Penn Engineering clubs are often restricted by limited funding resources for non-consumables, an inefficient reimbursement protocol, and a shortage of space in the Engineering Quad.
Engineering clubs promote relevant engineering-related engagement outside of classes and play an integral part of the Penn Engineering undergraduate experience. There are currently over 30 engineering clubs at Penn that encompass many different facets of Engineering life. Penn engineering clubs typically perform one of two general tasks:
- Represent a certain demographic (i.e. major, gender, race, etc.) of Penn Engineers
- Use engineering in some sort of application
EDAB reached out to 15 diverse clubs to assess the climate of Engineering clubs on campus with the following two questions:
1. What resources (both monetary and non-monetary) does [CLUB] use in a typical month?
2. Do you deem the access to resources sufficient for the overall success of [CLUB]?
Leaders from seven clubs (Access Engineering, ADAPT, AICHE, ASME, Dining Philosophers, Penn Electric Racing, Society of Women Engineers) responded to our prompts with club-specific feedback. Their answers were analyzed to present three general trends, which are summarized by topic below. Each topic is followed by a recommended course of action for the administration:
1) Large-Scale/Non-Consumable Expenses Present Challenges for Clubs
For smaller-scale events, ESAC is the primary funding source for Engineering clubs. However, ESAC only covers consumables (food, drinks, etc.) at a finite capacity. In many instances, either further funding is needed or the desired funding is not approved by ESAC – this can be the case if the consumables funding does not go directly towards engineering students (Access Engineering) or if the funding is for non-consumables (ADAPT). Considering that Penn Engineering heavily promotes volunteerism, innovation, and engineering-related outreach, it seems hypocritical that student groups founded directly in line with these goals are not administered sufficient funds to achieve their objectives.
Some clubs discussed their alternative funding sources, primarily sponsorship and fundraising. For large-scale events and necessary expensive purchases, the latter is objectively a better strategy for Penn Engineering clubs. Club leaders expressed frustration in fundraising efforts:
“We attract many hardworking, intelligent, and passionate individuals, and I feel embarrassed when I have to tell them we need plan and spend time on fundraisers rather than using their valuable skills and knowledge to change lives.”
EDAB has recommendations to solve this problem that are of varying financial obligation to Penn Engineering, listed below:
- Extend club funding to non-consumables. This is likely the most straightforward option, but would also stretch the Engineering club budget. That being said, an assessment on budget utilization for consumables would be interesting to determine if there is allocated money for non-consumables that is going to waste in the consumable budget.
- Develop incentive opportunities for club fundraising. It is understandable if club funding cannot be fully expanded to cover non-consumables and other club costs, but the burden does not have to be entirely shouldered by the administration. A program/policy where the administration matches any fundraising performed by clubs would reinvigorate desire to fundraise and reduce the time clubs spend fundraising.
- Encourage and assist in club sponsorship process. If the Penn Engineering cannot financially support these purchases, the least that can be done is help set up clubs to acquire sponsorship from other funding sources. Helping clubs connect with potential sponsors and assisting in the sponsorship acquisition process would go a long way towards equipping these clubs with the necessary financial resources.
2) The Reimbursement Process is Insufficient and Places an Unnecessary Financial Burden on Students
“This year, it took up to 5 months for everyone to be fully reimbursed by MBO.”
For nearly all club expenses, regardless of funding source, the reimbursement process occurs after purchase and runs through one of the business offices (note: the exception to this is a GrubHub order form run by ESAC for ordering food for events). The reimbursement process is notoriously long and induces a heavy financial burden on students when the purchase must be paid for up front with their own personal funds. It is unfair and discriminatory to expect that undergraduate students will be able to front money for months on end in order to ensure their clubs’ success. Additionally, this promotes awkward and inappropriate personal finance-related discussion amongst club members. As a key leader of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) said,
“SWE’s mission is to encourage women to achieve their full potential as engineers and as leaders, and SWE will not be able to do that to the best of its abilities until our board members’ capabilities are not bound to their personal financial situations.”
- Mandate a reimbursement time of 4 weeks for all purchases. There are obviously some exceptions (i.e. in the event a reimbursement must be resubmitted), but for most purchases a turnaround time of about one month is very realistic and reasonable. This provides ample time for processing and ensures that anyone that put a purchase on their credit card will have the funds to pay off that purchase in the next billing cycle.
- For clubs with personal accounts, improve club access to those funds. SWE is one example of a group with corporate sponsorship that has all of their funds linked directly to their account with the business office. However, they still need to go through the same reimbursement procedure as those with ESAC funding: “Given that SWE has the money to pay for these purchases already in its account, it is absurd that we can not directly and promptly access this money.” Considering the funds are already approved for use in club purchases, an expedited reimbursement process or some kind of club-specific debit card would ease the financial burden on club members.
3) Space for “Maker” Clubs is in Dire Need
Everyone at Penn Engineering knows that space is one of the most pressing needs. Thus, it is not surprising to learn that Penn Engineering clubs are feeling this pressure as well. Space was the primary resource in need for 50% of the clubs that responded to this survey.
“Access students have to use remote desktop to use engineering programs from Van Pelt Library because we are not permitted to use CETS labs in any meaningful capacity.”
“Many times projects have been damaged from transporting them across campus to members' residences… Lack of a 'home' for ADAPT also makes it difficult to create a centralized location or hub for all members work and share ideas on projects. Right now a 'meeting' consists of bringing parts in a shoebox to a table in eCafe.”
- Keep clubs and student organizations in mind during the Penn Engineering expansion. With the renovation of 3401 Walnut and the talk of potentially acquiring new property north of New College House, Penn Engineering is in line for both short-term and long-term physical growth. During this expansion, EDAB encourages the administration to be mindful of the needs of these “maker” clubs that bring so much positive acclaim to Penn Engineering.