When UPUA Rep. Ted Ritsick first heard of the idea for Steps for State, he wasn’t sure what to think. Organizing a 114 mile walk to Harrisburg, while for a good cause, would certainly be a daunting task.
“Initially when [Rep. John] Wortman brought this up I said, ‘John, you’re crazy, but I’ll help you,'” said Ritsick, a co-sponsor of the resolution. “But we’re sitting here today and it’s looking like it’s going to be a great success. We’re all really excited about it.”
For those unfamiliar with Steps for State, UPUA has decided to organize a walk to Harrisburg in order to advocate for more state funding. The walk will start at 12:30 p.m. on March 30, and will come to an end at 4 a.m. on April 1 in Harrisburg, with representatives walking the 114 miles in between. Five UPUA representatives will be walking at a time, and they’ll take turns walking in shifts lasting four hours each.
So why does UPUA feel the need to casually stroll to Harrisburg on the eve of Capital Day? Pennsylvania public schools normally have notoriously high tuitions, and are usually among the highest in the US. With the support of UPUA President Katelyn Mullen and Vice President Brenden Dooley, as well as
Chair Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Panichelli, Wortman hopes this walk will open some eyes regarding higher education funding in Pennsylvania.
“Our big thing is obviously how broken the way that [Pennsylvania] is structured in higher education. If you break it down, the top two most expensive in state universities are Pitt and Penn State, and Pennsylvania also has 8 out of the top 17 in the country,” said Wortman. “This isn’t about a political party; it’s about how the entire system of higher education is broken in Pa. And that’s what needs to be reformed.”
Obviously, a huge concern for an event like this the safety of the students; it’s not exactly hard to imagine why a few UPUA representatives walking on a road outside of Harrisburg at two in the morning would be considered dangerous. However, Wortman and the rest of the resolutions co-sponsors (Rep. Ritsick, Rep. Stephen Payne, and Rep. John Lombardo), ensured that safety was the highest priority when planning the route. There are checkpoints in place, and one of the two EMTs in UPUA will be walking with the group at all times. In addition to the EMT and medical supplies, there will be a vehicle driving along with the walkers at all times, as well as directions to the nearest hospital if a medical emergency does arise.
“This [route]isn’t the fastest or most direct way to get to Harrisburg, and that’s our point. We hope that it’s the safest way to get people to Harrisburg,” said Payne.
“We really based our safety procedures off of what THON does with canning,” added Wortman. “We’re going to have a workshop the week before the event to ensure everyone realizes what they have to do and knows the safety measures just in case a situation arises.”
All in all, UPUA is hoping this event will put their name on the map at Penn State while grabbing the attention of Governor Corbett in Harrisburg. And for a young organization still trying to gain legitimacy in the Penn State landscape, this seems like a good place to start.
“I think this makes it very hard for those students who say ‘Oh, student government? They don’t do anything,'” said Ritsick. “Well actually we are walking 114 miles to Harrisburg on behalf of you to raise higher education funding, so I’d say that’s something.”
No matter the outcome, it’s safe to say that the UPUA is making some steps in the right direction.