SA finds new worth in treasurer

Neuwirt uses family as motivation to redeem SA's public image

The Spectrum

Justin Neuwirt never made team captain or got straight A's, although he tried for both. He tried harder than most of the people he knew in high school and then watched as most of his friends set off for Ivy League schools, while he enrolled at UB.

None of it bothered him. He knew he had something they didn't: hunger to succeed.

This week, the senior finance major will begin his tenure as UB's Student Association Treasurer and he believes the same will that drove him to work extra hours at the local sneaker shop during high school and to stay up all night studying for tests will make him a reliable manager of the $3.8 million in the student money he now controls.

He also has concrete goals. He's determined to streamline how SA spends its money, revise the tattered image SA has on campus and help students take advantage of SA's offerings.

"I won't be an e-board member who just puts his feet up on his desk and bosses [people] around and lets the job get done around him," Neuwirt, 21, said. "I like to get down in the Union promoting and really talking with students."

Neuwirt will need to do a lot of promoting in order to revive the reputation of the SA Treasurer on campus. Last year's treasurer Sikander Khan, whose aloof aura and closed-door policy made him off-putting to many, ended his term in scandal and was forced to resign after he tried to spend $300,000 on a fraudulent app. It was the worst episode in SA history, according to SA pro-staff members.

Neuwirt wants to get past the "Sikander-era." He hopes to use his charm and easy-going manner to do it. He insists that he will leave his door open for students to ask him any questions they have about how their money is spent and encourages them to do so.

His friendly, likeable manner will help. A guy's guy who revived a dead fraternity on campus, Neuwirt laughs easily and is often surrounded by his frat brothers as he walks around campus. But when he is at home on Long Island, he's the first in the family to attend to his beloved grandfather's wheelchair, according to his mother, Jackie Neuwirt.

His grandfather has advanced Parkinson's disease. His girlfriend, Brianna Devito, calls Neuwirt a "big teddy bear" and his mother said he was so unselfish as a child that he never asked for presents - even on his birthday.

To prove his commitment to openness, Neuwirt spent the first Friday on campus going store to store around downtown Buffalo, passing out Fall Fest posters. On Monday, he was flipping hot dogs in the Student Union.

He attributes his work ethic to his grandfathers.

Both are Holocaust survivors who, after being liberated from concentration camps in Poland, fled to America. Each got a factory job and worked his way up to foreman. Each refused to retire until after his 70th birthday.

"Not as much as we told him as we showed him as an example," said Albert Neuwirt, Justin's paternal grandfather. "We all worked hard in our family and the work ethic was always there, and he absorbed it."

Neuwirt is also not worried to take risks - even if it means extra work. In fact, the challenge thrills him. In fall 2010, Neuwirt wanted to join a fraternity, but didn't find one that he liked. So he started his own - Zeta Beta Tau. He says the frat offers camaraderie, but also a balance between partying, studying and charity work. He's served as vice president and president. He's also been elected a SUNY delegate.

Still, he considers himself new to SA and not someone widely connected to SA clubs, personalities or inside stories. He sees that as a strength and a way to separate himself from Khan and his marred legacy. Before he took office, Khan had numerous connections with SA clubs and club members and was seen as a real insider.

Neuwirt is not afraid to face problems. This summer he was mostly in Buffalo working in his new position, but the times he was able to go home he spent with his sick maternal grandfather, according to his mother.

"He's always been the one to sit with his grandparents, ever since he was little, he has patience and he can just sit there and listen," his mother said.

His mother recently put her father in a nursing home. She says she has been an "emotional mess," and Justin has helped her get through the tough transition.

"Justin's my rock," Jackie said. "He puts so much on his plate, and sometimes it's like, 'What are you doing? Just focus on your academics.' And he's like, 'Mom, this will get me further than that.'"

Just as Neuwirt puts his family and girlfriend before himself, he wants to help his fellow students.

"One thing I'm looking to do right now is work with an organization on campus that hosts these workshops that kind of just teach students how to be professional, how to network on LinkedIn, how to build a resume, how to write a cover letter, how to dress appropriately to an interview and it's a series of seminars that won't cost us any money," Neuwirt said. "But those are just the small things I want to do this year that will give students a lot more resources."

Neuwirt said his plans are efficient in that they will widely benefit students, but will cost little to no money.

Neuwirt sees himself as a good balance to his colleagues on the e-board. SA President Travis Nemmer and Vice President Adam Zimnicki have held several positions in SA and already have connections on campus. He sees himself as a fresh face, but thinks his business mentality will fuse well with their experience in SA.

Neuwirt interned in the operations department at Gerstein Fisher and Associates, an investment management firm in New York City, last summer and winter. His position gave him experience in managing money.

"My financial planning was kind of like SA," Neuwirt said. "Money was held in custodian bank accounts. We were the middlemen between our clients and the bank that was holding our money for us."

Neuwirt plans to research each line in this year's budget to see if any dollar amount needs to be increased or decreased and even compare each line to how much was spent on it in past years.

"Maybe cut out some events that are a little more expensive that students don't really attend, and add some smaller events that won't cost us as much but will make us a better name for us on campus," Neuwirt said.

He's determined to redeem the student body's opinion of the SA treasurer, despite his busy schedule. In the back of his mind, his grandparents continue to encourage him.

"My mom's always put positive pressure on me to continue to strive and go further in life because my grandparents didn't have the option to sit back," Neuwirt said. "They had to keep going. My mom is like, 'You are being given the ability to succeed, so you better take advantage of it.'"