UPUA Candidates Face Challenge Of Running First Remote Campaign

The candidates running for president in this year’s University Park Undergraduate Association election will face an added challenge in their attempts to gain the Penn State student body’s vote.

Penn State’s transition to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic has forced this year’s candidates to rely on online campaigning more than ever before as they seek to boost their platforms from afar. Since UPUA’s inaugural session in 2006, the general assembly’s candidates have never need to deal with a task like this, especially on such short notice.

Whereas in the past candidates could reach students and promote themselves very easily on campus, now it’s a challenge to do so online.

This year’s UPUA elections will take place on Wednesday, April 15 from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The UPUA Elections Commissions also recently announced that it will hold vice-presidential and presidential debates on March 26 and April 9, respectively.

Campaigning online for those seeking a seat in UPUA’s 15th Assembly has proven to be a new and difficult task, but nonetheless one that executive ticket candidates Erin Boas and Kyle Larson and Zach McKay and Lexy Pathickal, are tackling head-on.

Boas, who is seeking the student body presidency with Larson as her running mate, said that while some campaign logistics have changed, the big picture remains the same.

“The big thing for us is that the campaign is always about including all Penn Staters, and our goal has always been to reach all students wherever they are and whenever we can,” Boas said. “That focus just has not changed whatsoever.”

McKay and Pathickal, who are running for president and vice president, respectively, have shaped the pillars of their campaign on the values of reliability and communication in a time when both attributes are more important than ever.

“Our focus on really emphasizing student voices as well as transparency and honesty towards those students has not changed at all,” McKay said. “We really wanted our plans to be completely reflective of what those students want to see brought about on campus and from their student leaders, and that’s exactly what we’re going to keep doing.”

The challenges of an online election may lack the in-person interaction that is valuable between candidates and the student body, but it also affects members on each individual campaign team. They’ve had to be creative during this time and accommodate just about every change and setting you can think of to continue to work together.

“Erin and I understand that parents are going to be asking for chores around the house to be done, and that everyone is still adjusting to taking online classes now. As a team, everyone has made sacrifices,” Larson said. “We have had conference calls while some are in the passenger seat of a car, Zoom calls while some are wiping down the kitchen, and plenty of other odd situations, but we have been crushing it, and I’m so grateful for all the sacrifices the team has made to empower State’s future.”

Pathickal added that the team considers the maintenance of the campaign and the election process to be part of its members’ duties as student leaders.

“We feel like it’s still our obligation as compassionate student leaders to take this duty upon ourselves, not to be stressed out, not to be worried, but to take this responsibility and keep going with it,” Pathickal said. “We’re still finding time to demonstrate that. We have great ideas, and a powerful vision, yet the most important thing now is really the well-being of our fellow students. That’s taken a very primary role in our campaign.”

McKay gives plenty of credit to the team working behind the scenes helping them with their campaigning, speaking about how not only are they focused on this campaign, but also taking the time to check in with each other and build a bond.

“We have a pretty incredible team of really motivated students who have been with us from the very beginning, and who are proving that even during this time that they are willing to put out the work so that our message is heard, and most importantly that students are heard,” McKay said. “Whether it be over Zoom sessions, Facetimes, phone calls, we joke about telegrams and carrier pigeons, this I’d say, pretty unfortunate situation has really brought out the ingenuity, and ultimately the best in people who have been helping this campaign from the start.”

In terms of campaign funding, money that used to be spent likely on t-shirts, advertisements, or other tangible objects is now being redirected for both campaigns in creative and new ways.

“The campaign spending is one of the ways that we’ve actually been pivoting the most. From our perspective, if it were a typical campaign year we would be spending it on t-shirts and stickers and stuff like that,” Boas said. “But with everything that is going on right now, we want to put that focus on sustainability, and make sure that we’re not just frivolously spending money. We want to be conscious of our fiscal responsibility.”

The McKay and Pathickal team have been trying to think of other ways to effectively use campaign funds since the beginning, and this is now becoming a more prominent task that they are having to work through with the remote learning period being semester long. Pathickal said that the team had considered using the funds to sponsor social media ads and promote communication between the campaign and students.

Boas and Larson are working towards social media campaigns and even a newsletter to help spread the word about their platform to the Penn State community. They believe this is a crucial component in informing students.

“We want this newsletter to not only tell the students about us and about our platform and ideas, but we want to use it as a platform to get out the resources,” Boas said. “On our Instagram page, we’ve shared some of the resources that Penn States gives out, but we want to make sure this newsletter is available to students highlight not only ourselves but for other things about Penn State that they can use too.”

McKay and Pathickal are also trying to be a bright light for students during this difficult time and remind them of some of the good things still going on in life. It is things and moments like these that strengthen the Penn State community now more than ever before.

“We also focus on, or try to focus on moving forward, some of the good stuff that is still going on in life. It’s pretty easy to be caught up in all the news that surrounding the pandemic and obviously it’s for good reason but, at the same time we think it’s important to also focus on some of those good things,” McKay said. “This past Friday and every Friday throughout the rest of the campaign, and beyond that too we will be posting a ‘Good Stuff Friday’ thread on our campaign Twitter page to kind of help encourage the community to share some of the good things in their lives.”

And while the face to face connection is a huge unfortunate loss during this time not only in terms of UPUA, and in this election, but for students as a whole, Larson spoke about how their team remains optimistic about how they believe they can better empower and shape the future of the University.

“We wish we could have a more face to face connection with all the students but again, our platform has not changed,” Larson said. “Penn State is a remarkable community and I have no doubt that as we push out more information through social media and other platforms, students will notice and vote for the ticket that represents them best.”

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a senior early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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