Name: Jade Gonzalez
Hometown: Lexington, Neb.
Major: International relations with minors in environmental studies and history
34th Street Magazine: Could you tell us about your involvement with Penn Student Agencies and how you became president?
I actually started out as a barista at Williams Café the fall of my sophomore year. I loved it so much. I enjoyed all the people, but I wanted to have more responsibility. How it works at PSA is eventually you can be elected by your peers to the role of president once you've worked for a full year. I went ahead and tried for it, and I was elected in fall of 2020. Now, my role primarily revolves around external relations: things like talking to alumni, speaking with the University about different regulations, and reaching out to potential vendors and businesses. Overall, it's just overseeing all nine of the different agencies we operate. I almost act like a consultant—if they have a question or a problem and want an outside perspective on it, they come to me.
Could you talk about your experience with Penn First?
I got involved with Penn First my [first] year through PENNCAP and the Pre–Freshman Program. I wanted to find people on campus who came from a more similar socioeconomic background to myself. I eventually got elected to the board. I started as professional development chair and realized I wasn't terribly professional–development–oriented. I found myself constantly going back to these spaces of, "Well, this is an obstacle that students on campus face," or, "This is something I've felt that I've heard other students experience." After that, I ended up shifting my efforts towards the advocacy and university relations side of things. Once my term as professional development chair was up, I became advocacy chair. I now help give professionals at Penn a perspective on what students might be feeling on particular issues when asked, and also when I notice something, I can go to them unprompted and hope they listen.
What community at Penn has shaped your experience the most?
I would definitely say my involvement with the FGLI [first–generation, low–income] community at Penn. I'm only on the Penn First board, but my experiences with that community go so much deeper. Those are the people I eat meals with over fall break, those are the people I organize storage with, those are the people I talk about food stamps and couponing and just how to scrape by with. It feels a lot more raw than a lot of other communities at Penn, where things might be more focused on outward perceptions rather than those day–to–day realities.
Tell me about yourself outside of Penn and school. What makes you unique?
Outside of Penn, I'm someone who cooks a significant amount—I always have some random stuff in the fridge that I throw together to see if it tastes good or not. It's about 50–50 that it does.
I own two cats named Mabel and Elliot. They’re mother and daughter. I have them with me in Philadelphia—they're the light of my life.
I come from rural Nebraska, so I grew up with parents who were welders. That's why I found myself involved in set building, because I have a welding and metal fabricating background. I really enjoy 3D art and physical construction, rather than painting or drawing or something of that nature.
What change would you like to see at Penn in the next 10 years?
I guess a change that I would like to see at Penn in the next 10 years is just normalizing free time a lot more. A lot of times, Penn people either bite off more than they can chew and start to flounder a bit, or they work themselves to the bone. Both of these scenarios are not good for you, either mentally or physically. I think recognizing the need to slow down is a conclusion a lot of people reached during the pandemic. That kind of goes along with patience. I don't think we're a very patient campus. We all want to make moves and do awesome things. It works great for our advocacy and our change–making, but I don't know what that does for us as people.
What has been your most memorable experience at Penn?
I broke my thumb playing Twister once at a Penn event. That's definitely a memorable experience. And honestly, I would say it's a lot of the time I spent in the PAC Shop during tech week for different performing arts groups. Especially when I work as master carpenter, it's being able to look at the set when the actors are performing and think, "I'm the reason they're standing on something right now." So I'd say that's pretty impactful. Otherwise, very much breaking my thumb playing Twister and then having to go to work on Monday with a crooked thumb.
What's next for you after Penn?
I am moving to Washington, D.C., where I will be working for a consulting firm. [I'm] hoping to specialize in public and social sector work before I go back to grad school. I eventually want to pursue a career in sustainable policy and environmental issues overall, hopefully on an international scale—but very much keeping nature and the environment at the core of what I do.
Last song you listened to?
If you were a building on campus, which one would you be and why?
I think I would be Williams because it doesn't make any sense, but so many people love it all the same. Plus the coffee.
Who do you look up to?
I probably most look up to my mother. She had me when she was 17, and she's been fighting ever since.
What's your favorite sunny day activity in Philadelphia?
I like to thrift shop, but I also like to just wander around. I recently purchased a little Razor scooter, so I just like to scoot about.
There are two types of people at Penn …
The people who take SEPTA and those that Uber everywhere.
And you are?
SEPTA. It was a steep learning curve coming from rural America, but I made it work.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.