Nebraska student governments discuss student advocacy with state senators

By LIBBY SELINE / The Daily Nebraskan

After months of planning from the Association of Students of University of Nebraska executive team, representatives from the student governments of the four schools in the University of Nebraska system gathered together to discuss student advocacy and to exchange ideas during the NU System Conference.

The senators from the student governments posed questions to Nebraska state senators Adam Morfeld, Matt Hansen and Anna Wishartat the Wick Alumni Center on Saturday, Feb. 2. The student senators learned about how the university advocates for itself at the state level from the university system’s associate vice president for university affairs and chief lobbyist Heath Mello.

Students also exchanged ideas with each other about student wellness, academic policy, marketing and outreach and campus community.

Mello said the university is advocating specifically for its budget. He said the university advocates heavily for state allocations because 61 percent of the NU system budget comes from state appropriation and tuition is over half of the university system’s budget.

“Usually it’s a much higher tuition, much lower state appropriation [percentage,]” Mello said. “… That’s why we have so much focus on our engagement in the state government.”

Additionally, he said the university prioritizes capital construction and attaining money to keep the buildings up to date. Mello also talked about the importance of advocating for workforce development scholarships so the “best and brightest students in Nebraska” are encouraged to stay in state.

To accomplish these goals, the university must collaborate with state senators, legislative staff, the legislative fiscal office and the governor’s office, according to Mello.

He said students should come to NU Advocacy day at the state capitol on Wednesday, March 27 to advocate on behalf of the university.

“You are our champion whether you realize it or not,” Mello said. “You’re the best spokesperson for us whether you realize it or not.”

Morfeld, Hansen and Wishart also talked about supporting the university in their speeches when they shared their political origin stories, answered questions about bills they are working on and talked about how to be representatives of the students.

The senators recommended the student senators talk to their constituents often so fellow students can care more about student government.

“Sometimes to really engage people and to get people excited about things requires you to pound the pavement, knock doors, go and talk to people,” Morfeld said. “… Find ways so that they become decision makers in whatever decision that you’re trying [to make].”

The senators also talked about advocating at the state level and the importance of contacting state senators.

University of Nebraska Omaha student government senator Sydney Rogers-Morrell said she learned more about state government from the speakers and also exchanged ideas about mental health and marketing on behalf of the student government from other students.

ASUN president Hunter Traynor and internal vice president Emily Johnson said they are proud of the event and its success.

“This exceeded expectations,” Traynor said. “For something that started as a loose idea in the office to wrapping up, I feel great about it.”