Student panelists prepare for important role at Domenici Public Policy Conference

September 9, 2015 by Amanda Bradford, NMSU News Center

They’ve been working together all summer, conducting research and formulating thoughtful questions, and now a panel of students from across New Mexico are making their final preparations for their role in the 2015 Domenici Public Policy Conference, hosted by New Mexico State University on Sept. 16 and 17 at the Las Cruces Convention Center.

New Mexico State University student Kathryn Sanchez questions a panel of experts on the bipartisan challenge in Washington during the 2014 Domenici Public Policy Conference.

New Mexico State University student Kathryn Sanchez questions a panel of experts on the bipartisan challenge in Washington during the 2014 Domenici Public Policy Conference.

The student panelists come from NMSU, University of New Mexico, Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Tech and Western New Mexico University, and were nominated by faculty and administrators at their schools and selected by a committee of the Domenici Institute’s Advisory Council.

Working together in teams throughout the summer, the students have developed questions for each speaker at the conference, receiving guidance and feedback along the way from committee members. This year’s lineup of speakers includes former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, and former U.S. Ambassador to Syria and Algeria Robert Ford, among many others.

Bethany Blundell, of Las Cruces, a senior at NMSU majoring in journalism, communication studies and Spanish, said preparing for the conference has required a lot of research and thinking outside of the box.

“I wanted to participate as a panelist because I knew that it would challenge me to learn about subjects I may not already be acquainted with,” Blundell said. “I’m looking forward to meeting all the other panelists and talking more about our experiences and our topics.”

Political science and history major Brad Sedillo, of Albuquerque, a junior at UNM, said he’s been impressed by the freedom his team has had to set the direction for their work and explore their ideas.

“The faculty and staff on the panelist committee have provided excellent guidance throughout the process, but they haven’t dictated or controlled the direction we have taken the research and the formulation of questions,” he said. “That independence has allowed my group to work very well with each other, and we’ve been able to share concerns and critiques to produce better questions.”

NMSU President Garrey Carruthers, who is also director of the Domenici Institute, said the panelists’ role as the audience’s voice during the conference is empowering, and it’s an important part of the experience for everyone – including the speakers.

“These students get an opportunity to ask questions of some of the top policymakers and analysts of our time, and along they way, they discover a lot about themselves and the world,” Carruthers said. “Every year, speakers make it a point to tell us how impressed they were by the poise and preparedness exhibited by our student panelists.”

Constance Williams, of Clovis, a graduate student in social work at Western New Mexico University, said she’s excited by the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the national dialogue on important topics.

“As a professional in social work, I’ve seen firsthand how policy can impact people’s lives,” Williams said, “yet most people don’t realize their potential to impact policy.”

The Domenici Student Panelist program is supported again this year by a $10,000 sponsorship from U.S. Bank, which will provide each student panelist with a $250 U.S. Bank Visa gift card and cover the cost of the students’ hotel accommodations in Las Cruces. Students will also participate in an orientation dinner the evening before the conference.

“Supporting the student panelist program is really rewarding for us, because we feel it’s an extremely valuable part of the Domenici Public Policy Conference,” said Craig Buchanan, market president for U.S. Bank in Las Cruces. “The dialogue panelists create with their questions adds a lot to the conference experience.”

Alfred Valdez, an NMSU associate professor in special education and communication disorders and head of the selection committee, said the students have already shown that they’re great collaborators and researchers.

“Preparing for the conference takes quite a bit of independent effort by each of our students,” Valdez said. “They play a unique role as the only members of the audience who will pose questions to each of the speakers. While this is a considerable responsibility, it’s also an amazing opportunity for our students.”

The conference itself is supported by generous contributions from regional and national sponsors. For more information about conference sponsors, visit the sponsor page at

The 2015 Domenici Public Policy Conference costs $50 to attend. Online registration and more information, including a complete agenda, are available at The event is free for university students to attend. For more information or to register by phone, call the Domenici Institute at 575-646-2066.

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