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UAP...s Advice to Frosh: Get Involved

By Marie Y. Thibault

This is the second in a five-part series of interviews introducing new students to administrators and student leaders on campus. Today, The Tech interviews Undergraduate Association President Andrew T. Lukmann ’07, who talks about his experiences in student government, the goals of the UA, and advice for freshmen.

The Tech: What is the Undergraduate Association and how can freshmen benefit from it?

Andrew Lukmann: I can speak a little bit about my experience coming onto campus as a freshman. I was involved a little bit with my high school student government, so that’s what I thought of coming on to campus: there’s a campus-wide university student government specific to undergrads.

In my high school, we had representation to the high school student government based on classes. It’s different in the UA in that you have representation based on residence halls. We found over the 70- or 80-year history of the UA that people tend to associate more with people who live with them even more than with people in their class.

We encourage people to run as senators to represent their living groups. Then we have different committees that tackle individual issues of advocacy, trying to inform the administration about student views on different things.

TT: How did you get involved in the UA?

AL: It probably started off with a friend of mine on my hall in Simmons at the beginning of my freshman year, Seth E. Dorfman ’05, who was the UA elections commissioner my freshman year. I was trying to find different ways to get involved right off the bat, so I started off as a committee chairman in my dorm, but then I was also looking to the UA to see whether there was anything I could do. I started off on the elections commission there. It gave me a great opportunity to see all the stuff that was going on that year within the UA. ... Then I decided I would run for Senate for Simmons and then became the Senate Speaker and now I’m stuck in this chair [laughs].

TT: What have you guys done in the last year?

AL: Last year we had a lot more internal focus, trying to prepare ourselves, trying to modernize. A lot of what we did last year was to try and procure more funds for student activities, both by looking outside and by trimming down our own budget. That’s something I definitely want to continue [this] year.

TT: What has the UA been doing this summer?

AL: At the very end of the spring, UA, DormCon [Dormitory Council], and the GSC [Graduate Student Council] worked to put together a task force with Housing and IS&T [Information Services & Technology]. We’ve been meeting a couple times over the summer to try to evaluate the different options we have for improving the cable system.

One of the options that’s under consideration has to do with converting the infrastructure itself from an analog system to a digital system. We can’t really execute that immediately for a number of reasons, one of them being [that] we can’t make significant changes to the system, especially ones that would incur additional costs, because grad students have already signed their leases for the year. Any changes would take effect the following year.

One of the things that we can do now is to see whether we can change some of the channels, within the limited bandwidth that we already have on the analog system. A survey recently went out to graduate and undergraduate dormitories asking them whether they think it’s a good idea to get rid of a couple channels, and then if they want to get rid of a couple channels, which ones do they want to replace them with? Those channels are separated into different categories, depending on how much they’re going to cost additionally per month. I definitely encourage people to take that survey.

TT: Tell me a little bit more about what you guys are planning to do this year, concrete action plans.

AL: We probably have three major goals. One is improving the quality of services available to student groups, whether that has to do with more offices, better offices, more funds available. That also has to do with general student space that’s available to groups on campus. I know a lot of the musical and theater groups are in desperate need for better and more performing space. We want to work with the administration to make sure that funds are available for that in the future. It won’t be something that can happen now or in the next year, maybe not in the next three years, but down the road as new buildings get constructed.

One of the other issues has to do with the price of being a student. There are things that we can do as the UA to just make it a little bit easier to afford being a student here. That has to do with looking at changes in housing prices — long-term and short-term. That has to do with the price of books... making it easier for people to buy books online. The UA might even explore programs where we can buy in bulk books that especially freshmen will need for large classes.

The last one is really improving communications. It has to do with the way that the UA itself gathers input from the student body. We have representatives, but individual representatives don’t necessarily have the tools to be as effective as they can be. We want to make sure we hire or find a good IT staff to work on the Web site, improve pokes and holes on the site. The UA as a body or individual representatives can use [the site] to engage the opinion of their constituents on a different topic and then be better informed to vote on it or just to gather input or to compare data.

TT: What’s the UA’s role in orientation?

AL: The UA’s role in orientation has changed a lot over the years. I know that when I was a freshman, the UA didn’t have that much of a role. Basically, it was left to the living group governments.

This year we tried to do something a little bit new where I thought the UA could take a role as the advocate for [undergraduate] student groups to give them even more of an opportunity to expose themselves to freshmen coming in. When I was a sophomore, I had the opportunity to socialize with freshmen as a dormitory REX [Residence Exploration] worker, not just in my dorm but also at the Stata [Center] Tuesday night event then. So the idea is to bring back the Stata event, but instead we’ll have ASA-recognized [Association of Student Activities] student groups participating. That was the UA’s big project this year to get underway.

TT: Explain a little bit about how the ASA is related to the UA.

AL: The Association for Student Activities is a joint subcommittee of both the Graduate Student Council and the UA. The relationship has been a little bit ambiguous in the past, but I think the three presidents this year [Lukmann, GSC President Eric Weese, and ASA President Jen Lobo], we really want to work together to try to spend a lot of time on student group issues. Both on getting more funding for student groups and on improving the quality of student group space on campus and procuring more of that as well. The ASA is supposed to be the advocacy and organizational group for student activities on campus.

TT: I talked to GSC President Eric Weese about UA-GSC cooperation. Are you planning anything?

AL: We have yet to have the opportunity to really sit down and take the goals and particular issues that we want to work together on, but I have had the chance just to speak with him on a leisurely basis, and I’m really looking forward to working with him. I think there’s definitely some room to tackle things together.

TT: What was your first impression of MIT?

AL: I had an idea of it coming in as a prefrosh. I came here for CPW [Campus Preview Weekend] and I also had come here the previous fall. During CPW was really when it started dawning on me that so much of the strength of student life and the spirit of creativity at MIT is derived from the living groups, more strongly than any other college that I visited ... Living groups here really drive the spirit of community. They are all passionate in their own separate way and each have their own identity. ... When you feel at home like that, you can take the time to not only do your academics well but join interesting student groups, excel on a sports team, anything like that.

TT: What words of advice would you have for freshmen?

AL: Don’t worry, you have the opportunity to do more than just your academics. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. Focus on your studies but make sure you set aside a certain amount each week to try a new group, to take that PE class that looks interesting to you, to play that intramural or varsity sport, something you want to continue from your high school years. I think a lot of people don’t take that opportunity and then later regret it, because they say “Oh well, I didn’t do it freshman year, so forget about it,” or “It’s too late to get involved.” That’s not true.

TT: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

AL: I enjoy swimming, skiing and bicycle riding. I also like going hiking and camping.