Big Ten Student Leaders Headed to Penn State
Five years ago, the Association of Big Ten Students refused to recognize UPUA as a legitimate student government.
This weekend, their annual summer conference heads to Penn State.
Starting Friday, delegates from student governments in the other eleven Big Ten schools will head to Happy Valley to spend a weekend networking, discussing the pertinent topics, and learning methods of improving and evolving campus institutions from other student leaders.
“ABTS is incredibly important not only to Penn State, but to the group of schools that are a part of this association,” CCSG President Peter Khoury said.
“It’s specifically important because we can come together on related topics, since we’re all kind of grouped similarly in terms of the ways our campuses operate. There are a lot of similarities, and we can learn about new initiatives while collaborating on issues to move forward.”
Kelly Terefenko, the Chair of UPUA’s Sixth Assembly, was tasked with coordinating the weekend’s events — and chief amongst her tasks was selecting the topics for discussion in focused “breakout panels.”
“We really polled the Big Ten and asked, ‘What are you interested in learning about from another school?'” Terefenko said, “‘What’s going to benefit your school, or what’s not working for your school? What can we come together and work together for?'”
As such, the issues under discussion are as unsurprising as they are important. Perhaps the most important breakout session will focus on tuition, and what student governments can do to work on behalf of their constituents. “How are we contributing in any way to the tuition debate?” Terefenko asked, “What can students do?”
That topic is nothing new to the ABTS, which, as one of its crowning achievements in recent memory, created a “Big Ten on the Hill” event last April, when leaders from Big Ten schools (absent Penn State) went to Washington D.C. to meet with legislators and policymakers and discuss students’ concerns. Khoury, who will be representing his organization in one of the breakout sessions dealing with satellite campuses, spoke to the importance of the event, calling it “the biggest thing Penn State has been able to accomplish” through its affiliation with the ABTS.
“It’s so vital to students,” he said, “To be able to sit down and have a conversation with high ranking officials who have a lot of say into higher education bills that are brought forward.”
Of course, the weekend will focus on more than just tuition. Other topics, according to Terefenko, include improving town-and-gown relationships and green campus initiatives, and more internally-focused issues that affect student governments more than the general student body, such as improving election turnout and focusing on use of social media by student governments.
Two other breakout sessions were created by Terefenko especially for Penn State’s hosting of the ABTS conference: the aforementioned one to be led by Khoury, entitled “Working with Students at Other Campuses,” and one that GSA president Jon Lozano will take the reins of, which aims to integrate graduate student governments with those of undergraduates.
Khoury said his would focus on “keeping multiple campuses updated so students can work together as a whole as opposed to in individual groups, and speaking to the strength in numbers.” In a way, establishing a microcosm of the ABTS mission within a singular university.
Present throughout all these discussion sessions, however, will be a genuine desire for representatives to learn from the accomplishments made by their counterparts at other campuses, and to brainstorm ways to adapt similar programs at their home universities.
“Most of the weekend is spent on discussion so you can talk and see what other schools are doing,” Terefenko said.
She recounted a story from January’s ABTS meeting at Purdue, when then-UPUS Academic Affairs Chair Courtney Lennartz spoke with delegates from Michigan and Minnesota, who had established textbook-exchange websites that were more efficient than the struggling one UPUA had set up. And Terefenko herself saw how the student government at Wisconsin had convinced their office of sustainability to put recycling bins on each floor of every dorm, an initiative she tried to bring to Penn State.
And one breakout session Terefenko was especially excited about was a “student services” panel, which would discuss programs that are initiated within student governments. “I think there are a lot of other services we can offer,” she said, “so I’m really excited to see what other schools offer their students in terms of programs that originated in student government.”
And unlike past ABTS conferences, which produced a lot of dialogue, but fewer tangible results for Penn State, Terefenko sees this one as having a positive effect.
“We send delegations to these conferences every 6 months and they come back fired up about ideas, excited about what they want to get done,” Terefenko said. “This year, we have such a strong assembly and strong leadership in the executive, so they’ll come back and work, and keep that motivation running into the fall.”
The breakout panels are open to the public, and will be held in the HUB on Saturday.
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