A New Path
Joe Balay and Andy Mader photos

Joe Balay joined the Blue & White Society as a freshman because he thought that the student arm of the alumni association would be “interesting and fun to be involved in.” He never anticipated that his involvement might one day mean helping lead the organization through the limitations of a pandemic.

As he wrapped up his junior year this spring, Balay (below, left) looked back on a year in which the society’s usual run of in-person events was derailed by COVID-19. The BWS leadership team was deep into planning the annual PSi♠U Week when students were sent home in March 2020, forcing its signature spring celebration into a virtual event. It kicked off a year in which the society’s goal of engaging students faced unprecedented challenges.

Recognizing the limitations of moving in-person events to Zoom, the society expanded its offerings to include virtual Q&A sessions with guests ranging from Nittany Lion football lettermen to a former contestant on The Bachelor. “It gave us a chance to appeal to a new audience,” says Balay, who served as vice president of programming last year. “One of the benefits was that we could add some diversity to what we do.”

The Lion Ambassadors faced similar challenges, most notably the temporary shutdown of their iconic campus tours. Outgoing L’Ambs president Andy Mader (below, right) says they quickly adapted to offering virtual tours before getting permission to bring back limited in-person tours this spring. Then there’s Be a Part From the Start, the annual fall kickoff event that found a broader—if slightly less raucous—audience when it moved online. The 2020 event was the first to cater to the entire commonwealth campus system. “It was cool to be able to show the freshmen that we’re thinking about them,” says Mader, a senior who was set to graduate in May. “I’m proud of what we were able to put out there.”

Not that they didn’t miss that personal connection. Balay, the incoming BWS president, says he can’t wait for a return to normal next year: “I want to help everyone experience what an in-person Blue & White Society year is like.”