clubs in and getting to do events, and we’re also looking at bringing things like a ball pit to the Nest and stuff like that just to make it fun and a little more vibrant. 

And then last thing is decreasing waste in the Nest. We’re looking at launching the mug-share program that Common Energy, Seedlings and Sprouts launched initially last year. Were going to kind of revamp it so that it’s running on a large scale and we’re going to run it out of the Nest, so that will decrease the use of paper cups. We’re also looking at ways we can be sure that we are hitting our sustainability targets, because right now we have a lighter footprint strategy but we don’t have actual steps to get there, so making sure that we have those in place.

What have you been up to this summer? Have you accomplished what you’ve hoped?

Everything is kind of in the works right now. So we are looking at our booking system. We’re looking at rewriting SAC policy. SAC policy is what governs the building as well as clubs. So I’m actually in the process of rewriting SAC policy, which is a hefty piece of literature. We’ve got the SLSC ready to relaunch in September. 

The last thing we’re looking at is ordering tables for the common work space, but once we have the tables it will be all ready to go. And we’re setting up a training meeting with Ashley from SASC, who will be putting members of SASC through a disclosure training. So bringing that dispute oriented issue, bringing that front and centre and making sure that everyone is trained to handle disclosures at least. 

We’re also looking at ways to weave [sustainability] into our businesses — so Uppercase for example. We’ve got a membership card being designed and everything, so we’re doing pretty well.

What have you been doing so far this summer to improve / maintain student engagement? 

So like on the clubs’ front for instance, we’re creating something called the Club’s Executive Counsel that we’ve actually just opened applications for. We’re going to be hiring chairs for each type of club to come in and essentially, it will be a body that will meet twice or three times a semester or whatever, however necessary. We’ll be bouncing our different ideas of how to handle clubs off of them, so keeping students engaged in that manner. Then, we’ll also be planning events for not just the people who are on the council, but for their constituents essentially so that they can get a constant feedback.

When students are coming in in September, they’ll definitely see a big difference. We’re aiming for at least once, if not twice, a week having an AMS sponsored event. We’re working with a club for instance to put on an event.

How do you plan on tackling the lack of space in the Nest?

Well, we’re working very hard on that. We’re working very closely with [any displaced clubs], and we’ve found a home for all of them thus far, or a way that they can operate or something that kind of keeps them going in the meantime until they have the beautiful new space in the SUB. So I’m actually really happy with that. We’re making everything work and we’re going to have to make some adjustments over the coming year, but overall, everyone is seemingly pretty happy and we’re going to be working well.