10 Questions With State Of State 2018 Executive Director Jessica Malerman
State of State is an annual conference held since 2013 for the Penn State community. The organization’s goal is to use the conference as a platform to generate open dialogue about issues that affect the Penn State community.
This year’s conference was titled Innovate The State and featured 14 speakers on a wide variety of topics ranging from disability discrimination to environmental sustainability.
Jessica Malerman will head next year’s conference, so we sat down to talk about about her vision for State of State 2018.
Onward State: Why did you get involved with State of State?
Jessica Malerman: I transferred to Penn State in 2015 from a university with 5,000 students, so when I got to Penn State I was both amazed and overwhelmed by the incredible web of student life. I chose State of State because I have always believed in the power of community, and I wanted to be a part of bettering the Penn State community even if I was just a small voice in a sea of almost 100,000.
State of State helped me to realize that Penn State’s size didn’t inhibit the power my voice had, it just expanded the impact it was able to reach. I love facilitating community impact, and State of State has allowed me to do that from my position on the Content Committee to my position as the Executive Director.
OS: What made you apply for executive director?
JM: Through my time with the State of State team, the organization has given me just as much as I have given it. While working on content for the conference, I had the opportunity to sit down with so many people who are doing incredible work for Penn State. These meetings have fundamentally shaped my understanding of our university and of how a community identifies issues and promotes positive change.
Now that I have this understanding, I feel that I have the obligation to use the knowledge I’ve acquired to progress the organization. When it all comes down to it, I really believe in the work State of State is doing, and I’m very committed to sustaining it.
OS: What is your vision for State of State 2018?
JM: My vision is for State of State to become the model for deliberation about Penn State. State of State was founded because there was no platform for these kinds of conversations to happen in our community.
Now that the platform is here and is successful, we have an obligation to make them happen at the highest caliber possible and to include as much of our community as we can. I am confident that the State of State team will continue to work towards this goal for the 2018 conference and in years to come.
OS: What changes or improvements are you hoping to make in your new position?
JM: My focus for this year will be on our deliberative and facilitative techniques. As a team, we are constantly grappling with how to make State of State a culture, not just a conference. I believe that the way to achieve this is through looking at how we are having our conversations. I am very excited to explore different kinds of programming and start looking at the different ways we can engage with one another.
OS: What is your number one goal for State of State 2018?
JM: For someone who is working on State of State every day, it’s not difficult to see the importance of sitting down and having conversations about the state of our university. My goal for this year is to convey that sense of importance to the broader Penn State community.
In many ways, State of State has done an excellent job at moving towards this goal, but I think there is still a lot we can do and I am committed to cultivating a culture of ownership over our community.
OS: What topics do you hope or anticipate will be discussed at State of State 2018?
JM: My biggest hope for the content of State of State 2018 is similar to previous years in that I hope we will challenge how we make change and solve problems. Although State of State certainly has become an excellent platform to shed light on issues in our community, the greatest benefits of it come from the frame of mind it encourages its participants to explore.
I love when change-making in one area of our community can serve as a catalyst for change-making in another. I both hope and anticipate that we’ll see a lot more of this in the coming year.
OS: What changes do you plan to make in the setup of the conference this year, if any?
JM: A five or six-hour conference can be a long day, so we are always looking for ways to make such a focused experience more comfortable. Some of it will just be logistics, such as when we’re serving food, but I’m very excited to challenge our facilitation techniques and find ways to really engage the participants. This year we added a few Q&A sessions and interviews on our live stream and got a lot of good feedback. I’m hoping to tap into some new ways to engage our participants even more.
OS: How can other members of the Penn State community get involved in State of State?
JM: State of State is an organization, not just a conference. We host events throughout the year and all of these events are curated in conjunction with other organizations or community members who are working for positive impact at Penn State.
In addition, we have a team of about 40 people that works throughout the year on the 5 committees that make all of this happen. We accept undergraduate and graduate students, and the application process begins in September.
OS: How do you think this year’s Executive Committee will differ from those of previous years?
JM: The State of State team always evolves from one year to the next, but this year we’ll see a much more drastic switch because it will be the first year without founding State of State members on our team. This is both exhilarating and intimidating. Maintaining the State of State mission has always been our top priority, so it’s going to be the job of this year’s team to set the precedent for what it means to stay true to our founder’s intentions while still growing in a constantly changing community.
OS: Finally, Onward State’s classic final question, if you were a dinosaur, which would you be and why?
JM: I would be a triceratops because it most closely resembles my spirit animal, the elephant.