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Looking Back On 10 Years Of SPA

The Student Programming Association punctuated its 10th year on campus this semester with its second-annual SPA day and a new logo…although you may still recognize the organization by its unofficial llama branding. In the past year alone, SPA has sponsored esteemed speakers like Gloria Steinem and George Takei, comedians like Jessica Williams and John Mulaney, and up-and-coming musical acts like Jon Bellion and Ryn Weaver.

“The logo is something that’s been talked about for the last couple years,” 2016-2017 Executive Director Jaime Kraky said. “We wanted to reflect the change we were seeing with our members and the type of programming we were doing.”

What started as an idea in late 2006 with then-students Fernando Disla, Raj Desai, Erika Ospina Awad, and Adrienne Giannone has grown into a student organization powerhouse with nine committees and more than 100 students involved.

To celebrate SPA’s 10-year anniversary, we dove into the archives to see what other incredible acts the organization has brought to campus in its relatively short tenure.


The Daily Collegian announced SPA’s formation in December 2006 after the organization launched a marketing campaign in the HUB with everything from paper maché letters to now-signature branded SPA water bottles. With a headline like “New group to plan events,” it’s clear SPA didn’t have a predetermined fate.

At the time, it would absorb HUB LateNight activities; the rest was up to its first executive board to determine, with a little help from Student Affairs. By March 2007, LateNight attendance had declined by a “couple thousand” students each semester, so SPA was tasked with revamping the program.

Photo: SPA

Comedian Charlie Murphy took the stage at Eisenhower Auditorium on March 24, 2007 for the first student-planned SPA event.

SPA also requested $1.15 million in student activity fees in March 2007 from the allocation body at the time, the Funding Activity Board.

Among the first performers SPA brought to Penn State was Broadway musical Rent star Adam Pascal in Schwab Auditorium. The organization also concluded the first iteration of its Distinguished Speaker Series with Alumni Achievement Award winner John Amaechi. SPA even brought 90s pop rock band Blessid Union of Souls to the HUB in April.


SPA was ultimately granted a budget of $755,000 from the Funding Activity Board for the 2007-2008 school year.

That year, the Distinguished Speaker Series featured Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel, Oprah correspondent Lisa Ling, Rwandan Genocide hero Paul Rusesabagina, and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. With an impressive lineup, SPA was clearly here to stay at Penn State, despite the departure of founder and former Vice President of Student Affairs Vicky Triponey.

The NoonTime Concert Series, which continues to bring smaller musical acts to the HUB on Fridays, also started around this time. SPA brought larger musical acts to HUB LateNight, including local band Punchline, and contributed to the planning of Bryce Jordan Center events featuring Rihanna, Akon, and comedian Sarah Silverman. Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die tour also prompted SPA to work with the Bryce Jordan Center to offer lower student ticket prices.

SPA and the then-fledgling University Park Undergraduate Association even co-sponsored a Rock the Vote event in February 2008, encouraging students to vote in the upcoming primaries for the 2008 presidential election.


Although The Daily Collegian praised SPA for providing entertainment to underage students in September 2008, a Letter to the Editor soon disagreed. “The lack of diversity in activities at Late Night is leading me to think I can do better on my free nights,” junior Steve Zwolinski wrote. “I worry the lack of enjoyment also will shy new members away and thus defeat the vision for alcohol-free entertainment.”

The 2008-2009 Distinguished Speaker Series featured former NCAA basketball coach Bobby Knight, who SPA chair Paul Russ described as the “JoePa of basketball,” ex-con author Frank Abagnale, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier in Sierra Leone.

SPA continued to subsidize student tickets to events at the Bryce Jordan Center and The State Theater as students voiced the need for more mid-size concerts in State College, and Jeff Zapletal was welcomed as SPA’s new advisor.

YouTube comedian Bo Burnham visited Alumni Hall in January 2009, though he reportedly “pushed the envelope,” according to The Daily Collegian. SPA also coordinated College MovieFest’s first stop at Penn State, showing 14 of 25 student films. Three films moved on to the next round of competition in New York City.

To many students’ dismay, LateNight chose not to host special activities for the third annual State Patty’s Day, even though it was planned during a time classes were in session. State Patty’s Day was originally created by student group Safeguard Old State when members realized the actual St. Patrick’s Day fell during spring break.


Despite a hiccup in the student ticketing process, SPA helped 82 students see Third Eye Blind in a sold-out show at The State Theatre in October 2009. The organization continued its Noontime Concert Series, welcoming musical guests like Steve Moakler throughout the year.

This year’s Distinguished Speaker Series included The Pursuit of Happyness author Christopher Gardner, debating politicians Howard Dean and Karl Rove, author and activist Maya Angelou, and jack-of-all-trades Ben Stein. If you can’t quite place the last name, think “Bueller…”

SPA brought Jack’s Mannequin to Rec Hall for the biggest event in the organization’s history in October 2009; the 400 allotted floor tickets sold out in ten minutes. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we made it back [to Penn State] before we finish the new album,” singer Andrew McMahon told The Daily Collegian after the show. “The East Coast is a second home.” It seems fitting the organization brought McMahon back to Penn State in 2017 to conclude its 10th anniversary and second annual SPA Day.

Beginning with comedian Patton Oswalt, SPA expanded its LateNight offerings to include more large-scale performances in November 2009. Comic illusionist Justin Kredible even stopped by the HUB in attempts to diversify the types of performances SPA faciliated; magician Wayne Hoffman followed suit in January 2010.

Pitbull headlined SPA’s December activities — in his “I Know You Want Me” EP days (read: long before “Give Me Everything”). The 1,000 tickets allotted for the Alumni Hall concert sold out in less than an hour. Motion City Sountrack’s January performance fared similarly, selling out in just a few hours. Alumni Hall was abound with crowd surfers for this concert, according to The Daily Collegian.

For even larger performances, SPA subsidized student tickets to see Bryce Jordan Center acts like Rascal Flatts, Jeff Dunham, and a concert featuring Shinedown, Puddle of Mudd, and Skillet. SPA helped students see Ingrid Michaelson at The State Theatre, too.

A Flogging Molly concert served as a precursor to St. Patrick’s Day 2010, though SPA still refused to be associated with the ever-growing State Patty’s Day. Alumni Hall also welcomed Red Jumpsuit Apparatus in March, courtesy of SPA.

Gabriel Iglesias kicked off SPA’s first annual April Fools’ Month of Comedy, which also included comedians like Kyle Cease, the Axe Twisted Humor Tour, and Jeff Dye. The organization closed out the spring semester with a solo performance from former Dispatch artist Pete Francis.


After a groundbreaking spring semester, SPA transitioned to fall 2010 with ease as it featured Hanson for its first act of the school year. Comedy Central star Andrew Kennedy visited the HUB soon after with a set tailored to his college audience — mostly about sex and beer.

Just when you thought SPA couldn’t get any better, the group co-sponsored Boys Like Girls as the Homecoming concert. Penn Staters certainly got “Love Drunk” in Rec Hall as they kicked off Homecoming Week for only $5. SPA also played host to the Pringles Xtreme Campus Tour in October, allowing students to see both pop punk band We The Kings and rapper J. Cole.

Student organizations RAM Squad, Penn State Tapestry Dance Company, the Penn State Performing Magicians, and Second Floor Stand-Up even collaborated to entertain with a variety of performing arts genres at LateNight Extravaganza in February.

This year’s Distinguished Speaker Series highlighted “The Kite Runner” author Khaled Hosseini, inventor and author Ray Kurzweil, and anthropologist/primatologist Jane Goodall. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson visited Eisenhower Auditorium for an event co-sponsored by the Department of Electrical Engineering.


For its spring concert, SPA released an online student survey for the first time, inviting students to help decide what artist would perform. The choices were Flo Rida, DJ Khaled, Josh Gracin, Major Lazer, Three 6 Mafia, Sara Bareilles, Sean Kingston, Eli Young Band, Michelle Branch, Matt Nathanson, and Streetlight Manifesto. If you’re really looking for a throwback, give our playlist of these artists a listen below.

And a drum roll please…Streetlight Manifesto was later confirmed as the headliner for SPA’s 2011 spring concert. Who would open the concert? None other than legendary local cover band Go Go Gadjet. We covered this event as our first-ever drunk/sober/high post (without the drunk part). Other musical acts like 3OH!3 left students “Starstrukk” throughout the spring semester.

The second annual April Fools’ Comedy Month featured “Reno 911!” stars Carlos Alazraqui and Cedric Yarbrough in addition to comedians like Mike Birbiglia, Iliza Schlesinger, and Steve Byrne.

SPA hosted its first-ever carnival in the HUB in April, complete with cotton candy, games, a caricature artist, and a chance to create custom airbrushed shirts and hats. Activities like a seven-element obstacle course, a moon bounce, inflatable jousting, and an inflatable football throwing game rounded out the event, but administrators drew the line at a Velcro wall. At least we now know the limits on student organization fun.


Although Matt Nathanson wasn’t chosen in the student survey for the spring concert, SPA decided to bring him to Penn State anyway for the inaugural Nittany Block Party on Pollock Road. Other fall performers included Sam Adams (who you may know better as Sammy Adams), Homecoming act Gavin DeGraw with David Cook and Carolina Liar, rapper Wale, Breathe Carolina, and even Full House star David Collier.

The Distinguished Speaker Series was headlined by The Food Network‘s Alton Brown, deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard, Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post, “127 Hours” hiker Aron Ralston, and “Super Size Me” director Morgan Spurlock as SPA approached its five-year anniversary.

After Jerry Sandusky’s grand jury presentment was released, the Penn State Board of Trustees fired Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier in November 2011. In response, SPA helped organize student groups for a WEstillARE event in the HUB, showcasing involvement as a core focus of the Penn State student body following the events of the previous week.

Beginning the spring semester, SPA’s first country act in its five-year tenure was pushed back an hour for students to attend a candlelight vigil to memorialize Joe Paterno. Nonetheless, a small crowd still attended to see Jimmy Wayne perform.

SPA teamed up with Lion Ambassadors in February to host bands fun. and Parachute as part of a Penn State Founder’s Day celebration that also included trivia games, a photo booth, and other activities centered around Penn State history.

As if SPA couldn’t decide to walk “A Thousand Miles” or settle down on “Ocean Avenue,” Vanessa Carlton and Yellowcard each performed in March (though not in the same show, unfortunately). Acts like acoustic musician Graham Colton, “Jeopardy!” winner Ken Jennings finished the semester.

Comedian Lewis Black headlined April Fools’ Comedy Month in 2012, which was rounded out by “Chelsea Lately” panelist Loni Love, Hal Sparks, and John Caparulo.


The Ready Set performed for the second annual Nittany Block Party to kick off 2012-2013 school year before Taking Back Sunday was announced as the headliner for the Homecoming concert in Rec Hall just a few weeks later.

Before the 2012 general election, SPA sponsored a Rock the Vote concert at Eisenhower Auditorium featuring Jack Johnson with G. Love and ALO. The organization was even able to help make student tickets free for a Cobra Starship and Outasight concert put on by the Truth Campaign at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Alumni Hall also hosted musicians like YouTube sensation duo Karmin, Mayday Parade and The Maine, and California rapper Schwayze. Comedy groups like Harvard Sailing Team and Upright Citizens Brigade even visited campus. SPA finished the fall semester with The White Panda and Asher Roth.

This year’s Distinguished Speaker Series welcomed NPR legal journalist Nina Totenberg, Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn, musician John Legend, Olympic hockey captain Mike Eurizone, PostSecret founder Frank Warren, and Ireland’s first female president, Mary Robinson.

In a change of pace from its usual movie and craft activities, LateNight included a capture the flag event co-sponsored by the Urban Gaming Club and cosmic mini golf co-sponsored by EDM club. SPA even brought a mentalist to LateNight in February and transformed Alumni Hall into a roller rink one night in March.

April Fools’ Comedy Month brought comedians Jo Koy, Nick Thune, Bo Burnham, John Cassidy, and Chris Hardwick to Penn State.

Imagine Dragons headlined Founders’ Day in the HUB as part of the band’s spring tour, shortly following success on the “Perks of Being a Wallflower” trailer with single “It’s Time.” SPA reached out to Imagine Dragons after students showed interest in the band with the Movin’ On student survey. Good Old War followed soon after before metal band As I Lay Dying closed out the semester’s musical acts.


SPA featured musician Eric Hutchinson for its annual welcome back Nittany Block Party before announcing big-name tour Jay-Z and Homecoming headliner Childish Gambino would visit Happy Valley later in the year.

Guests of the Distinguished Speaker Series this year included Olympic gold medalist gymnast Shawn Johnson, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Watergate reporter Bob Woodward, and Common.

Hellogoodbye performed in Alumni Hall for LateNight, followed by rapper Chiddy Bang. The organization also held a Relaxation Week in the HUB to help students ease the stress of fall semester finals. The spring semester brought acts like Echosmith (2016-2017 Executive Director Jamie Kraky’s first event with the organization), We Came As Romans, Timeflies, and American Authors.

Photo: Mitch Wilston

April Fools’ Comedy Month featured a sparser lineup in 2014 with Kenan Thompson and Michael Ian Black. SPA helped Lion Ambassadors show students how to celebrate Penn State’s 159-year Founder’s Day with a performance in the HUB headlined by A Great Big World and Delta Rae.


Country duo Thompson Square kicked off the 2014-2015 school year at the fourth annual Nittany Block Party outside the HUB.

SPA yet again hosted the Distinguished Speaker Series, this year featuring “Humans of New York” photographer Brandon Stanton, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Pakistani Nobel Prize recipient and human rights activist Malala, CNN Reporter Soledad O’Brien, “Glee” actress Lauren Potter, and NBA Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson.

LateNight hosted acts like Hoodie Allen, MTV “Girl Code” and “Guy Code” comedians Kevin Barnett, Nicole Byer, and Alice Wetterlund, country singer Jana Kramer, Cash Cash, Jackass star Steve-O, MKTO, and Bleachers. Duo Matt and Kim performed the year’s Homecoming concert, which was moved from its traditional Rec Hall location to Pollock Road outside the HUB.

Photo: Dave Cole

In January, SPA hosted its first “silent disco” at the now-defunct Levels nightclub. Another new installment, the Penn State “joke-off,” began in March to select individuals to perform in a Student Comedy Showcase. One lucky student was even given the opportunity to open for Jackass comedian Steve-O during his visit to campus.

“Workaholics” comedian Adam Devine and former “Saturday Night Live” actor Tim Meadows performed for April Fools’ Comedy Month to close out the school year.


As the 2015-2016 school year got “Closer,” The Chainsmokers headlined Nittany Block Party on Pollock Road outside the HUB (before their “Closer” days). Yet another country duo performing in Happy Valley, Dan + Shay kicked off Homecoming 2015 with a Sunday night concert in Alumni Hall. Other fall semester guests included Iron & Wine and Wake the Sun.

This year’s Distinguished Speaker Series featured Bill Nye the Science Guy, activist Sandra Fluke, decorated U.S. soccer star Abby Wambach, author and activist Dr. Mark Lamont Hill, YouTube star Tyler Oakley, and conservationist Jeff Corwin.

The organization hosted its first-ever SPA Day in January with rapper Logic, “Perks of Being a Wallflower” author Stephen Chbosky, and the band Waverunner.

“We had four or five people who were really passionate about bringing SPA day to fruition,” Kraky said. “We ask for new ideas on our applications and creating one big takeover day was a common theme.”

Photo: Kevin Kacela

Former “Saturday Night Live” writer John Mulaney headlined April Fools’ Comedy Month, which also featured Nick Swardson. Smallpools rocked Alumni Hall in April to close out the year.


Though this school year is not yet complete, SPA has already hosted a full lineup of acclaimed speakers and performers leading up to its 10-year anniversary. This year’s Nittany Block Party was highlighted by rapper Dej Loaf.

The fall semester iteration of the Distinguished Speaker Series included “Breaking Bad” actor RJ Mitte, writer and political activist Gloria Steinem, and actor and activist George Takei, while Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, and explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau visited Penn State in the spring. Laverne Cox is slated to speak next week after postponing her original lecture.

Andrew McMahon headlined the organization’s second annual SPA Day after a lecture by model and deaf activist Nyle DiMarco.

Photo: Lexi Shimkonis

“Saturday Night Live” cast members Pete Davidson and Alex Moffat will headline April Comedy Month with a performance at Eisenhower Auditorium.

What will the Student Programming Association accomplish in its next 10 years?

Kraky hopes SPA will be able to utilize more spaces outside of the HUB for events and to collaborate with the Bryce Jordan Center to provide larger activities and programming to serve more students.

“I could see us being just recognized outside of the university,” 2016-2017 Director of Operations Kevin Crawford added. “I want people to say, ‘I want to go to Penn State because I heard their student programming is really good.'”

About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a junior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.


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