Fifteen students from across Kentucky spent four days in Frankfort last month diving deep into state policy, learning how to advocate for a more thriving commonwealth and building lasting friendships at KyPolicy’s inaugural Summer Policy Institute (SPI).
The students, who came from Berea College, Centre College, Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University, also put that newfound knowledge to work, developing sophisticated policy proposals to address some of Kentucky’s most pressing challenges. They made sculptures with marshmallows too.
SPI began with KyPolicy staff welcoming students to Kentucky State University, the historically Black university in our state capital. Students got to know staff and each other with ice breakers, a trivia game and an exercise in team building that saw them sculpting with toothpicks and marshmallows, learning lessons about communication and teamwork along the way.
Class was in session on day two. With the help of KyPolicy staff, students dove deep into budget and tax issues, the criminal legal system and economic security concerns. They also heard from a panel of grassroots organizers and leaders who shared their experiences working to advance justice and equity in Kentucky.
On day three, students dressed up for a day at the Capitol, which included a tour of the marble halls, glimpses inside the legislative chambers and several panels filled with dynamic speakers, including Senator Chris McDaniel and Representatives Keturah Herron and Rachel Roberts.
Policy advocates took students inside the work to advance positive change in Kentucky and push back against policies that don’t meet our shared values of equity and prosperity. “The behind the scenes work that goes on in between legislative sessions was really cool to hear about,” one student said. “I wasn’t really sure about all the ways to be involved in policy so I’m really glad we got to hear from such a wide range.”
On the fourth and final day of SPI, a crowd of KyPolicy and KSU staff, along with local media, heard students present policy ideas aimed at reducing incarceration in Kentucky, addressing child care deserts, fixing our regressive tax system and reversing years of public school underfunding. Their pitches demonstrated an impressive grasp of nuanced policy issues and a passion for building a Kentucky that works for everyone.
Students left Frankfort with budding friendships and a newfound appreciation for policy work. “It is refreshing to see peers from across the state that you may have never met who share similar passions for learning and growing,” said Claire Hancock, a senior at the University of Kentucky. “I knew essentially nothing about policy walking into this week, but am walking away with more knowledge, and even better, a desire to continue learning.”