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Zion Sykes Running To Be UPUA’s Next Student Body President

For the first time since 2020, two candidates are competing to be Penn State’s next University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) student body president. With elections set for Wednesday, March 27, candidate Zion Sykes and his campaign are gearing up as elections draw near.

Sykes is a junior hailing from Philadelphia with a dual major in global international studies and political science and minors in Chinese and Spanish. Currently, he just wrapped up his term as chair of the Government and Community Relations Committee within UPUA.

In his three years at Penn State, Sykes is a very involved student in many organizations across campus. He works with Students United Against Poverty as its governmental and community relations director, Lion Ambassadors, and serves on the College of Liberal Arts’ academic integrity board, among others.

In his role on the Government and Community Relations Committee, Sykes is also an appointee to the Student Fee Board. The group helps determine how University Park’s Student Initiated Fee is allocated to groups and organizations across campus. He also serves as an at-large representative, too.

During his freshman year, his initial introduction to UPUA was through the Student Advisory Board on Student Poverty, the predecessor to Students United Against Poverty. Although the group served as a collaboration between Student Affairs and UPUA, it was Sykes’ first time testing the waters of student government.

“I got an introduction to UPUA with the Student Advisory Board on Student Poverty. I didn’t even understand what UPUA was at that point,” Sykes said.

The organization, and being able to see student advocacy at work on the university level, is what inspired Sykes to get his foot in the door with UPUA over a year ago.

“So really getting that chance to see advocacy on a college level — seeing how that works was big for me,” he said. “I had friends who were in UPUA, my mentors and stuff, [and] they told me I should check it out.”

Within UPUA, Sykes found a natural bridge between his interest in student government and his coursework in his two majors. With his interest in government and politics, Sykes was elected to be the State College Borough Liaison during his freshman year, a role in which he was expected to facilitate community relations between the university and State College borough.

“One thing I was interested in was a local government, how that impacts the campus, and how we can work with them… I ran for Borough Liaison against one of the representatives, and I got that,” Sykes said. “From there, I really just started sort of working on connecting with more people, seeing what could be changed, and what people [were] interested in seeing.”

“I think that’s what has really led me to where I am today,” Sykes continued.

From there, Sykes pursued his interests in government and new connections within UPUA to other positions. This led him to the Governmental and Community Relations Committee, where, as Sykes would explain, he got the chance to serve in leadership to help guide other UPUA members to achieve their goals.

“I think that Governmental and Community Relations is a really interesting committee because there’s just so much that can go on with it,” he said. “Working with other representatives and figuring out how they want to actualize their passions. In the past, I was that person that didn’t understand how to do that. I had people showing me the way as to how to achieve my goals. I wanted to be that for other people.”

As for the decision to run for student body president, Sykes believes the position needs someone who has strong experience with student advocacy and a president who will be a voice for their fellow students in office.

“A big reason for it is that I feel as though [the] student body president should be someone who’s really rooted in advocacy and [wants] to make sure that the best possible things for the student body are being done,” he said. “Over my involvements in UPUA and outside of that in other organizations, I think that pushing for as much to be done for my fellow students as possible is one thing that I really tried to embody with my work.”

Sykes discussed the many avenues that the student body president has within UPUA to reach students with their advocacy and the many forces at play impacting the overall student experience. As a whole, though, he emphasized the need to be connected with students as one of the most important qualities to have in the position.

“Then again, it’s also a big part of connecting with students — really wanting people to feel welcomed and included within the community,” he said. “I want to be someone that’s there and who will meet people where they are and assist them in trying to get to their goals.”

As for his ideas, once he gets into the position, Sykes touched upon his interest in doing more work with UPUA’s accessibility task force to better serve the Penn State population with a diversity of needs with accessibility.

“Trying to work with a diverse array of students and different community members who have varying needs of accessibility, whatever it may be — intellectual, physical, or emotional kind of stuff — trying to see where the gaps are in what exactly people need and how we can better implement ‘We Are’ into the campus itself to make sure that everyone’s included,” Sykes said.

Another one of Sykes’ priorities as he looks toward UPUA’s top position is voter registration, particularly inspired by his time sitting on the Governmental and Community Relations Committee. Civic engagement and the importance of getting voters to understand issues that impact him is another cornerstone of his candidacy for UPUA leadership.

“[Civic engagement]. That’s a really big thing for me. Especially being Chair of Governmental Relations, even before coming to Penn State I was really big into and have always been interested in civic engagement,” he said. “Making sure that we are doing all that we can to not only turn people out to the polls but educate them as to why it’s important to vote on what impacts them.”

In the same vein of civic engagement, Sykes also touched upon his involvement with Capital Day, the university’s in-person advocacy event with members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. In Harrisburg last week, Sykes had the opportunity to talk about his story and uplift the value of Penn State directly to legislators deciding on collegiate funding.

“When we have these representatives and senators up on the ballot who are able to dictate our funding and what we receive, what they feel we deserve, I think it’s important that we’re getting the best for ourselves,” he said.

Finally, Sykes discussed sustainability topics as another important issue that sets his campaign apart. Within his work on the Student Fee Board, he has had the most opportunity to learn more about sustainability initiatives and how they might be applied elsewhere across the university.

“It makes me curious [as] to how we can continue to expand the different volunteer opportunities or work opportunities to a broader range of students in order to make sure that these experiences are accessible to more people,” Sykes said.

Zion Sykes and Rasha Elwakil are running against the Roman Bahadursingh/Jackson Carmichael ticket.

Election day is Wednesday, March 27. Students can cast their votes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on an online form. Along with the president, students can vote on at-large representatives, academic college representatives, Faculty Senate representatives, and a referendum regarding minimum wage on campus.

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About the Author

Luke Pieczynski

Luke is a sophomore accounting major hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, and is one of Onward State's social media editors. He can often be found in the Starbucks line waiting for a nitro cold brew, or listening to one of Dua Lipa's latest releases. He's a fiercely loyal Sheetz Freak and will not settle for another Pennsylvania gas station. Please send your best political thriller to him on Twitter @lukepie11 or to his email [email protected].

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