Students from colleges and universities across the U.S. came together in Madison this weekend to discuss issues of public policy and their research surrounding these topics.
“This is an open discussion about current times. Of course, [the participants] are college students like me, but they are the future of politics,” said James Douglass, a participant and biochemistry student at the University of California San Diego.
The UW-Madison undergraduate policy journal Sifting and Winnowing held the first annual Wisconsin Ideas Conference from April 18th to the 21st. The event, run entirely by students, sought to bring together undergraduates interested in public policy, law and political science to come up with creative solutions and strategies for complex social issues.
Since its creation in 2015, Sifting and Winnowing has focused on providing an outlet of publication for undergraduate research in public policy, law and political science, so as to encourage the growth of youth leadership in political issues.
“The future of public policy is in our hands, and we should be trying our best to become knowledgeable about it,” said Julia Brunson, a student at UW-Madison and participant in this weekend’s conference.
Over the summer, Signe Janoska-Bedi, director of the conference and graduate advisor of Sifting and Winnowing, got the idea of bringing together students to “try and talk about their impact in a more visceral and real way and give them opportunities to discuss with policy experts.”
Part of bringing students together involved opening submissions for the conference to interested students from around the nation to offer a broad range of interests and ideas.
“Whether or not we agree on the important issues, I think having an open and welcoming dialogue means we are working towards the same goal no matter what: to bring vital conversations to the forefront,” Brunson said.
The conference consisted of three key panels, including natural disasters, mass incarceration and Wisconsin as spotlights on public policy challenges. Each panel consisted of two to four keynote speakers from UW-Madison.
In between these keynote speakers, the conference also held breakout sessions in topics ranging from energy and healthcare policy to civil rights and tax policies.
“I believe it was Mark Twain who said ‘don’t let school interfere with your education.’ That’s what this was for me,” Douglass said. “This conference talked about stuff that they do not teach you in academia.”
To prepare for these sessions, participants were required to write a page-long memorandum proposing a possible solution to a policy issue of their choosing. At the conference, the students then presented and discussed these memo’s to critique their feasibility and accuracy.
The conference aimed to improve students knowledge about complex social issues, as well as facilitate the discussion of these issues among a new generation of leaders, according to Jansoka-Bedi.
“I am incredibly fortunate that I got the opportunity to go and learn all about these issues,” Douglass said. “Every student should be required to participate in some sort of discussion like this.”