John Shaw: Inviting Illinois college students to help Renew Illinois

As summer winds down and fall approaches, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University is eagerly gearing up for one of our signature events: the Renewing Illinois Summit for college and university students.

This year's summit will be held at SIU-Carbondale on Sept. 29-30. Our theme is "One Illinois: Noble Aspiration or Impossible Dream?" We are eager to explore the question of state identity and the reality of clear regional tensions and persistent misunderstandings.

We believe we have created an all-star lineup for the summit, with in-person presentations by Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Comptroller Susana Mendoza, and Erika Harold, director of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism.

We are also delighted to host journalists Shia Kapos of Politico's Illinois Playbook, Shruti Singh of Bloomberg, Jennifer Fuller of WSIU, and Jeff Rogers of the Illinois Press Foundation. They will discuss how they report on, and write about, Illinois.

Students will have plenty of opportunities to interact with these speakers and each other. There will also be plenty of fun, including a night of bowling.

In organizing the summit, the Institute is reaching out to a group whose views are too rarely sought or seriously considered when policymakers contemplate the future of Illinois: college students. The Institute is especially interested in those who are already leaders on their campuses and envision public service for their futures. These are the people who will soon decide whether to settle in Illinois and revive our state or leave for what they perceive to be greener pastures.

The Institute has three main goals for the summit:

To generate new and interesting ideas and incorporate unheard voices into the discussion about the future of Illinois

Build a thriving network of creative problem-solvers from Illinois colleges who will stay in touch with the Institute - and each other - over the coming years. These "Simon Summiteers" will revitalize Illinois as they leave college and enter businesses, foundations, universities, community colleges, public schools and nonprofits and participate in our state's civic life.

To be at the vanguard of a constructive agenda for Illinois. We want to help strengthen Illinois. I believe the Renewing Illinois Summit reflects - and embodies - Paul Simon's best values and his optimism about the future of our state.

Our hope in that this summit will help forge a positive agenda for Illinois. As we do so, we will consider fundamental issues and hard questions: What can be done to build a common identity and a sense of shared destiny in Illinois? Is it necessary - or misguided - to think of One Illinois? Are the different regions in Illinois treated fairly in the allocation of financial resources and political power? Can the urban-rural division be bridged? Do the people of the various regions inevitably view such issues as guns, education, economic development, criminal justice reform and transportation differently? Are Illinois's regional tensions related to, or distinct from, the challenges facing other large states such as New York, Florida, Ohio, or Minnesota?

We are eager for a successful summit in which we confront large issues and explore inspiring and tangible ways to Renew Illinois. We invite college and university students in Illinois to join us in Carbondale. Contact us at

<i> John Shaw is the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.</i>