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WMU News: Students from Western Universities meet with state legislators in an environmental policy town-hall| WMU News
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WMU News: Students from Western Universities meet with state legislators in an environmental policy town-hall| WMU News

Contact: Erin Flynn

KALAMAZOO MI. The college experience is not just about academics. It also prepares students for becoming engaged citizens. Dr. Denise KeeleThis idea is taken a step further by her environmental policy course at Western Michigan University, which gives students of upper-level Western Michigan University the opportunity to lobby legislators on pertinent issues.


Students presented their research on community solar funding and water infrastructure funding to almost a dozen state legislators. (Courtesy Getty Images

“The climate crisis is very important to me and I see my future doing a lot with it,” says Kennedy WilliamsKalamazoo, an environmental sciences student and sustainability student who is also studying Spanish. “This was really helpful to set the groundwork for how and what I can talk to my representatives about. It opened up a new door for me to see what I want to do and what’s important to my life, and how I can interact and collaborate with those who play a crucial role in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Five student groups presented research on community solar and funding water infrastructure during the Michigan Environmental Policy Town Hall. Dec. 6They pitched their policy memos directly at nearly a dozen state legislators as well as their aides. Participants included:

  • Sen. Dan Lauwers, R-Brockway Township

  • Sen. Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo

  • Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton

  • Joseph Stevenson, legislative aide to Rep. Ryan BermanR-Commerce Township

  • Thye Fischman, legislative assistant to Rep. Julie Calley, R-Portland

  • Kyle Zawacki, legislative aide to Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Trenton

  • Rep. David LaGrand, D.Grand Rapids

  • Rep. Christine Morse, D-Kalamazoo

  • Rep. Ranjeev Puri, D.Canton Township

  • Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor

  • Rep. Julie Rogers, D-Kalamazoo

Conan SmithPresident of the Michigan Environmental Council, John Sullivan, met with students to discuss the importance and benefits of participation in the democratic process.

Keele, an associate professor of political science and environment and sustainability, created the town halls as a way to give students a fresh experience and a sense empowering. Because politics is so divided in many areas, she feels they are more relevant than ever.

“To remind people that we can sit down to have a civil discussion about this is, I believe, more important in these times. Because these students know the facts about climate change and the environment. She says that they are extremely discouraged and disillusioned with the political process. “We don’t have democracy if citizens aren’t actively engaged in that process.” Students can learn from this that they can make an impact.

Although students admitted to feeling anxious before their presentations, they said that the experience was both beneficial and eye-opening. They were able to see legislators on an entirely different level, being genuinely interested in their research, policy ideas, and their presentation.

Conan Smith speaks to students at the virtual townhall.

“It’s empowering,” says “I think it is. This class allows you to voice opinions and stand up for things you believe in. Madison Smith, a South Haven, Michigan student in biomedical sciences.

Williams adds that “this definitely broke down the barrier among the constituent and representative and showed just how simple it is to have those conversations.” “I will be sharing this with my family members and friends and telling them how simple it was. How much research can help you get to know more and be able to communicate with these people.

Many students are not planning to pursue a career in politics after graduation. However, legislation and the decisions made by legislators affect everyone. Students found it valuable to open up communication and learn how they can engage in the democratic process.

“Realizing that activism and politics don’t have a place in your job is super encouraging to my,” says Sheila. Samantha YatesA New Boston, Michigan, accounting student. “There are many things I care about, but I don’t get paid to advocate. So to know that there is still stuff I can do outside of work is good news. I now have the resources and tools to do it.

Keele says research has shown that individuals who aren’t civically involved as youth are less likely to be civically active later in life.

Williams says, “The most impactful thing for me was being in a position to put my foot forward.” “It’s amazing Dr. Keele gave us the space and the resources to do this. It’s something I wouldn’t have done in any other setting.”

Keele says, “It’s so important they practice when the stakes don’t seem so high; when it’s students as well as constituents.” “My main goal is to help students open up to the experience (teach) that they can do it, that their voice does hold power. Even though they may feel overwhelmed, they will be able to try it out and improve their civic engagement skills. That’s what it’s all about.

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