Last year, Jansen Penny, junior in industrial engineering, and Ali Karamali, sophomore in chemical engineering, were sitting at Radina’s in the Kansas State Student Union. The two student senators met to discuss some legislation going through the Student Governing Association but ended up talking for hours.
“At first, we were just talking about legislation,” Karamali said. “But then we were talking about our backgrounds. What my upbringing was, what his upbringing was, because his was completely different than mine, and how we were both in the position we were, and then he asked me, ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your time in SGA?’ I told him, ‘I don’t know exactly what I want to do in terms of a role, I just know that by the time I’ve graduated, I want this student body to be better off than where I left it.’”
Penny said he was thinking the same thing.
Growing up on a farm in Burlington, Colorado, Penny was in involved a local chapter of the National FFA Organization, the Colorado Youth Advisory Council and Boy Scouts.
His family also fostered multiple children, something he said helped him learn about different cultures from different people.
When Penny came to Kansas State University, he said he knew hardly anyone and he had no thought of running for this position.
“I did not come to K-State knowing that I was going to want to run for this someday,” Penny said. “I walked on campus knowing no one, and how would I ever have the mindset that here in a couple years I want to be checking my own name on a box for student body president. [I] never thought that would ever happen.”
Penny started in SGA during his freshman year after the chair of the Privilege Fee Committee encouraged him to run for the intern position. He then worked his way up to vice president of the committee last year, and he now serves as the chair. It was during his time working at the committee’s vice president that the idea to run for student body president entered his mind.
But he is not running for student body president just for the sake of it, he said.
“To be completely honest, I could drop out of school right now and go back to the farm and I’d be OK, but I really love this university,” Penny said. “I want to help empower students, and I’m running for student body president to serve students.”
When looking for his vice presidential candidate, Penny said he wanted someone who was much different from him, but had the same ideals. While Penny is a white Christian who grew up on a farm in Colorado, Karamali is Muslim, from Overland Park and the son of immigrants from India. While the duo had different backgrounds, they had one thing in common: how much they loved K-State.
“Anybody who really cares about this university can step into this position,” Karamali said. “That is really the only qualification you need, in my opinion. We kept trying to build our team. We kept trying to surround ourselves with people who were different than us but had the same mission.”
In the beginning stages of the campaign, Sadie Polson, junior in marketing and the Penny-Karamali campaign manager, said she grilled Penny with questions before getting involved.
Among those questions: “When you leave K-State, when you graduate, what do you want the people you impacted to remember about you?”
When he answered, Polson said she saw his genuine care.
“I remember Jansen saying, ‘When I walk across the stage at graduation, I want the people I impacted to say, “Wow, that guy helped me out. This day, when I was struggling, he was there for me. He had my back. He fought for me and was that person I knew I could go to,’” Polson said.
While Penny said that he and Karamali have been meeting with administrators to check the viability of their platforms (including partially paying for parking tickets with donations to the Cats’ Cupboard food pantry), his main concern is cost and affordability. The campaign is also considering ways to lower GPA requirements for certain scholarships.
All of these platforms and ideals are centered around “empowering” students.
“‘Empowering you,’ it really means, this campus, these faculty, this administration, is really not here to do things for you,” Penny said. “They’re not here to just give you your education, your diploma. It’s not on them to plug yourself into organizations, campus jobs, add to your education. That responsibility lies on students.”
As a result of disqualification of the other student body presidential candidate, the only options at the top of the general election ballot will be “Jansen Penny” and “none.”
“Having only us on the ballot has never been our end game, and for us that’s not optimal,” Penny said. “We never wanted to the only person on the ballot. That’s not the race that we wanted to win for generals. … We’re not really super excited about being the only ones on the ballot.
For the next few days, the Penny-Karamali campaign will focus on the importance of voting and emphasizing the student senate race.
“We are going to be campaigning, listening to students and we have more clubs to visit tonight and tomorrow tonight and we’re going to still have our elections party on Wednesday,” Penny said.
The general election to select the student body president, SGA senators and other officials begins Tuesday at noon and ends Wednesday at 6 p.m.