Mike McCaffrey and Olivia Cannizzaro focus on students

Credit: Aisha Han/Junior Photographer Credit: Aisha Han/Junior Photographer

Claire Gianakas (Editor-in-Chief, The Tartan): First off, how did you get interested in running for these positions?

Olivia Cannizzaro (sophomore mathematical sciences major, student body vice presidential candidate): My freshman year, right off the bat, I was interested in student government and last year I ended up working on the campaign team of [junior mathematical sciences major] Connie Yang, and [senior information systems major] Evan Wineland. Helping them out, I got to see a little bit more of what it was like — what the position would actually entail, the responsibility level, the things you would be able to accomplish — and I got really excited about it. After that I became part of a few other organizations that I felt would allow me to more directly impact the student body. Proud to Be Plaid and Highland Ambassadors let me interact more with members of the administration. I got to see Carnegie Mellon University from both sides and really understand where each side was lacking; where the administration felt that they weren't getting the response that they wanted or needed from students and where students felt that a lot of the time they were not being appreciated or treated the way they would like to be treated for the work they were putting in. I figured that besides joining these different organizations, the way that I could most directly impact the university and do something really meaningful would be from the position of student body vice president. Mike asked me to run last year and I was really excited about it, but I didn't say yes right away. I wanted to think about it. The two of us discussed things like platform, things that we could legitimately accomplish, and what good we could do for the school. Between all of that and the ideas we came up with, I was really excited about the change that I could make.

Mike McCaffrey (junior statistics major, student body presidential candidate): Unlike Olivia, I didn't know I wanted to become involved in student government immediately. I actually was kind of dragged in by Ashley Reeder (MCS ’14) who sat as the vice chairperson of Student Senate. I was brought into Student Senate and later joined the Joint Funding Committee (JFC). I saw student government from all of these different angles and gained some interesting insight. Later that year, I was brought on as campaign manager for the campaign of [fifth year senior with a double major in electrical and computer engineering and business administration] Ian Glasner, and [masters student in health care policy in the School of Public Policy and Management] Shalini Ray. I later became their chief of staff, so I really got to see what it was like to be in [a] cabinet and what we could do better. What really motivated me to run for student body president is all of my personal relationships with different people and seeing how a lot of different students have all these different struggles that the university doesn't really attend to, which might be because of several reasons, whether it be turning a blind eye or they might just not know or might not have the opportunity to address it.

CG: You’ve talked a lot about student input, especially with regard to healthy food options and overall changes in dining services. Can you talk about how you propose to get the student body involved?

OC: We spoke with Pascal Petter, the director of dining services, to get a little more information about that. Something interesting that we’ve seen consistently among the different administrative members that we've spoken to is that there are so many opportunities in place that students don't know about, that aren't getting promoted in the way that they should be. They just kind of get done, and a few people know about them, attend them, and give their input, but most people aren't even aware that they're happening. Petter told us about a few different ways that students can get involved, about these different meetings that they hold, but we also want to make these administration members seem accessible to students. We could potentially have open forums in which students can voice their complaints. Mike and I are really accessible and we would be willing to hear a multitude of people's complaints, input, and things that they want to do. We could then attend these meetings and be able to say ‘We've heard from multiple students and these are issues.’ One of the things that Pascal said to us was that if we can identify issues and find multiple students that agree, then it's something that he's willing to move forward with. We want to get an idea of what the student body wants to change and help them to communicate that, whether directly or indirectly.

MM: Another thing we can definitely take advantage of is the student body president office hours that in the past haven’t been well advertised. We hope to just hang out in a room talking about ideas with different people, whoever’s interested, whoever’s passionate about the issues.

CG: Can you talk a little more about your specific agenda points regarding the dining plan?

MM: One of the big things we want to accomplish if we win is to extend hours at the coffee shops on campus, particularly La Prima. A lot of students spend time in that area and they don't really have access to coffee, so everyone ends up in the library. It gets crowded, and there's a lot of unused space that we would like to take advantage of.

OC: Another thing is at a lot of different universities, from an administrative standpoint, meal plans are subsidized. All students are on plans because financially it doesn't make sense not to be. They get a good mixture of taking advantage of what's easy on campus and also cooking for themselves outside, and it becomes financially feasible to do both. It's a mutually beneficial sort of thing where students aren't paying nine dollars for some small meal. It’s something on a meal plan that feels easy to purchase and the university overall would be making more money. This is something that we spoke to Petter about as well. The people working with dining are very enthusiastic about this, and it’s something that they're also looking to accomplish, so it’s something that we want to help support and get student motivation for.

MM: To be clear, that's definitely more of a long-term goal. I don't think we'd be able to accomplish that in just our term, but the relationship that we develop with dining would hopefully continue into the future and make sure there is communication and encouragement for students to participate in the dining plan past their freshman year.

OC: Also, in terms of vending machines, we would potentially send out a poll to campus over email to see what sorts of things students want to see in the vending machines. This would then require us reaching out to those brands and asking if they are willing to do some sort of agreement in which we would have their goods in our vending machines.

CG: Moving on to health, another big point in your platform, can you talk about the need to address health on campus and your proposed changes?

MM: One of the big issues that Carnegie Mellon faces is a lack of support. A lot of people don't know who to turn to when they have problems. It's not easy to turn to friends when you have academic issues or mental health issues because there's a culture — and I hate to use the word stress — but stress culture, where everyone tries to hide that side of themselves. We’ve come up with initiatives to help people share that side of themselves and actually enjoy the university [a] little bit more.

OC: In terms of sexual health, we want to continue to support efforts that are already in place and make sure that those don't falter. There's been such a headstrong effort towards great progress, and we want to see that be something that gets continued support. One of the things we want to do is continue expansion of the [Survivor Support Network (SSN)] by encouraging people who are in leadership positions on campus to get SSN certified. I was an [orientation counselor (OC)] and they put us through training in which we got unofficial training in how to handle these sexual assault cases. I think it would be invaluable for all orientation counselors, resident assistants, and community advisers to have that. We could come back early in the summer and it would be part of our training.

With regard to mental health, something that shocked me after OC training was that I had friends with these issues who had no idea about the opportunities available to them. I have referred multiple people who have found it to be very helpful. Similar to what Student Senate is doing right now with their mental health awareness campaign, we would want to definitely support and promote more things about [Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS)] and about services available on campus. We want to hold more mental health certification events on campus, which we have pretty infrequently, and make that something people are aware of. We want to establish a peer-to-peer 24/7 hotline, which would require reaching out to students to see who would be willing to be a part of it. We would probably set it up similar to SafeWalk, where it’s a self run thing that students are able to do. Right now we have 24/7 hotlines with professionals, but other universities have peer-to-peer hotlines, which can make people feel a lot more comfortable. A long-term goal would be to build and foster a support network, which could be similar to the SSN, for mental health, so that if people have a crisis or a breakdown they could say ‘Oh, this person is mental health certified. I can go to them and get help, and they’ll actually be able to give me valuable input.’

MM: For a lot of these initiatives we definitely want to bring in outside organizations. We’re aware of Active Minds, a fantastic organization that started last year. They already have over a hundred people in their organization that are super passionate about these issues and doing amazing things.

CG: Your platform also focuses on global engagement. Can you talk about why you feel global engagement is important for students and what you are planning to do to address that?

OC: I have a lot of friends from home who go to different private schools and politics is something really important to them. One thing that I'm grateful for is that people aren’t crazy with it here at Carnegie Mellon. People don't get vicious about it. There isn't any sort of negative attitude towards it. On the other hand, I feel like we might be at the other end of the spectrum, where we’re not as aware of things as other campuses. There are certain things that are happening that are amazing in terms of diversity and LGBT+ initiatives and we’ve got groups on campus for that. They're doing really good things to make people culturally aware and we want to expand that. We want to support the things that are happening and break the idea of the Carnegie Mellon bubble, a term that seems to have caught on to represent people who feel like ‘Oh, this is happening in the world and I didn't even know.’ We think it's really important to be a global citizen and an informed individual in your daily life and your job. Being able to communicate with people and know what's happening makes you an intellectually well-rounded and mature person.

One of the things we want to do, which a member of Student Senate said that they've also been trying to push, is to secure funding for flat-screen televisions in eating areas like the [Cohon Center (CC)], which would air a variety of news sources with closed captions. When someone is taking a break and sitting, or maybe standing in those incredibly long lines for a salad, they could look up and say ‘Oh, there's what's happening in politics. There's what's happening with this.’ I get that from [ITAL][The]Wall Street Journal[ITAL] app, but that costs money and not everyone wants to do that. We want this knowledge to be accessible. We want to potentially provide students with the opportunity to subscribe to a weekly digest, which would give them an idea of some major events. Similar to apps like [ITAL]The Wall Street Journal’s[ITAL] app, you'd get pop up events. It would be a sort of bullet point list, so everyone could check their email and say ‘Oh, this is what's been going on.’ We also want to make newspapers readily available to students outside high traffic areas. I know that we have them available in places on campus now, but even so I still feel like if I wanted to get one I wouldn't know where to get one off the top of my head.

MM: All of these initiatives go towards making people more aware of what's going on globally, but more importantly we want to stir discussion between students on campus and make people more engaged with each other in general.

OC: Absolutely. We're going to be the future, and I think it's important that people who are college-educated have an idea of these sorts of things moving forward because a lot of people at Carnegie Mellon have the potential to do great things in terms of tackling these issues.

CG: With regard to Unity, you talk about improving rankings and our alumni network. Can you talk about your specific ideas regarding these issues?

MM: We are both part of Proud to Be Plaid, which is a committee that works to raise awareness of what Carnegie Mellon actually does for its students, whether it be where tuition is actually allocated and how that money gets spent, or how decisions are made and how rankings work. We mixed that in with our campaign platform and since we see these issues from a Proud to Be Plaid perspective, we're able to identify some catalysts for further unifying Carnegie Mellon as a student body. Some of those initiatives include coordinating mixers between different majors and bridging these big gaps between, say, computer science majors and design majors, because it's not that they dislike each other or don't want to meet each other, it's more that they don't know how to meet each other.

OC: Also speaking on Proud to Be Plaid, this is something that Mike and I are especially passionate about. It's something we've been working on together for two years now and it's very interesting to see this trickle-down effect that happens with it. When you foster this idea of unity among students, students become more excited about their university. It becomes something that they want to reinvest in. They're promoting it, and that's something that factors into our national rankings. It’s something that improves our alumni network. Suddenly people are getting better jobs. People are better connected. We've seen the progress we've been able to make through this committee, and working directly with Student Giving and the Alumni Relations.

We also want to promote attendance at athletic events and support Carnegie Mellon’s athletes through social events. What we mean by that is continuing to support events like Friday Night Lights that make people excited to attend athletic events. We don't naturally have this enthusiasm embedded in our culture. Not only is it important on our end to be excited about Carnegie Mellon and the things that we're doing and to be proud of the effort that we put forward, but it’s also important to support our athletes, who on top of the really hard workload that we have here are varsity athletes. That's an incredible time commitment and it’s something that should be supported as a whole by the student body. This support would allow us to feel more involved with it, and it wouldn’t feel like a divide between students who aren’t involved in sports and students who are.

We are also interested in allowing IDeATe courses to fulfill general education requirements across majors, which would also be a long-term thing. IDeATe courses try to integrate business, technology, and art to show students that they have all developed unique skills that rely on one another. Instead of saying technical majors versus arts majors, they say these are all things that really need one another in order to succeed and do something really incredible. If those courses could fulfill general education requirements for any major, people would be more encouraged to take them since it would count as credit and they’d be able to learn more outside of their field of study.

Another thing we want to establish is a sort of overall Carnegie Mellon pride day. When we spoke to Student Senate, they were also interested in doing this, and it’s so exciting to have the support of Senate and to potentially be able to work with them to push what we're doing. This would make what we're doing so much more successful. We have really ambitious goals and it's not something the two of us can accomplish alone. With regard to a university-wide pride day, we currently have the MCS pride day, the [College of Engineering (COE)] pride day, which sort of end up being exclusive events and [require] you to be a part of the college to attend. It looks like a lot of fun, but you're walking by and going ‘Oh, there’s [COE], there’s MCS, there’s SCS.’ We want to establish an overall Carnegie Mellon pride day, potentially like a second Community Collage, which is something you see during orientation. My favorite part of orientation as a new freshman and as an orientation counselor was to look at all the things that Carnegie Mellon students do outside of academics. People are all getting great degrees doing good things, but they're also doing things that they're passionate about that don't just involve schoolwork. It's really impressive and it makes you excited about the sort of community that we have here and the diverse educational opportunities that we have. We spoke to [associate director of alumni relations] Tim Leonard about how we would go about starting to establish this. It's also something we've been looking into in Proud to Be Plaid to make seniors still feel involved.

MM: Circling back to the trickle-down effect Olivia was speaking about, one of the most powerful things is the ability to raise scholarships through this process of giving back. Students don't realize that it's not like you're giving five dollars and it disappears. This five dollars turns up and might help some other student down the road, which is incredible because we all know how expensive Carnegie Mellon's education is. Everyone's very aware, so just making the burden a little bit easier on the next student is something that we want to do.

OC: And we want to let people know how they can contribute. It feels a little annoying when your school asks you for money after you’re paying this much tuition. We want to let students know that you don't just have to say ‘Okay take my money,’ but you can say ‘I have this five dollars and I want this to specifically to go towards a scholarship fund.’ We want to let students know how they can feel like they're making a direct impact.

CG: Your campaign website notes that you “know what kinds of ideas are feasible for the community.” Can you expand on this idea and explain how you have worked to ensure that your platform is attainable?

OC: We ensured this mainly through the administrative members that I've been mentioning. In terms of dining, we sat down with Pascal Petter. We gave him both of our emails so that it wasn't just a one-time meeting and he knows how to reach out to us and communicate. We plan on attending these dining meetings so that we can not only give our input, but also understand how things work. It's impossible for us to do these things if we don't understand how they work. We pulled up our platform with Petter and showed him what we want to do, and he told us that these are all things that are possible. Are they necessarily possible within a term? No, but they are things that we can absolutely promote and get the wheels moving on so that they do happen. Even if the final product doesn't get reached, students will be able to see tangible change in our time. We spoke with people in Student Activities and Student Life about doing unity things and seeing if those are feasible, and they told us they were. We had other ideas that we were told aren't the most feasible, so we didn't want to focus on those.

The other way we’ve ensured this is speaking with different organizations. When we were at Student Senate, Active Minds came to speak and talk about what they're doing. I sat down with a member of Student Senate who told me about the different initiatives they are pushing that align with ours, and he said that they do have the resources and that with our support it would be something that's possible to accomplish. We've gone through speaking to different established organizations who have similar end goals to us and speaking to different administrative numbers to try and make sure that the things that we want to do can get accomplished.

CG: What do you see as the biggest thing that sets you apart from the other candidates running for these positions?

OC: I sat down with our friend who is helping us with our design work and he said ‘Well we know all the people who are running are doing it to put it on their resume,’ and I said ‘That's not true.” I find it really interesting that people have this perception. I think a lot of people do want to make change, but I think that many people run for this position because of the name of the position. There's a certain amount of prestige that comes with it because there are certain things you can do in this position of power that feel exciting. Personally, if I was running just for those reasons, I wouldn't think it was worth the work to put in. The reason that I am really excited about this is because it's something that I'm passionate about. We have all these ideas and they are super ambitious and they seem like a lot, but the opportunity to create change and to be able to get this position and office and do something where people could say ‘Oh yeah, they changed that. This is something that's a part of our community and I remember when it happened and how it happened,’ is exciting. I want to change the idea that people don't know who the student body president and vice-president are, that the student body president and vice-president are not interacting with the community, and that people don't know how to get involved. I think we really have the opportunity not only to push our initiatives and do something really important for this campus, but also to make people feel involved in the student government process. Even if they don't have time to attend Student Senate meetings or to do this or that, I think everyone can get excited about making change, about coming up with an idea and seeing it being realized, and I think that Mike and I especially want to give people the opportunity to do that. Between the two of us we came up with these ideas, imagine what thousands of people can come up with. Because this is something the two of us are actually passionate about, I think something that sets us apart is just how excited we are to do something good for people and help them actually make a difference on their own campus.

MM: I think one of the differences for us is how approachable we are. We're both somewhat social people and it's incredible that since thinking about running for this campaign we’ve spoken to probably hundreds of people about their different perspectives. We’ve talked to people of all different ages and all different backgrounds and really gathered feedback that way, and it really takes a lot of energy to do something like that. Like Olivia said, it would drown you unless you're actually passionate about it. Being able not only to win a campaign, but also to go a full academic year in the position, be successful, and accomplish the initiatives that you set out to accomplish requires a lot of focus and a lot of energy.

OC: And a lot of teamwork, which is another thing that I think sets us apart. We understand that it's so far from something the two of us can accomplish, which is why I think one of the most important things about our campaign and our platform would be how others can help us and how we can help them.

MM: And that's probably the biggest difference, our team. We have a fantastic team again spanning all these different ages and they already are super passionate about different issues and have latched onto one platform initiative or another.

CG: That’s all I have. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us!