Friday morning, both students and entrepreneurs filed into the Michigan Union for a fair to discuss how to best stimulate the state’s struggling economy.
During The Roosevelt Institution’s Midwest Regional Conference, participants took part in a series of panels, where businesspeople and University students suggested ways to make an impact on local policy.
LSA seniors Stephanie Somerman and Hilary Doe, co-presidents of the University’s chapter of The Roosevelt Institution, said the event represented a culmination of all their work over the past two years.
The University’s chapter, created in the winter of 2006, promotes policy change by talking to local government representatives and proposing solutions. In all, the group consists of more than 100 members.
Every summer, the national student membership of The Roosevelt Institution selects three policy challenges. Students spend the following 16 months working to implement changes in the selected areas. Challenge Coordinator Danny Townsend briefly explained the past year’s challenges in his opening speech – criminal justice, participatory democracy and community development.
The policy fair, held in the Kuenzel Room of the Union, featured Motown music all day. Somerman and Doe said they wanted to celebrate Detroit and highlight some of its positive aspects, despite its poor economic condition right now.
Doe said changing people’s mentality about Michigan would lead to more effective change.
“We need a bigger base of people to take ownership of the region and then more can happen and we can make a difference,” she said.
Phil Power, president and founder of the Center for Michigan, delivered the keynote speech, kicking off the conference. During his speech, he spoke of several entrepreneurs who lived in Michigan.
“A tradition of entrepreneurs existed in Michigan at one point,” he said. “There is no reason why it can’t exist again.”
During the first hour, attendees had a choice of attending a panel on Michigan wind energy or a panel on mitigating the effects of poverty. The second hour offered a choice between a panel on entrepreneurship and high-skilled worker retention and a panel on disturbances to the Great Lakes environment.
The panels focused on local problems including obesity in Michigan, homelessness in Cincinnati and rain harvesting tax cuts in Detroit. Student policy makers summarized the problems and proposed solutions to panelists.
Roosevelt Institution members from across the country attended the event. Junior Karl Stark, chapter president at Kenyon College in Ohio, said he was pleasantly surprised to find that the event covered broader ideas than he originally expected.
LSA sophomore Stephanie Smith, director of the International Relations Center for the Michigan chapter, said she enjoyed the conference and was pleased with the turnout.
“I like hearing people talk about pubic policy in a constructive way – not just criticizing, but also providing solutions,” she said.
Somerman and Doe said they have been successful in Detroit and they hope for more data-driven research in the next year.
Doe said their chapter is becoming more of a think-tank everyday. She said while most people might think the typical thin- tank is a “bunch of old men sitting in a room and discussing policy,” that it was not isn’t the case with The Roosevelt Institution.
“We have been able to combat the general perception of a think-tank and interact with people in the local community,” she said. “I would call it a think-and-do tank. We really focus on impact and student awareness and what can be created with policy.”