We’ve all experienced school elections in some form or another. Vote Suzie for Prez! say the campaign signs, or Go With the Best – Vote Celeste! Despite how many student council speeches we’ve attended, how often have any of us on the voting side really sat down and considered exactly what becoming a student president entails? Believe it or not, it’s not all glittery posters and catchy campaign slogans. To get the skinny on just what being a campus president means, I spoke with Penn State student President Courtney Lennartz.
Lennartz, the president of the University Park Undergraduate Association, will begin her senior year as a Health Policy and Administration major in the Fall. She’s been involved with the UPUA since her freshman year, working her way up through several committees and representative positions to finally land the top job.
Deciding to run for president was a relatively easy decision for Lennartz, who had been Vice President her junior year under TJ Bard. “I already knew what the job of President entailed,” she said. “So when TJ decided not to run again, I thought I was the most qualified for the job.”
Lennartz identifies her campaign hook as an appeal to “transparency, accessibility, and accountability” in school politics. She says, “[The Vice President] and I wanted to emphasize the fact that UPUA’s primary responsibility is representing the interests of the student body.” Some of her goals for her term include creating a financial literacy program to educate students on how to make smart money choices in this age of credit card debt and rising education costs as well as improving communication between the student body and the school administration.
Besides the normal duties of every campus president, Lennartz and her student administration have had other major responsibilities related to the Sandusky scandal, involving a Penn State athletics coach sexually abusing several of the children he coached. When the media demanded details from the school, Lennartz and her peers defended the image of the school. “It was the students who stepped up to answer the questions and prove that the actions of the few…do not reflect upon the University as a whole,” says Lennartz.
Since the massive investigation into the scandal and the subsequence trial, Lennartz commends the school administrators on their efforts to keep the issue in the open. “We have seen major steps on behalf of the administration in promoting transparency and inclusion of the students in the decision making,” she said.
The investigation and trial, which have been ongoing for three years, greatly affected her job as part of the student government. Several of the initiatives introduced by Bard and Lennartz her junior year were “placed on the back burner” because of the scandal. Now, she plans on working to get those issues back on the main agenda. Despite the problems caused by the scandal, her experiences dealing with it have inspired Lennartz even more in her job. “The backlash from the scandal has motivated me to help restore the pride for our University,” she says, “and to change the culture that allowed this situation to go unnoticed for so many years.”
Though she enjoys her role as student president, she has no aspirations to pursue politics professionally. Instead, she sees herself possibly entering higher education administration as a result of her interest in academic policy writing. This summer, she is working as an administrative intern for Lehigh Valley Hospital to “revamp their policies and procedures…to reflect new practices.”
Every student president hopes to leave behind an enduring legacy of positive change for the future of his or her school. For Lennartz and Penn State, this couldn’t be more crucial. “I hope to strengthen the voice of UPUA,” she says. “I care about improving the everyday lives of students and the future of our university.” Hopefully, this year will begin a cycle of growth and healing for the community and students of Penn State, led by the diligent and visionary student body presidents to come.