Student Union Introduces New Online Initiatives

In light of an unprecedented school year, the Student Union has introduced new initiatives to better serve the student body.

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By Eleanor Chin

The Student Union (SU) is ushering in the upcoming, atypical school year with a set of new initiatives to help students adjust. Under the leadership of senior and President Julian Giordano and junior and Vice President Shivali Korgaonkar, the SU organized these initiatives in the hopes of building a sense of community. “There’s a certain energy that stems from interacting with people in person, and [t]hough [the SU] acknowledge[s] that we cannot recreate that dynamic online, it’s so important we all work together to somehow bring back the small things that make Stuy Stuy, […] to recreate a sense of normalcy in our completely abnormal lives,” senior and School Leadership Team (SLT) Alternate Caroline Ji said in an e-mail interview.

Get to Know Yu: Weekly Conversations

The beginning of the school year marks the beginning of Principal Seung Yu’s first year at Stuyvesant. His appointment follows former Principal Eric Contreras’s resignation in late July and comes at a time when policy-making for the school community proves difficult, as students are physically absent due to remote learning.

The SLT and Event Planning Department of the SU introduced “Get to Know Yu: Weekly Conversations” in an effort to better connect Yu to the student body in late August. Every Friday afternoon, 15 students have the opportunity to connect and chat with Yu. “The hope is that through these conversations, [Yu] will get to see and experience the different slices of life that exist at Stuy, better understand the different interests that students share, [and] allow students to share parts of their personalities and values with him,” Ji said.

In a virtual setting, it is difficult for students to connect with administration on a personal level. Former SU President Vishwaa Sofat (’20) and Giordano, who was SU Vice President at the time, served as the liaison between the student body and administration, funneling student concerns to their respective departments in the spring of 2020. Though the SU set up surveys to streamline communication, students still lost opportunities to interact directly with faculty. “One of the things students loved about [Contreras] was his Open Door Policy. You could walk into his room, say hi, and raise a point anytime,” Giordano said. “How can this happen this year? How can we make it so that it’s more than just checking boxes on a survey? The idea that came to the forefront was that we should create opportunities for students to have intimate conversations [with Yu], almost as if they were meeting in person.”

The conversations follow a semi-structured format, allowing Yu and the students to have discussions that are intimate and relevant. “A thing that particularly stood out to me was that [Yu] was willing to engage with us on a personal level,” freshman Andrew Park said in an e-mail interview. “He took the time to ask each of us what our hobbies were and what we wished to achieve by coming to Stuyvesant, and I found that conducive to getting closer to him.”

Members of the SLT and Event Planning Committees rotate as facilitators to ensure that the sessions run smoothly. “We work continuously with [Yu] to make these initiatives as productive and engaging as possible for our community,” senior and SLT Representative Sarai Pridgen said in an e-mail interview. “These weekly meetings are purposefully small and aim to create real bonds between [Yu] and members from all of Stuy’s niches.”

This initiative relies largely on the students, whose feedback will allow the SU to make necessary adjustments to improve the functionality and efficiency of the conversations. Ultimately, the goal of these conversations is to foster familiarity between Yu and the student body during an unprecedented school year. “[Yu] seems like a good principal who can connect with the students closely and get to talk to them on a more equal footing,” Park said. “I’m glad that I was able to talk to him and get to know him better.”

Monthly Town Hall Meetings

In addition to weekly Get to Know Yu events, the SU is hosting monthly town hall meetings open to all students and staff. Inspired by last year’s Coffee with Contreras sessions offered to parents, the SU is looking to extend the opportunity to students so they can learn about new initiatives from both the SU and school administration. “Every month, the administration can come give a presentation on what they’re working on. If students are working on something, we can share student presentations too,” Giordano said. In doing so, the SU hopes to provide regular updates for projects in progress and open a dialogue for questions and answers.

Introducing StuyActivities 2.0

The SU released a new version of the original StuyActivities website, aptly named StuyActivities v2, near the end of August. StuyActivities is a website meant to make creating, finding, and joining clubs more convenient. The project was a joint effort between the IT and Executive Departments, resulting in a new website featuring a more streamlined interface along with an improved charter system and more accessibility for both users and administrators.

While the SU initially planned to remake the website during the spring semester of 2020, the task was postponed until the beginning of summer. “The site is still in development, but it’s much [smoother] and has a much more pleasing interface than the old one,” junior and Deputy Chief of Staff Aaron Wang said in an e-mail interview.

Senior and Director of IT Abir Taheer directed the development team, which consisted of juniors Victor Veytsman and Ethan Shan. The team collaborated with junior and Chief Relations Officer Neve Diaz-Carr, junior and Chief of Staff Theo Kubovy-Weiss, Korgaonkar, and Wang, who “helped oversee and facilitate a lot of the decision-making and progress on the website,” Wang said. “We hosted video conference check-ins every Friday night, revised all the old rules for chartering clubs and budget for clubs, and brought up ideas for the StuyActivities website.”

The original StuyActivities page was a flask app with Jinja template rendering, which involves a Python web application framework and allows for easy web development. There were, however, limitations to the site. “There are also some features we wanted to implement that would have been harder to implement with the old StuyActivities,” Taheer said in an e-mail interview.

For StuyActivities v2, the team implemented Node.js and React.js, two Javascript packages, for the back-end and front-end web development, respectively. “I spent part of the first weeks making instructional material and writing boilerplate code [starting code],” Taheer said.

The IT team focused on making the website easier to edit and access. “We also reworked some of the database tables in order to make features—like charter editing—happen more smoothly,” Taheer said. “Ultimately, the new StuyActivities is a completely different beast than the old one.”

StuyActivities v2 was released early so clubs could charter before the school year began, but the SU plans to add more features to the site, including a club post feature. “Originally [the club post feature] was going to help liven up the site with club announcements, meetings, and photos (kind of like a Facebook for clubs),” Wang said. “But now that quarantine has happened, it’s even more important because we won’t be able to walk around the school and look at posters.”

Due to the unusual circumstances this year, the SU has also been working on ways to host the annual Club Pub Fair virtually. “It’s been a tradition and such a crucial part in engaging students (especially incoming freshmen) about the clubs at Stuy that we definitely can’t pass [on] it, even during these difficult times,” Wang said. “Though this year’s going to be unlike any other, the SU is determined to help make it as familiar and accommodating as we can.”