In January, the Committee on Reunions, upon reviewing upcoming contracts with several student agencies and other services in preparation for this year’s reunions, has decided to withdraw working with the Water and Beverage Student Agency. This will be a first for the committee, as they’ve worked with the Water and Beverage Student Agency for more than 10 years, according to Jackson Forbes ’18.
The two executives of the student agency, Kurt Holuba ’18 and Forbes, were dismayed to hear of this recent decision. Nearly half of the Water and Beverage Student Agency (WBSA) revenue comes from Reunions alone.
“There was no warning before signing with another distributor; it felt like there was no respect,” Holuba said.
There are 14 different University student agencies, covering a range of tasks from yearbook design to moving and storage. Students must interview and be selected among a competitive pool of applicants in order to participate in these agencies. Once accepted, the agencies provide students with ample business, managing, and communications experience. Holuba explained that this organization is the only proper way to successfully run a small business on campus.
Last January, the WBSA went to renew its contract with the Senior Associate Director and Student Liaison for Reunions Mibs Southerland Mara. The WBSA normally orders around 500 jugs of water at $2.69 per jug, and then marks up the price in order to make a profit. Adding this to the cost of 50 coolers, more than a dozen tables, and some 15,000 cups, the total price comes to around $8000, the usual year-to-year price. Because 2016 boasted a possible heat wave, Mara and the WBSA agreed to add an extra 100 jugs of water along with other supplies and labor costs to the order for another $1000.
Mara did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Many of those who attended last year’s Reunions can recall the searing heat wave, which resulted in all sites running out of water well into the early stage of reunions.
“In order to save the weekend, we had to make an emergency order the next day of an extra 300 jugs,” Holuba said. This came with higher pricing, as the jugs were ordered on a Saturday morning at an extra $4000.
“I warned Mibs about the increased price, but she gave me the OK and we placed the order,” Holuba explained.
The WBSA went to renew its contract with the Reunions Committee and Mara this past January, but she did not respond to the request. Mara replied to the WBSA implying that they would be switching to an in-house supply, cutting out the WBSA for services that the Reunions Committee has relied on for many years and instead going straight to the distributor.
“This makes our agency look incompetent, even though we felt like we took the right steps,” Holuba remarked. When looking to renew their contract, Mara didn’t reply for several days, only to finally confirm after two weeks that the committee had already signed another contract.
One of the highlights of student agencies is the unique experience that it gives students.
“The idea of student agencies is that it’s a program built to give students business experience–– why you would cut out the middleman and go straight to the distributor, and not give students the opportunity to gain experience is beyond me,” Holuba said.
“You would think that the University would want to be a part of the agencies,” Forbes said. “I can understand that meeting the committee at a better price would teach us a valuable experience, but cutting us out completely takes our business.”
Both Holuba and Forbes stepped down this year, and the WBSA is soon to elect new student management. Holuba is confident in the WBSA’s ability to continue to provide fair services to students and the University, as it has been doing since its inception. Forbes used this experience to create his own business, Robo, which focuses on teaching mental toughness from the perspectives of coaches, the military, and so forth. Forbes also plans on running a small clothing line in conjunction with Robo’s image.
“I took away a better sense of management, a sense of looking forward to development and continuous innovation, as well as being able to manage all aspects of the business on my own,” Forbes explained.