State of State conference founder eyes the political landscape

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- If you give Patrick Boynton a history book, he’ll probably ask you for an atlas to go along with it.

As an international politics and geography double major and a senior in the Schreyer Honors College, Boynton has spent the last three years looking at the way geography, political events and data interact with one another.

Last fall, he studied abroad in Geneva getting a firsthand look at the interaction between politics and geographical issues. While in Switzerland, Boynton took classes, but he also attended three separate conferences about regional development in Europe.

One conference, about the development of the Alps, was in a Swiss resort town. The second, about urban planning, was also in the Alps. The third, about multiple European countries’ individual problems, was at the European Union headquarters in Brussels.

“The common theme in these conferences was the whole issue of development in certain areas and what certain stakeholders were or weren’t okay with,” Boynton said. “Urban sprawl — and how to try to contain it while balancing the politics involved — is a big issue that a lot of countries are facing.”

Boynton’s honors thesis combines his interests in international politics and geography. He’s looking at various refugee camps and examining how they transition from being temporary structures to permanent ones.

“Refugee camps aren’t, in theory, supposed to last that long,” Boynton said. “But what happens when they last 10, 15 or 20 years? That’s what I’m looking at.”

It was also while studying abroad that Boynton came up with the idea for what has become one of his major endeavors: a student-run organization sponsoring a conference called State of State.

Planned for March 30, State of State will be an on-campus conference that features talks by a mix of students, faculty and community members about issues pertaining to Penn State. Topics include the future of higher education, urban development and landlord-tenant relations.

Michael Berkman, a professor of political science and director of undergraduate studies in the College of the Liberal Arts — as well as Boynton’s honors adviser — has become familiar with the project and taken note of Boynton’s initiative.

“I’ve been impressed with his persistence and sense of vision,” Berkman said. “He has come in to talk to the political science faculty and has encouraged us to participate and engage with the program.”

Boynton initially got the idea when he and fellow scholar Suzanne Zakaria were both studying abroad in fall 2012. When the two would Skype each other to talk about what was going on at Penn State, they recognized the need for a forum in which other people could do the same thing.

“We thought this kind of conference would be a great way for people to talk about big issues at Penn State,” Boynton said.

Since returning to campus last spring, the two have put in many hours to get the project off the ground. According to Suzanne, it couldn’t be done without Boynton’s patience and ability to focus on short and long-term goals.

“Patrick is extremely hardworking and works seamlessly behind the scenes to make sure the big picture all comes together,” Suzanne said. “He’s great at talking through ideas with you to help you focus your vision.”

In addition to Suzanne, a number of students on the State of State executive board are Schreyer Scholars.

“Without having been part of the living-learning community of Schreyer, I don’t know if we would be able to draw on this many people to work on the project,” Boynton said. “The best thing about the Schreyer Honors College really is the community, whether that’s in Simmons and Atherton (halls) or in the organizations that SHC kids tend to gravitate toward after moving off campus.”

And according to Berkman, Boynton follows a line of other self-starting Schreyer Scholars in the political science department.

“Every year, we seem to have a handful of scholars in political science who take on leadership roles on campus by starting these kinds of programs and getting people involved with them,” Berkman said. “I absolutely see Patrick in that same vein of students who display those kinds of leadership talents and skills.”

Working to make sure that State of State comes together isn’t the first time Boynton has been in charge of behind-the-scenes coordination. Last summer, he interned with the Council on Foreign Relations, a foreign policy think tank in New York City.

In the speakers department, Boynton handled the logistics behind the think tank’s efforts to get certain foreign policymakers to come speak at the New York City offices.

While at the Council on Foreign Relations, Boynton even got reintroduced to a world leader he had met during an earlier visit to Penn State. Besides getting reacquainted with Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland who visited Penn State for a lecture co-sponsored by the SHC last March, Boynton also said he learned more about what types of academic paths are necessary for certain policymaking jobs.

“I definitely learned a lot about prerequisites,” Boynton said. “I learned things like, ‘If you want to do this job, you need a master’s degree, or if you want to do this job, you need a Ph.D.” 

Eventually, Boynton might like to go to law school. Though his focus has primarily been foreign affairs until this point, he’s starting to become more interested in the government’s ability to adapt to the digital age and tackle big technology issues — themes he might one day like to study in law school.

In the meantime, Boynton said he wants to spend a few years working for a political consulting firm on a political campaign. Boynton specifically hopes to be able to work with polling data in order to take sociology and the mapping side of geography, and apply it to politics.

“The geography of regions affects people and their needs in so many more ways than we might think, and I think I could add a lot to a campaign or political organization by looking at the implications of geography as they relate to people’s political concerns,” Boynton said. “It would be really cool if I could do that.”

Last Updated April 01, 2014