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Student leaders converge on campus

Madeline Buckley | Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Student body president Bob Reish said the Intercollegiate Symposium – a conference between student government representatives from Midwest universities that took place at Notre Dame this weekend – is an “investment in the future” for the student body.

“I think the conference went better than expected for a conference in its first year,” Reish said. “I think each school brought a different perspective that we could relate to.”

The conference involved six breakout sessions in which representatives from Vanderbilt University, Washington University in St. Louis, Purdue University, Northwestern University and Notre Dame exchanged ideas about how student government should work, Reish said.

Student body vice president Grant Schmidt, who will take his position as student body president Wednesday, said the symposium offered many ideas for improving student government.

“Something Northwestern does really well is offering an evaluation of off-campus housing options,” he said.

Schmidt said he has since looked into creating a similar evaluation system for students living off-campus to complete. This system would offer an online store of information about the different apartment complexes and housing areas for students who are thinking about moving off-campus.

Student body vice president-elect Cynthia Weber, who will also take office Wednesday, said the representatives exchanged information about how student government can connect with the student body.

“Northwestern has fireside chats which take student government into the residence halls,” Weber said. “They provide snacks and talk with students about things, not even necessarily about student government. It’s a great outreach effort.”

Schmidt said the representatives from Purdue said their student government offers free legal consultations for students, something he said he is interested in pursuing.

Reish said Purdue’s legal offerings include “know your rights business cards” and legal resource days devoted to giving out information.

“It is simple but effective,” Reish said. “It would be interesting to see if we can follow up with that.”

Weber said student government will hold the symposium again next year.

“The conference was under 24 hours and all of us learned a lot in those 24 hours,” she said. “All of the universities we invited expressed genuine interest in doing it again.”

Schmidt said he hopes to expand the conference next year and invite more universities to participate, although the conference will remain among Midwest schools and “peer institutions” that are similar to Notre Dame academically.

Reish said the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University are schools that could be included next year.

Next year’s conference will most likely be held at Notre Dame as well, but ideally, the schools will eventually rotate in hosting the symposium, Reish said.

Schmidt said the timing of the conference was especially beneficial because both the outgoing student leaders and the incoming student leaders were able to participate.

Reish and the current chief executive assistant Karen Koski attended the symposium along with Schmidt, Weber and the incoming chief of staff Ryan Brellenthin.

“I think having the old administration and the new administration there is extremely important,” Schmidt said.

One of the most beneficial aspects of the conference was forging personal connections with leaders from other universities, Schmidt said.

“This was an opportunity to put a face to a name,” he said. “We’ve already gotten an e-mail from the student body president of Vanderbilt.”

Weber said the symposium helped create lines of communication between student government leaders of Midwest universities, and Notre Dame will be able to benefit from the shared ideas.

“It’s surprising how many issues are parallel at the schools,” she said. “We got a lot of ideas about how to better serve the student body.”