HARRISBURG -- Dozens of high school students from across the 59th state Senate District met Wednesday in what sponsor state Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, said was an opportunity to learn about and experience state government and public policy.
"Today is about giving high school students a look into how state government operates, and providing insight into the legislative process ... giving students an experience that explores and simulates what they spend years in school learning about from books and in classrooms," Fowler said.
Fowler hosted his all-day Youth Advisory Council at Southeastern Illinois College, bringing together students selected by their principals and teachers from Crab Orchard High School, Galatia High School, Goreville High School, Sesser Vailer High School, Zeigler Royalton High School, Harrisburg High School, Massac County High School, Carterville High School, Shawnee High School, Herrin High School, Pope County High School, Eldorado High School, Anna-Jonesboro High School, Thompsonville High School, Carrier Mills High School, Vienna High School, Joppa High School, Marion High School, Meridian High School and Cairo High School.
Fowler said it is his goal to "inspire and empower students to find their voice, be innovative and get involved. Each and every student here has the potential to be future leaders, intellectuals and role models."
After Fowler welcomed the students he providing some personal insight into his experience as an area businessman, state legislator and philanthropist in southern Illinois.
Students then spent the morning hearing from local leaders in the community, including: Russell Williams, director of the Brehm Foundation; Matt Lees, chairman of the Social Science Division and professor of political science and sociology at Southeastern Illinois College; Raj Nayar, founder & CEO, Innov8: Entrepreneurship and Humanitarianism in Medicine; and Connor James, founder & CEO, Meaningfull Books.
The guest speakers offered insight about their different careers, advice about leadership and tips on being successful.
Afterward, students broke into small groups to debate, discuss, and craft policy proposals for consideration later in the day. Fowler worked with each group, answering questions, discussing the legislative process and helping the students finalize their legislation topics.
"These kids have definitive opinions, unique perspectives and are ready to make their mark on the world," Fowler said. "Each group had really great ideas and I'm excited to see what happens during our next meeting in the spring."
Students at the meeting said they enjoyed the experience.
"Everyone should be involved in state government, and it's great to have this opportunity and explore any possibilities for a future career," Vienna High School student Sam Hirsch said.
Trevor Whittington, a Carterville High School student, said he appreciated the forum.
"I feel like this is a great opportunity for the youth of today to participate in government since we're the next generation that's going to be in charge of the Illinois system," Whittington said. "It's important to be a leader and it was a great opportunity to come out and be here."
Pope County YAC member Tucker Murphy said the meeting gave members the chance to express concerns about government.
"It was nice to get involved and talk about what you've been feeling," Murphy said. "I think it's important for everyone to get their voice heard so it's all equally represented."
In the spring, state Sen. Fowler's Youth Advisory Council will meet again in Springfield, continuing the discussion about the legislative process from the Capitol and giving the students the opportunity to participate in a mock committee hearing and hear from legislative leaders about their role in state government.