University of Illinois graduate students and recent graduates involved in the Center for Social and Behavioral Science Policy and Research Legislative Fellows (PRLF) Program and the University of Illinois Extension Illini Science Policy Program (ISPP) recently attended the programs’ first joint Policy Summit. The Policy Summit engaged key stakeholders from the university, legislature, and community to help attendees enhance their understanding of the legislative cycle, how to research and draft policy, and how to communicate with diverse communities in Illinois.
Launched in Summer 2022, the PRLF matches graduate students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with state legislators representing Champaign-Urbana or a neighboring district to collaborate on a policy research project that can inform public policy and help make Illinois a better place to live. This non-partisan initiative is supported by the Office of the Chancellor-Public Engagement.
The ISPP is a post-graduate opportunity to explore Illinois Extension’s critical issue areas and the policy decisions affecting those resources. Scholars explore public service careers at a high level, receive support through mentoring, training, and networking events, and establish professional connections across multiple agencies and stakeholders.
“We improve lives in a way that helps expand opportunities for people throughout our programs as well as Illinois and beyond,” said Evangeline Pianfetti, Extension Outreach Associate for Government Relations, and director of the ISPP.
The event included presentations from a variety of speakers and ended with a panel discussion.
In the first presentation, Assistant Vice President of State and Local Relations for the University of Illinois Jennifer Creasey discussed how most of the students would be working within legislative offices and explained how the Illinois state government operates. “What I love about this is that what we’re working on and what you all will be working on are things that will impact people’s everyday lives,” Creasey said to program participants.
Creasey posed a question to the students about the difference between equality and equity. PRLF student Mia Chudzik responded with an example. “We can think of a pizza pie,” Chudzik said. “Everyone is hungry, so equality would be everyone getting equal shares of the pie while equity would be determining how hungry each person is and then each person getting a share of the pie based on that information.”
The focus on equity continued with a presentation from Mina Raj, a professor of kinesiology and community health, who discussed making policies more equitable and how policy can impact the capacity for research to improve these policies.
Carrie James, a fellow of the Siebel Center for Design, presented on Human Centered Design and how nearly any problem-solving approach starts, continues, and ends with people. “You have to understand a problem before you can solve it,” James said. “Be cognizant of your own perspective throughout, because the more you understand, the clearer the problem becomes.”
Community & Economic Development Illinois Extension Specialist Zach Kennedy spoke about engaging audiences with material and explained why attendees should care about the subject matter. “We have to realize that effective science communication is nuanced,” Kennedy said. “So science communication breaks down when people feel that they can’t understand. We can’t put it all on the audience. It’s also on us; the scientists.”
As the event came to a close, the group hosted a panel discussion on policy perspectives. The panel included individuals with personal legislative expertise, either from holding office, working in an elected office, or conducting policy research. Panelists included Bob Flider, Director of Community & Government Relations, UIUC; Michelle Gonzales, Special Assistant for Strategic Initiatives in Public Engagement, UIUC; Nancy Ouedraogo, State Specialist in Community & Economic Development, Illinois Extension; Rachel Spencer, Champaign District Director for Congresswoman Nikki Budzinkski; and Mina Raj.
“It is always good hearing from policy professionals, both in and out of academia,” one attendee said. “I am excited and motivated.”