Two years ago, Jansen Penny, former student body president and senior in industrial engineering, sat down with Ali Karamali, former student body vice president and senior in chemical engineering, to discuss their mutual rejection from Student Governing Association cabinet positions. The conversation between acquaintances eventually turned to discussions of goals and SGA plans. A year after that, the two were sworn in as Kansas State student body president and vice president, respectively.
On April 9, their term ended. Penny said many of their campaign promises have become reality in the last year: funding for Cats’ Cupboard, the creation of the sexual assault prevention training SafeBar and increased discussions related to intercultural learning.
However, Penny said this wouldn’t be possible without a lot of sacrifices. He has spent the year working over 50 hours a week solely on SGA matters, dealt with a falling GPA and didn’t focus enough time on his relationships with family and friends.
“I know there’s so much more to be done,” Penny said. “And I want to be a part of that in the future.”
Before he was even involved in SGA, Penny moved to campus knowing almost no one. Thankfully, his roommate Jonathan Peuchen, former speaker of student senate, got him interested in becoming an SGA intern.
“He encouraged me to apply to be an intern that sits on the Privilege Fee Committee as well,” Penny said.
When he ran as a College of Agriculture senator, Penny said he was barely voted in. He sat on the Privilege Fee Committee that year as well.
Penny said things began to change when he changed his major from agricultural economics to industrial engineering the day before the 2018 spring semester began.
“It was like a quarter-life crisis for me,” Penny said. “I think that was the largest turning point in my college career. Finally saying ‘I don’t care what some of my family member or friends are going to say, I’m leaving the College of Ag.’ I switched it all in one night and the next morning at 8:30 a.m. I started in the College of Engineering.”
Penny said things got a little confusing when he wanted to run for reelection. As a new student in the College of Engineering, he didn’t know who to run with. After sending a message to Karamali and Ethan Hammond, senior in mechanical engineering, about setting up their campaign, he once again barely made the cut.
“I was told by Jonathan [Peuchen] I should run for president the next year,” Penny said. “I never considered that someone from out of state without many connections could ever have a shot. That was really the first time that someone ever kind of sparked that idea in my mind and saw that potential in me.”
Soon after that, Penny and Karamali had their discussion about future SGA plans. Less than a year later, they won as the only option on the ballot after a controversial election season.
“Empowering you to give, to unite, to own.” The Penny-Karamali campaign slogan doubled as their campaign platforms. Penny said many of their platforms were achieved over the past year. However, a year isn’t always enough time to make the goals into realities.
“We knew a lot of these projects … would take more time,” Penny said.
Creating projects from scratch is what takes the most time. His campaign promised to make Cats’ Cupboard more accessible to students. Penny feels this has been accomplished: Cats’ Cupboard will receive bond surplus funds at $80,000 a year for at least the next three years.
However, a part of that goal not achieved was partnering with Housing and Dining Services to utilize leftover foods.
“There are so many different rules and regulations … that is going to inhibit a lot of collaboration there until we get a better place for Cats’ Cupboard,” Penny said.
To achieve the ‘to unite’ portion of his campaign promises, Penny focused on bringing the Student Problem Identification & Resolution of Issues Together program to campus. The SPIRIT program met on campus on Feb. 7.
Another goal for the Penny campaign was reducing the GPA required to renew scholarships from 3.5 to 3.0. However, that was achieved before he was sworn in.
“I can’t take credit for that,” Penny said.
In addition, SafeBar training was implemented and electronic scooters will come to campus.
In addition to campaign goals, Penny said he sat on over a dozen committees already in SGA statutes. These committees made achieving his own goals more difficult.
“When I woke up my emails were the first things that I looked at, and my email was the last thing that I looked at before I went to bed,” Penny said.
While Penny could have taken as few as nine credit hours and been considered full-time — a privilege granted to student body presidents — he said he continued to take 12 credit hours. However, he fell behind in the engineering curriculum and will stay for a fifth year.
“Having the role of student body president does bring a lot of stress, it’s a huge time commitment,” Penny said. “I think having that for over a year, it’s probably not the best for anyone’s academics or mental health, physical health. You have to make a lot of sacrifices, and I think all those sacrifices are manageable to make for one year, but personally, I would not be able to make all the sacrifices for two.”
Penny didn’t expect his term to end away from campus due to a global pandemic. While it has been hard, he knows that Tel Wittmer, student body president and junior in secondary education, can rise to the challenge.
“He’s already sitting in on a ton of meetings. He will take over all of the COVID-19 related meetings by the end of next week,” Penny said.
Before spring break, Penny also had to deal with frustrated student senators wanting to condemn America Fist Students, a student organization, through a resolution. Senators believed the mission of AFS is against the K-State Principles of Community. This challenged what Penny could and couldn’t do as a student and university employee.
“What are my own legal responsibilities as an employee of the university and its student body president? What can and can’t be held against me in court of law? And how do I communicate all this to two senators, to my counterparts, to two students who totally disagree,” Penny said. “I would be lying if I said everyone agreed with every decision I make.”
However, at the end of the day Penny said he learned a lot about leadership through the controversies.
“I’ve learned a lot about not only being clear about what the decision is, but also how you came to that decision,” Penny said.
Penny said he doesn’t plan to hold an office in the new SGA term, but he hopes to be involved in a small way.
“It doesn’t really happen too often for a student body president to stay here after their term,” Penny said. “I’ve made it clear to them I will be around to help, but I hope I have a very small part like sitting on a university wide committee that meets once a week or bi-weekly.”
His focus will be on his academics, making connections in the industrial engineering department and focusing on his relationships with friends and family.