The name "Kat McKay," floods in the inbox of every single one of Penn’s undergrad students. If it doesn’t ring a bell, you should go back and click through old emails, because every message sent out with her sign–off as President of the Undergraduate Assembly is directly related to the UA’s efforts to make Penn a better place for students.
“The Undergraduate Assembly is Penn’s elected representative legislative branch of student government. At other schools, student senate or student council; here it’s called the Undergraduate assembly. It has 35 elected members,” said Kat.
“So 35 voting members in total, so our job is to advocate for undergraduate students to the administration and to the faculty and trustees.”
Most people are vaguely familiar with what the UA is and what it does but don’t necessarily seek out information beyond knowing the basics.
“We work on different policy projects and we don’t plan events. That’s Class Board, and we give them money to do that on our behalf,” describes Riad Hamadi (Speaker for the UA), as he explains that people frequently confuse the two groups.
Much of what the UA accomplishes goes relatively unrecognized, but their work directly impacts the lives of Penn students. “We want to make sure leaves of absence are much easier to take, or at least roads going down to leaves of absence for any reason, mental health–related or otherwise, is just more clear for any student. So that’s a biggie,” said Communications director Michael Krone (C'17). “Or reducing course costs, we work on that with SCUE, and then there’s a lot of other initiatives that the UA is just working behind the scenes on.”
“We are the best way to get a message through to the administration,” explains Kat. "You’ve tapped into a network of some of the most well–connected, well–informed students on campus, who know not only who to talk to about those ideas, but how to frame those ideas in the best way for them to result in something tangible.”
Part of working for the UA involves learning how to unite towareds a common goal, alongside people who have vastly different backgrounds from each other.
“As an international student, it helped put me on the spot and work with a lot of American students,” said Riad, who's from Lebanon.
“There aren’t a lot of international students on the UA, and it also made me realize that a lot of my involvements before were mainly with international students so it’s really like, it was kind of like a cultural shock, just the way people communicate and the way people do things. I learned a lot about the American way of doing things and learned a lot of communication skills.”
The members of the UA share the same passion and drive for bettering the Penn experience of their peers—from the tiniest details (like requiring PennInTouch to send an email as soon as grades are posted to keep you from incessantly refreshing the page), to tackling greater issues, like reducing course costs. The UA is the best advocate that Penn’s undergrad community has to make lasting and positive changes.
Although many times the goals presented take far longer than a year to implement, there is one thing Kat is proud to say she thinks she’s accomplished already.
“So the DP interviewed me when I won president, and they were like, ‘What’s your goal as president?’ And I was like, ‘I want to be the funniest UA president there ever was.’ And they didn’t write it. And I was like, 'Guys that was my goal!’ I’m kidding, like no, it’s not really my goal. But it’s kind of my goal. I think I achieved it. The others just aren’t funny. It’s not a competitive field.”