Writer: Janet Perez
Twenty university students from across the state have been chosen to take part in the 2012 Domenici Public Policy Conference, Sept. 19 and 20 at the Las Cruces Convention Center.
The specially selected students from New Mexico State University, the University of New Mexico and Northern New Mexico College will be the only audience members allowed to ask questions of the various presenters at the Domenici Conference. This year's conference speakers include campaign strategist James Carville, former President George W. Bush adviser Karen Hughes, Colorado Rockies co-owner Linda Alvarado and former 9/11 Commission member Michael Hurley. The themes being addressed are the 2012 elections, national security and entrepreneurship.
When the Domenici Conference debuted in 2008, any member of the audience could ask questions of speakers. However, because the Domenici Institute for Public Policy is housed on the NMSU campus, conference organizers wanted students to have a meaningful connection to the event, and the Domenici Student Panelist program was born.
"Student participation integrates the academic experience into conference activities and provides students with an excellent lesson in civic participation," said Garrey Carruthers, dean of NMSU's College of Business and director of the Domenici Institute. "Since students are the only conference participants allowed to ask questions of the presenters, their selection to serve on the panel is an important and detailed process."
Only students nominated by faculty members or administrators from their universities were considered for the panel. A committee of the Domenici Institute Advisory Council then reviewed the nominations.
"The nominated students clearly represented a highly qualified group of individuals," said Ramon Dominguez, an associate professor of education at NMSU and chair of the Domenici Institute Advisory Council committee that selected the student panelists. "The committee discussed, debated and struggled to make the final selections because the nominees all had amazing credentials."
The student panel is made up of 10 students from NMSU, eight from UNM and two from NNMC.
"For the last two years I had participated in the conference as an observer," said Marcella Martinez, a doctoral student in economic development at NMSU. "The political and business leaders who participate in the Domenici Conference annually shape the national agenda in their respective fields. The opportunity to craft questions and be part of a larger discourse with highly respected leaders was something I definitely wanted to be part of."
The Domenici Institute Advisory Council committee that selected the students also will prepare them for their roles at the event. Over the summer, the students will work in teams, with each team assigned to research and prepare questions for one speaker. Some panelists may serve on more than one team. Participation in all conference activities also is required. In addition, during the conference the students will have a group meeting with retired U.S. Sen. Pete V. Domenici.
"I view the opportunity to ask critical questions of people in power to be a great means for everyone to become aware of new issues facing our country," said Zackary Quintero, an undergraduate majoring in government at NMSU. "By engaging in dialogue, people can become both mindful and inspired to take action on a positive note."
For Shanta Thoutam, the conference's emphasis on entrepreneurship this year sparked her desire to be on the student panel.
"I am a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering and found a calling in the business world," said Thoutam, who returned to NMSU to earn a doctoral degree after receiving her master's in 2004. "Lately, I am proactively looking for opportunities to enhance my breadth of entrepreneurial skills. The 2012 Domenici Conference speakers will discuss a variety of national policy issues, including entrepreneurship, and I hope I get a chance to listen to the established entrepreneurs' experiences and learn from their feedback. Overall, I think this unique cognitive opportunity will help me in acquiring knowledge and to hone my leadership qualities to establish myself as an entrepreneur."
For the first time, the Domenici Conference student panelists will be receiving a financial reward for their work. As part of a $10,000 sponsorship by U.S. Bank, each student panelist will receive a $250 U.S. Bank Visa gift card. Along with the gift cards, U.S. Bank's sponsorship of the student panelist program pays for the students' hotel accommodations in Las Cruces and an orientation banquet.
For the students, the experience is as welcome a reward as the money.
"I am interested in community development and recognize that national policy affects local communities," NMSU student Martinez said. "Interacting with fellow student panelists to delve into important issues, such as entrepreneurship, national security, and state and national elections, provides an opportunity to gain greater depth and understanding of these critical issues that will affect the communities I work with in the future."
The 2012 Domenici Public Policy Conference costs $50 to attend. Online registration for the conference begins Aug. 1 at domenici.nmsu.edu. The event is free to NMSU students. For more information or to receive an invitation by mail, call the Domenici Institute at 575-646-2066.
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