New UPUA president talks about her role advocating for students

Katie Moats
May 04, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Erin Boas, a junior in international politics and economics, felt a range of emotions after being elected University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) president in March.

“It was very humbling,” Boas said. “You get into these areas of learning about student needs. [With] the whole process of campaigning and trying to reach out to different students and trying to find different student needs, you gain a lot of responsibility and you feel that responsibility.”

Boas has held positions within UPUA since arriving on campus and has always been involved in public service and trying to help students in need. Now that she’s leading Penn State’s student government, she wants to continue to be an advocate and provide aid to those that need it.

Through UPUA, Boas looks to address the concerns and struggles that come up in the daily lives of students. This includes providing direct and immediate relief to students in the form of initiatives and advocacy that have tangible impacts on their day-to-day lives, so that they can truly focus on their education.

“One of the biggest things this year is immediate need, and it’s an area that [vice president] Najee [Rodriguez] and I want to tackle,” she explained. “I also think we have a lot of initiatives aimed at institutionalized change, especially in the areas of racial and social justice.”

Boas believes that a lot of Penn State students experience challenges daily that keep them from being able to engage fully with their community – even more so during the pandemic. She’s noticed that some students don’t have access to medical insurance, which may make it difficult to maintain a high quality of life. Further, Boas suggested that providing counseling and psychological services at an academic college rather than University level might enable counselors to target students’ mental health needs more specifically.

As a student, Boas has continuously focused her efforts on advocating for groups that experience inequality. This past year, she spent a lot of time working with Days for Girls, an international organization that seeks to provide menstrual equity to girls all over the world. 

“There was a survey that was put out (on campus), and out of all University Park students, around 13% said that they have had to skip class or work because they didn’t have access to menstrual products,” Boas said. “It’s just those types of things that I think if we can help resolve them collectively, they will lead to a lot of institutionalized change.”

Before being elected president, Boas spent a lot of time in committees talking about the best ways to help combat these inequities. She was part of freshman council, which led to roles as an at-large representative, federal-state liaison, UPUA faculty senator, Board of Trustees liaison, Movin’ On liaison, and the Women’s Empowerment Roundtable founder and coordinator.

“I think the reason I decided to stick with (UPUA) and ultimately run for president is that, in the past, I’ve seen a lot of student needs being overlooked because of wanting to do larger, broader types of approaches,” Boas said. “While I think that is a good thing, I really want to focus on making sure that we’re looking at all the different possibilities of student needs within a single problem. There’s not always just one approach to fixing something.”

Boas’ experience goes beyond her long list of accolades within UPUA. She currently holds an executive position with Omega Phi Alpha, a service sorority, and was also nominated for the Truman Scholarship, a highly prestigious scholarship created by President Truman for students who have demonstrated a great interest in public service. Although she ultimately did not receive the scholarship, she still considers it one of the biggest honors she has ever received.

Boas has high goals for what she would like to attain in her career as a public servant after Penn State. While she’s never wanted to go into politics or run for public office, she would like to pursue a graduate degree and eventually work in international development.

“I’ve been exploring possible options, whether that be law school or more so in the sense of public policy,” she explained. “But I think that public service is always going to be something that I’m going to be dedicated to. I’m really interested in the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. I’m just really interested in international development and its relationship with international economics, especially when it comes to human rights and stuff along those lines. That’s what I’m planning for my (honors) thesis to be on as well.”

As a Schreyer Scholar and Paterno Fellow, Boas believes that her honors courses allowed her to find a niche that aligns with her interests. The smaller class sizes and honors coursework have provided the different perspectives of her classmates, which led her to form more confident opinions and interests of her own. Within the College of the Liberal Arts, the connections she has made with faculty and advisers have allowed her to grow personally and professionally.

“The College of the Liberal Arts and the Paterno Fellows Program have allowed me to really explore,” she said. “The opportunities and the faculty and adviser support within the college are things that I’ve found particularly unique to a lot of other big universities. I think one of my biggest concerns coming to Penn State was that you may fear that you might just be a number in a system. The College of the Liberal Arts has proven to me that even though there are a lot of students within the college, I don’t feel like a number.”

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Last Updated May 05, 2021