State of State 2017

Today I headed to campus. It's a Saturday and campus was full of cars parking for an Admission visit weekend. And while the Admission part of me felt the pull of campus tours and student panels, I instead spent my time with current Penn State students. I attended State of State, an annual conference for the Penn State community, hosted by the Penn State community. It's a day full of speakers and facilitated dialogue in between sessions. The event is in its fourth year and I was looking forward to meeting some students and hearing what they were thinking about. 

The program and the cookies they gave us. Perfection.

The program and the cookies they gave us. Perfection.

As I sat down at a table and introduced myself to the facilitator, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. However, as people filed in, I ended up picking a pretty good table. I met five incredible students today, four of them seniors and one sophomore. They taught me a lot about what it's like to be a student at Penn State. I also hoped they learned a little bit about me and how I see myself as a librarian at University Park.

The theme of State of State was Innovate the State. The day was divided into three sessions, each with a different perspective on innovation happening at Penn State.

  1. Our Community Responsibility
  2. Sustainable Practices
  3. Serving our Penn State Family

My favorite session by far was the Sustainable Practices. Similar to how I felt at Coe, the students passionate about the environment and sustainability are students that make you feel that anything is possible. I also lucked out that my table was heavily involved in the sustainability movement at Penn State and knew several if not all of the speakers during that session.

State of State began with a keynote by Dr. Lee Erickson, the Chief Amplifier (LOVE THAT TITLE) at the Penn State Launchbox, an incubator following in the steps of innovation at college campuses. She had a great speech, reminding us that 

While I know that her speech was geared towards undergrads (the primary audience members), I still felt that it applied to me too. I've spent the past seven months adjusting to change so boy, do I know that it can be difficult.

What I also enjoyed about Lee's speech was the part at the end about failure. For her,

I like redefining failure. It reminds me of the mindset that my grad school mentor, Martin, had. He is a firm believer in failing forward. It also fits within how I had to think about failure during #TheBigSearch where I tried to redefine was failure meant (one step closer to a different yes).

As we moved from the keynote to the first set of speakers, I was curious to explore the town and gown relationship. The community and the university seem to have a pretty integrated relationship. You can't really escape the Nittany Lion in State College. However, like any place with a college/university nearby, there are inherent problems and misunderstandings. I will say that the speeches were not what I was expecting. Two of the five speakers were related with the Greek life on campus, a group on campus that holds a lot of leadership power. We also heard the student body/government president at Penn State speak and his pointed speech rubbed some the wrong way.

When the speakers were done, each table had 20 minutes to discuss. I found that the others at my table had similar uneasiness about some of the things said in the first session. First, we all took objection with the rather blanket definition of community several of the speakers used. A few of the students at the table were Community, Environment, and Development majors, so they were on the same page as I was about the stickness of defining community in one, rigid, place-based way.

I've been thinking a lot about this first session throughout the day. Essentially, I sometimes think our Penn State students don't help their image when they do thousands of dollars worth of damage after winning a football game or a party off campus strays into a neighbor's yard in the wee hours of the morning. Those images stick because you often have a reaction to them. In State College, the town and students need each other. The students do have a level of privilege in the ways in which they move in and out during their four years here. Of course, we would love if the students got involved with the town, either in local government, sustained volunteer opportunities, and other economic drivers. The students bring energy, which is why I chose to work with undergrads. I felt more jazzed about Penn State this afternoon; State of State was just what I needed. But that energy needs to be aware of the people who live here all the time. We both have to do our part. 

Sustainability was the second session and man, did I learn a lot.

I got a little refresher on recycling, learned about the Student Farm Club and Fossil Free PSU (two awesome clubs doing incredible things), and got motivated with making change.

It was during this discussion that I really learned a lot from the students. We talked about making change at Penn State and the systems of hierarchy students attempt to navigate. The students at my table were involved and had a good idea of the student leadership powerhouses you had to collaborate with to really make things happen. They also talked about the problem of silos. Groups often want similar changes or have similar ideas for events. But if these groups never talk, then they continue to exist in isolation. It was a critical conversation, with thoughtful insight and perspective. I'm so thankful for them telling me about their experiences.

I also thought about the Choice Framework (one of my favorite readings) during this conversation. The students talked about how some of this hierarchy and systems are unknown to a large body of students who want change. If students don't know how these systems work, how can they possible make the change they want to see? Part of the change is being aware of how the systems work (have to have the ability to choose). Personally, I think this is where the library could help. We could be a space to have these discussions and make those connections. We are bridge builders, connecting people who might not think they have anything in common (or don't know someone even exists). 

In classic Hailley fashion, I was sure to tell the students that I come from a small, liberal arts undergrad were a mere 1,300 students. It's a great way to really learn more about what it means to be a Penn State student. The overall comment from my table was that the opportunities they found at Penn State allowed them to make a big university small. They had showed and talked about deep connections they have with their peers, the clubs they are involved with, and the faculty who stand beside them.

After lunch, our group shrank a bit as we moved into the final session. The last session focused on serving our Penn State family and included talks on the homeless population at Penn State, our Career Center, Alumni Department, graduate and undergraduate involvement, and inclusiveness for students with disabilities. These talks weren't as connected as the previous two sessions with each speaker but their perspectives brought a lot to our table to discuss.

This final session was probably a good way to reflect on the ways in which community was broadly defined at the beginning of the day. In the final session, the speakers were focused on a specific community and knew that often the community they were passionate about was left behind in the larger Penn State "We Are" community. They really challenged us (without really saying it) to think about who does our larger Penn State community include and who do we exclude (often without realizing it)? This isn't a question that is easily answered in a sentence or two and requires much more reflection and thought to intersectionality and intentionality (some of what myself and my fav collaborator, Kristina, are going to talk about during our ACRL roundtable). Community building takes work.

When I left the HUB (Student Union Building) a little before four, campus was busier than when I arrived a little before nine. I was glad I went and had a notebook full of ideas, thoughts, and reflections. An event like this helps me better understand my context at Penn State and gave me motivation to keep up what I'm doing at the library, while always thinking of how I can push it farther and end up talking to the best group on campus: the students.

Thanks State to State for a fantastic Saturday and I'm already looking foward to State of State 2018!