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10 Questions With State Of State’s New Executive Director Tess Hamsher

In case you missed the memo, State of State is an annual conference for the Penn State community and a platform for change. The organization aims to unite the community, promote dialogue on and off campus, and serve as a think tank for State College ideas, both throughout the year and at the conference itself.

The 2015 conference, “Finding the ‘I Am’ In ‘We Are,'” addressed topics like engaged scholarship, sexual assault awareness, mental health awareness, and commonwealth campus culture under the leadership of Claudia Kotchick, the former State of State Executive Director. Now, Kotchick has passed the torch to the 2016 Executive Director, Tess Hamsher.

Hamsher, with majors in Psychology and International Politics and a minor in Spanish, was kind enough to sit down and answer 10 questions about her experience and vision for State of State 2016.

Onward State: Why did you get involved with State of State?

Tess Hamsher: I got involved with State Of State my sophomore year during the inaugural conference. I was friendly with Suzanne and Patrick, the founding executive directors of State Of State, and they inspired me to look into the organization. Once I understood its mission, I realized it was something I had to be involved in. For the longest time, I had been trying to find a way to get more involved in the University, but knew I wanted to do it in a meaningful and critical way. I loved Penn State, but I wanted to make it better, and that is exactly what State Of State does.

OS: What made you apply for Executive Director? 

TH: I can say with confidence that my involvement with State Of State has been the most inspiring and fulfilling thing I have done here at Penn State. It is a unique organization that draws amazing people to it, and I couldn’t imagine my senior year without being involved.

Additionally, I believe in State Of State. I believe in what we do and the type of change we can inspire. Working with a group of people who share this vision is incredible. After I finished my role as content director this past year, I knew that I wanted to take my commitment to State Of State to the next level and to really play a more integral role in growing and leading the organization.

OS: What is your vision for State of State 2016? 

TH: I want State Of State to expand its reach, but also to deepen it. What I mean is that I want more people to know about State Of State and to view it as a space for anyone to come forward and discuss important topics here at our university.

I also want to deepen our impact by focusing on and fostering our action component. While our conference and the dialogues we have throughout the year are central, taking those conversations to the next level and translating them into tangible change is the next challenge this organization is ready to take on. We started that process this year with Speaker Projects, and I am hoping to build upon this initiative.

And of course, the vision includes continuing to foster important conversations between all members of our community, especially including those voices which are not typically heard.

OS: What changes or improvements are you hoping to make in your new position? 

TH: I can say with confidence that Claudia, this past year’s director, truly did an amazing job, and I am going to build off of the amazing work she did to continue improving the executive director position. I am really hoping that as executive director, I will be able to foster a strong community within State Of State, and to also reach out and partner with a diverse range of groups and organizations on campus.

OS: What is your number one goal for State of State 2016?

TH: I want State Of State to continue to push forward. I think it could be easy going into our third year to become complacent with all of the work we have done, but I reject that. I know that there is so much more this organization can do and that we have a lot of room to learn and grow, and I want to see State Of State taking those next important steps.

OS: What topics do you hope or anticipate will be discussed at State of State 2016? 

TH: I think that it is very important for State Of State to respond to the suggestions and desires of the student body and greater community when it comes to content selection.

However, that being said, there are definitely some topics that are already popping up that many people want to discuss with State Of State. For example, in response to recent events on campus, many people have expressed to us an interest in discussing the Greek system here at Penn State, and even drinking culture and student conduct in general.

Also, there has been a strong interest in discussing racism here in Happy Valley, and the other ways we, as a community, might be marginalizing and discriminating against our peers.

OS: What changes do you plan to make in the setup of the conference this year, if any? 

TH: There are no plans currently to drastically change the setup of the conference, but honestly that will really depend on the collaboration of the State Of State Executive Team and the State Of State All Team once we start meeting as a group.

OS: How can other members of the Penn State community get involved in State of State? 

TH: We encourage all students to apply for committee positions when we get back to Penn State in the fall. We have a diverse range of committees, and therefore there really is a place for everyone and their diverse strengths and passions, ranging from operations to PR to production.

Other than that, we have plenty of opportunities to get involved throughout the year with the different community relations events that we host, including a panel almost every month on a specific topic that is open to all community members.

Finally, of course, we invite you all to join us at the conference in the spring!

OS: How do you think this year’s Executive Committee will differ from those of the past two years? 

TH: This year’s executive committee is the largest it has ever been. However, I don’t consider this a bad thing because I think that a lot of what State Of State is about is including a diverse range of voices, which I think having a larger committee can accomplish.

Additionally, we have some people who have never been on State Of State and some who have done it since the beginning and a good mixture of seniors and non-seniors. I’m excited to hear what all these different perspectives can bring to State Of State. I really love the energy of the group. When we were picking the new executive committee, we picked them as a team, and so everyone is bringing really important, but different strengths to the group.

OS: Finally, if you were a dinosaur, which would you be and why?

TH: Totally a velociraptor. I already have the shriek thing and the weird run down, so I feel like it would come naturally.

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About the Author

Alicia Thomas

Alicia is a senior with majors in Print Journalism and Spanish and a minor in International Studies. Chances are that she's somewhere talking about her semester abroad or ranting about sexual assault prevention right now. She can be reached via Twitter (@aliciarthomas) or email ([email protected]).

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