[Live Blog] State Of State 2017: Innovate The State

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Welcome to the home for our coverage of the fourth annual State of State conference. This year’s forum is titled Innovate The State and features 14 speakers split into three categories, each discussing important matters of Penn State life.

We’ll be live tweeting highlights from @OnwardState and updating this post throughout the day. For more up-to-the-minute coverage or to catch a particular speaker, follow State of State’s live stream.


3:45 p.m.: That’s all from State of State 2017!

3:36 p.m.: Maria Aguilar Walls said during the question and answer session that, thanks to the All In campaign, the university is in the process of creating a diversity advisory committee to the president which hopes to solve some of the issues she brought up during her talk.

3:06 p.m.: The final speaker of this year’s conference, Maria Aguilar Walls, is a senior studying rehabilitation and human services. She told an emotional story of her own disability and how, despite regulations, she and others are still discriminated against. “We were doing everything we could to stay at Penn State and still be successful,” she said. “If we were all so motivated to succeed the why were we experiencing so many road blocks?” Walls said there are a lot of institutional and interpersonal prejudices against people at Penn State who have disabilities, including the dining commons and parking for athletic events. “These people (with disabilities) needs are being put second to people who are giving more money to the university.”

2:54 p.m.: “As much as it breaks my heart, most students will not list the Alumni Association as one of the top-10 things they love about Penn State,” Clifford admitted. “If we’re not in the top-10 things, then how do we build loyalty?” Clifford said the Alumni Association is known for spreading the good news of Penn State and its alumni, among many other things, and said it’s important to connect with the next generation of alumni (re: students).

2:44 p.m.: Paul Clifford, CEO of Penn State’s Alumni Association, told the room full of Penn Staters that the Alumni Association is a great resource for undergrads and potential students, even if they don’t realize it. “Delivering the best alumni association is what Penn State alumni deserve,” Clifford said. He said it can be difficult to keep Penn State on top of the alumni world with how much Penn Staters often spread out among both the Commonwealth campuses and the entire world.

2:35 p.m.: IST graduate student Anthony Pinter discussed inclusion in a different light — graduate students. Pinter pointed out how graduate students don’t have the opportunities to be involved that undergraduates have. He noted that THON allows graduate students to join organizations and dance independently but won’t allow them to be a part of the “backend” of THON, including committees, captains, and directors. “Without better ways of obtaining information, how are graduate students expected to get involved?” Pinter’s PowerPoint slide read.

2:32 p.m.: “If we just sit back and let students come to us in the Bank of America Career Services building, we’re only going to reach a small percentage — a minority — of students,” Dr. Orndorff admitted. He encouraged students to take advantage of the resources available to them.

2:21 p.m.: Senior Director of Career Services Dr. Robert Orndorff took the stage next and led the room in a ‘We Are’ cheer and went on to compare Career Services to Penn State: As Penn State is more than just football, Career Services is more than just a big career fair in the Bryce Jordan Center.

2:10 p.m.: Jaden Rankin-Wahlers kicked off the third and final series of speakers, titled “Serving Our Penn State Family.” Rankin-Wahlers is the director of Lion’s Pantry and aptly centered her talk on how hard it is for Penn State’s homeless and impoverished students. “When students use us for the first time, a lot of them feel the need to justify why they’re there,” Rankin-Wahlers said. “That’s a tough thing to deal with because it breaks my heart knowing these are some of the toughest students we have on campus.”

1:42 p.m.: Lunch time for the dancers! I mean, er, the State of State attendees (you can never be too ready for THON). I enjoyed a delicious turkey and provolone sandwich, an apple, and a bag of kettle chips. Honestly I’m just here for the food (just kidding).

1:22 p.m.: Following discussion it’s time for another question and answer session with  One participant asked Doug Goodstein what students can do if they don’t live on campus and how they should go about recycling. “If we want to recycle to save money it might not be there, but if we want to recycle to protect children, how much does that cost?” Goodstein asked. “You have more power than you think in the spaces that you live.”

12:54 p.m.: The conclusion of the Sustainable Practices portion of the program leads the conference attendees into another facilitated discussion on what the last round of speakers had to say.

12:52 p.m.: “Nature is into you, and nature faces some real challenges,” Foley said. He said there’s an uneven sense of being included here at Penn State, noting the different campuses and students who attend Penn State as a whole.

12:41 p.m.: Director of Sustainability at Smeal Erik Foley continued the discussion on sustainability, using a bridge as a metaphor to describe our responsibilities in the future of the Earth. “I see all of us today as a bridge generation, a bridge from this impossible present to the possible future,” Foley said. “We are beckoned by the future — an environment that groans and asks for our best efforts.”

12:29 p.m.: Student Nate Larkin was next on stage, highlighting the university’s responsibility in investing, especially when it comes to Fossil Fuels. Larkin, who is president and co-founder of Fossil Free PSU, said the best way to do this is to divest from South African-based companies. Larkin called on both Penn State administrators and student groups to be on the forefront of this change toward sustainability.

12:19 p.m.: Hayly Hoch is a founder and director of the Student Farm Club at Penn State and focused her talk on the impact students can have on sustainability with initiatives like farming and education. “At Penn State, you’re responsible for taking ownership of your education,” Hoch said. She discussed how successful the Student Club Farm has been in only one year.

12:11 p.m.: “Revolutions happen for a reason.” Goodstein said that the time for the sustainable revolution is now and it’s at Penn State. “You don’t have to be the genius, you just have to do something.”

12:01 p.m.: Doug Goodstein from the Sustainable Institute opened the second session, aptly titled “Sustainable Practices.” Goodstein said that it’s not just about recycling — we’ve been recycling in its true definition since the beginning of time. “When I talk about recycling I don’t care about the percentage that goes in the right bin, I care about the percent that doesn’t.” He said that 75 percent of Penn State waste is not recycled, and instead goes directly into a landfill 73 miles away.

11:45 a.m.: A 20-minute discussion was followed by a question and answer session with the first round of speakers. One attendee asked if a student should consider running for office in State College, which evoked a hearty laugh from the audience. Terry Ford said “students have just as much of a right to run for office,” but noted also that a non-student who defends students and cares about student ideals would be just as effective. “I’m embarrassed to live in State College sometimes when I hear what some of these elected officials are saying in public meetings,” Chris Buchignani added.

11:27 a.m.: The conference broke out into facilitated conversations about the first session of speakers.

11:25 a.m.: “How can elected officials say such things about their constituency and continually get reelected? It’s because 0.01% of the community is voting.” Ford put two concerning quotes on the screen from who he referred to as two different “elected officials,” but according to the linked Collegian articles, both quotes were from Mayor Elizabeth Goreham:

  • “And it makes you realize that students aren’t scary and drunk all the time.” [source]
  • “It’s wonderful to see that we’re humans and they’re humans.” [source]

“This is our town too for most of the year, and our vote matters,” Ford said in closing.

11:09 a.m.: Ford said that in the last election only 0.01 percent of the community elected the State College government. “You needed 600 to 700 votes to become an elected official — there are THON committees with 600 to 700 people on them!” The solution, according to Ford, is for students to register to vote in the Democratic primary (State College has been controlled by democrats for almost 40 years).

11:07 a.m.: UPUA President Terry Ford closed out the community responsibility section, discussing how important student civil engagement is in State College. Ford noted that 70.6 percent of the State College population is students, and the fact that students are not voting in local elections has consequences.

11:00 a.m.: Will Quaranta, last year’s Interfraternity Council President, also discussed student and State College Borough relations, noting that the Council is a “little more favorable to long-term residents.” Quaranta cited ever changing conditions as part of this disconnect: student turnover, different events, and different breaks. “We have a different lifestyle. Different intentions, different schedules, and different activities.”

10: 53 a.m.: Strasser believes that the best way to bring the downtown community together is student buy-in. “Without student buy-in there will never be any change,” Strasser said. “We have to teach students about their role in the downtown area.”

10:50 a.m.: Former Panhellenic Council President Madeline Strasser is the first student to speak at the conference, with a presentation called “The Role of On-Campus Students in the Borough.” It’s no secret that the student relationship with the Borough is challenged at times because of the ever-changing community.

10:47 a.m.: Mroz said in researching a model lease that students and landlords could both use, the biggest thing that renters and landlords were missing was education. Ultimately, Student Legal Services, with the help of the Borough and student leaders, developed Lion’s Lease. “It helped people who felt their issues were very, very different find commonalities and address change,” Mroz said.

10:40 a.m.: Director of Student Legal Services Kelly Mroz is next to take the stage, focusing her talk on the housing situation downtown and the Model Lease system she developed for students. For her, it was an incredible challenge to overcome the idea that the State College housing market was a “bad place for renting.”

10:38 a.m.: “No matter which side of College Ave or Park Ave you live on, we’re all part of the same community,” Buchignani closed his speech with, encouraging everyone to contibute to not only the Penn State community, but the Nittany Valley community as a whole.

10:33 a.m.: “It was very important to me to put down roots, to integrate myself into the fabric of the community,” Buchignani discussed how he made the Nittany Valley his home after he was drawn to the community by Penn State. “College towns are incredible places — especially ones that grew up in isolation, like ours.”

10:30 a.m.: Buchignani announced that the Nittany Valley is helping to launch a three-credit course on Penn State history, which will be offered for the first time this fall. The class has been in the works among Penn State student leaders and others for a few years.

10:24 a.m.: Chris Buchignani, President of the Nittany Valley Society, is the first speaker of the “Our Community Responsibility” portion of speakers. Buchignani described The Nittany Valley society as a “cultural conservancy” and discussed how Penn State and the Nittany Valley is a prime community for such.

10:18 a.m.: Master of Ceremonies Abigail Kennedy welcomed the participants and asked everyone to introduce themselves. Part of State of State includes facilitated conversation at the 28 tables that fill alumni hall this morning and those in attendance will have to get comfortable with one another.

10:09 a.m.: Dr. Lee Erickson opened the conference with a short talk on change, pointing out trends of change on social media and how Millenials have contributed to that. “Change is the part of the definition of innovate,” Dr. Erickson said. “It’s not a little bit of change, it’s a big thing.” For her, many of the changes that we want to see happen will come from Millenials.

10:07 a.m.: State of State Executive Director Meg Zuccato welcomed the crowd and shared what the conference is hoping to accomplish. “We care about our university, we care about our Penn State family,” she said. “We want our voices to be heard and we want to be part of this conversation because, in the end, we all feel this is a way to make our university better for everyone.”

10:04 a.m.: The conference opens with a video of students and State of State participants sharing what the conference means to them and why it’s important to Penn State.

Photo By: Joe Whitman
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Lexi Shimkonis

Lexi is an editor-turned-staff writer who can often be found at either Irving's or the Phyrst (with the chances she'll have her backpack being the same). Lexi hails from Spring City, PA (kind of) and will graduate next spring with a degree in Civil Engineering (ideally). Please email questions and/or pleas for an Instagram caption to [email protected], or for a more intimate bond, follow her on Twitter @lexshimko.

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