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10 Questions with State of State Directors

One of Penn State’s newest student-run organizations is called State of State. Since that name is a little ambiguous (clever play on words though), we sat down with the org’s directors and founders, Suzanne Zakaria and Patrick Boynton, to ask them a bit more about what SOS is all about.

Onward State: So what exactly is State of State?

Suzanne Zakaria: State of State is that conversation that you want to have about drinking on campus that actually presents two perspectives. State of State is the talk you wanted to have about Penn State identity after Jerry Sandusky’s crimes were exposed. State of State is a conference that will create dialogue about the present and future of the entire State College community, and it’s the very first of its kind.

We’ll be bringing in student, faculty/staff, and community speakers who will present their views about the topics that Penn State needs to talk about. We want to offer up different perspectives on a whole range of topics, from philanthropy on campus to the future of online education. But we don’t just want attendees to hear our speakers’ ideas — we want them to form their own. Participants will break out into facilitated discussion groups after hearing the talks and have the opportunity to engage in the most pertinent conversations in town.

OS: How did you come up with this idea? 

Patrick Boynton: Suzanne and I both studied abroad last fall. Spain and Switzerland are beautiful, but clearly our hearts were still at Penn State. In the wake of the Sandusky scandal and in the middle of an emotional football season, we missed our daily connection to Dear Old State. So during one of our Starbucks skypes we came up with the idea for a conference about the University, and that was the beginning for State of State.

OS: How is this different from TEDxPSU? 

SZ: TED’s devotion to “ideas worth spreading” is wonderful, but the focus of State of State is different. The ideas presented will center specifically around Penn State and State College. State of State’s format also differs in that participants will have the opportunity to engage in conversation at the event itself.

OS: What should we be looking for from SOS on campus between now and the conference? 

PB: Expect projects geared toward the community — Don’t just look for them, though, get involved with them! The team is working on interviews with campus figures. Look for those to appear on the organization’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Other plans might include installations on campus and speaker competitions, but I’ll leave them for our Marketing Team whizzes to reveal.

OS: What do you two do as directors?

SZ: We make sure it all comes together! A big part of that is forming partnerships around campus and in the community. We also manage our fantastic Executive Team that works on marketing, content coordination, technology, operations, and finance. With so many elements, it’s our job to make sure there is a cohesive vision for State of State 2014.

OS: Why does this organization matter to the average Penn State student? 

PB: When you sit down at State of State, you’re sitting in groups with senior administrators and directors of student organizations, but you’re also sitting with otherwise ‘normal students’ who just happen to have unique ideas and want to share them. State of State is a common place for Penn State students.

OS: What are the biggest challenges SOS is facing this year? 

SZ: State of State is new this year, so our biggest challenge is getting the word out to all members of the Penn State community. We want to make sure the conference becomes a consistent forum for everyone to discuss challenges old and new. Another challenge is narrowing down the topics that we will talk about as the possibilities are truly endless.

OS: What’s the best part of being on the SOS team? 

PB: We talk about the State College bubble; State of State pushed me outside my own bubble. I’ve met some extraordinary people through State of State. Suzanne and I enjoy speaking with the leaders behind the vibrant organizations and projects at Penn State, and we cannot wait to bring those partnerships to life at the conference.

OS: Who’s the dreamiest person on the executive board?

PB: It’s hard to pick, but after a couple of minutes getting lost in Carolyn Harpster’s eyes, I’d have to pick her.  She’s one of our three Marketing Chairs “swoons.”

OS: If SOS was a dinosaur, which dinosaur would it be and why?

PB: State of State would be a velociraptor. They’re all about community…in a hunting pack kind of way.

So if there’s something that’s been on your mind regarding the Penn State community, from drinking to sexual harassment to online education to THON, and you want a forum in which you can comfortably talk about it without getting shot down immediately — State of State is for you! Like this brand-new organization on Facebook and follow them on Twitter to get the dialogue started. State of State 2014 is scheduled for March 30.

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Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.

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