This is the first in a three-part series profiling the UPUA presidential candidates.
I didn’t know what to expect as I met her at the HUB Tuesday night. She had just been grilled by her peers on issues ranging from student engagement to making education more affordable. After she endured relentless questioning as part of the presidential debate, part of me thought she would appear frazzled.
I was wrong. Melissa McCleery was all smiles as she greeted me, ostensibly unfazed by the by last two hours of questioning. If elected, McCleery hopes to take her positive attitude to a room full of administrators and faculty — the picture of poise and confidence, unfazed by the huge age gap between them.
McCleery certainly has experience in rooms of administrators. As the Academic Affairs chair for the past year and a half, she represented UPUA on Faculty Senate and other administrative bodies. Through that position, she worked with senior administrators and senators about implementing an online syllabi database and revising Penn State’s policy requiring students to pay for summer internship credit. Neither initiative was taken well at first, but McCleery remained persistent, setting up meetings to iron out faculty concerns and explain student reasoning.
“I feel like I have reached a point where the faculty and administration see me as a peer,” McCleery, a triple major in political science, Spanish and women’s studies, said. “This came from always being prepared and professional during meetings, not to mention always speaking my mind. It is students who are quiet who don’t get respect.”
McCleery is running for UPUA president alongside her running mate Tim Rinehart, the Eberly College of Science representative. Her choice of Rinehart was simple: She said he was intelligent and confident in the 8th Assembly, and he interacts well with others. She said he thinks through things critically and analytically, which McCleery thinks is important because it brings to their ticket a different perspective.
The Allentown native had her first taste of leadership at a very young age. Her first position was in 2nd grade, where she was in charge of the school-wide cookie fundraiser.
“I remember the teacher telling me that I was going to be in charge that year and being overcome with joy,” McCleery recalled. “I was quite the coordinator: making sure everyone had order forms, figuring out how many cookies each person wanted, counting everyone’s money — 50 cents a cookie, please! — and making sure the family in charge of baking that week knew how many cookies to make. That position has stuck in my head for a long time.”
In high school, McCleery was involved in many different extracurricular activities. She was on the track and cross country teams, involved in student council, and served as president of the art club. Getting involved was necessary because McCleery said she likes to keep busy, a mentality she continues today. Outside of UPUA, McCleery is involved with Alpha Delta Pi sorority and Lion Scouts.
When McCleery does need to unwind, she turns to her family. Her parents and younger sister are a huge support system for her, always there to give a pep talk or help her work something through. Her father’s an engineer, so he gives her analytical and logical advice while her mother, an English teacher, is more philosophical and theoretical. They complement each other well and give McCleery advice from two different perspectives.
“My childhood was awesome. I grew up with amazing parents who were always so supportive of me and always so encouraging. They made me always strive for more, but never pushed me or put pressure on me, and that made sure I was self-motivated,” McCleery said. “That’s really carried through into my life today — I’m totally self-motivated, and I do things for the love of it. Growing up my parents really instilled in my sister and I the fact that we were so fortunate, and that it was our responsibility to give back to the world we’d gotten so much from.”
When she arrived at Penn State, McCleery had never heard of UPUA. Former UPUA Representative Mallory Jo Reed kept posting in a Facebook group McCleery joined about UPUA elections, which piqued McCleery’s interest. At the last minute, McCleery decided to run for the Liberal Arts seat in the spring of 2012. The move was on a whim, fueled by a simple Facebook Like, yet she ended up defeating the person who held her position, longtime UPUA Rep. John Zang.
UPUA proved to be the perfect organization for McCleery to join. She had always been interested in politics and helping others solve problems. When she came to Penn State, she fell in love with the university and wanted to give back to it somehow. Student government came to be a worthy outlet.
As chair, McCleery was instrumental in passing a number of Academic Affairs legislation. For the next committee, she already has a few ideas: expanding open educational resources (i.e. some classes could offer free text books but simply don’t), expanding the iClicker program, and having official student representation on the General Education Task Force.
“I plan to continue the relationships I made with administrators and faculty through Academic Affairs,” McCleery said. “I know I have a good name going in, which is a benefit to the student body. I have all those relationships from day one.”
In drafting their platform, McCleery said she and Rinehart first focused on initiatives they had previously considered or worked on. Another aspect was thinking about the needs of typical Penn State students and then adding those ideas into the platform, such as extended food hours at the HUB, expanding Late Night at Redifer to other residence halls and working with the university to budget more salt for campus sidewalks in the winter.
Their big focus is on advocacy, as student groups already know what’s best for them, McCleery said. They want to connect with students to facilitate their greater success on campus.
- Penn State App: Many universities similar to Penn State have an all-inclusive university app that provides students with useful, practical and helpful tools and information. McCleery and Rinehart will work with student technology groups and the Student Technology Advisory Committee (STAC) to ensure that a Penn State mobile application is created to replace m.psu.edu.
- Green Initiative Fund: When creating the 2014-2015 UPUA budget, McCleery and Rinehart will allocate a sizable amount of money to a green initiative fund, where students may submit proposals to the UPUA to use to fund a sustainability project on campus, executed in conjunction with the UPUA. Going along with the focus of sustainability, McCleery and Rinehart would like to work to establish on-campus garden plots for students to use to grow their own food and plants.
- CAPS Expansion: Counseling and Psychological Services provides essential services to Penn State students but lacks the resources to serve all the students requesting help. McCleery and Rinehart will continue the University conversation about CAPS and ensure that its programs are expanded. They will explore the possibility of a CAPS fee to ensure that the center has all the necessary resources.
- Collaboration Chats: They want to make UPUA accessible to all students and organizations. In order to do this, they will hold monthly collaboration chats with students and organization leaders on campus. These will be held in a public place, be open to all students and be highly publicized to ensure maximum attendance.
- Increase Landlord Accountability: They will ensure that the UPUA collaborates with the Off-Campus Student Union and Student Legal Services, as well as various apartment complexes and realtors, to ensure that landlords offer student-friendly lease agreements for Penn State students. They will also make resources available for students to seek advice about questionable lease elements.
The platform can be viewed in full here. McCleery said she recognizes it is an ambitious platform, but she believes it’s reasonable and doable. From the start of the new assembly, McCleery said she will hand out responsibilities to representatives and make sure their list of goals is visible and a priority.
McCleery also wants to help the representatives accomplish the initiatives that are important to them. This will help keep representatives motivated and will be ultimately better Penn State, she said.
Both Rinehart and McCleery are cross-registered, meaning even if they do not win as president and vice president, they can still win seats as representatives. McCleery said they have not thought about that much, because they are both so committed to winning the executive positions. Their cross-registration, she said, is a testament to their dedication to the organization.
“We both just want to be involved. It shows, furthermore, that we are not in this for the title or the glory of the title,” McCleery said. “We are in it for the glory of the university. We want to be involved and improve student life in whatever way possible.”
The polls are open for voting on April 2 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Look for profiles on the other two candidates in the coming days.