A new competition for Michigan students offers not only prizes, but also the chance to present legislators with their unique solutions to issues facing the state.
The Students Reinventing Michigan contest is open to in-state college and high school students, working in groups, individually or under the direction of an advising instructor to research and write a legislative proposal that addresses an area of concern for the state. The contest, which is accepting proposals until Nov. 15, features a $10,000 grand prize, a $5,000 second-place prize, ten $500 third place prizes and a $4,000 instructor prize. All will be awarded in January 2012. The winning proposal will be presented to state legislators in Lansing.
The sponsoring nonprofit organization, the Students Reinventing Michigan Corporation, was founded by Jim Shea and his wife Linda earlier this year. Shea said that the motivation for beginning the contest was to help increase the retention of educated residents, who are often forced to seek available jobs outside of the state, by reinvigorating job creation.
“We want to help Michigan’s recovery,” Shea said. “We want to keep … families intact and create jobs, focusing especially on our young people.”
Shea, who is financing the prizes, worked as a contractor on Michigan highways for many years, which he said helped lead to the selection of this year’s topic, “Ways the legislature can improve Michigan’s infrastructure with public support in challenging times.” The student proposals will be judged by a bi-partisan panel of state lawmakers who sit on committees pertaining to transportation and infrastructure.
With proper funding, Shea said nearly 250,000 jobs could be created to help deal with infrastructure issues such as road construction and maintenance. However, Shea said the public is often resistant to spending increases concerning infrastructure because it is often associated with higher taxes.
“It’s difficult because there are so many facets to what seems like a simple project,” Shea said. “There are probably a hundred reasons why we are doing this and why it’s a good thing. We are hoping for a multiplier effect to change public opinion by educating them. This project will hopefully increase awareness on a grassroots level.”
Shea said there has already been a high level of interest in the competition amongst students, educators and legislators. He would like to see the competition continue on in future years by focusing on other tough issues facing the state and by encouraging the learning experience young people receive through working with lawmakers.
“It’s a good way to teach people stuff that there’s no way on God’s earth to learn otherwise,” Shea said. “It makes a stronger state if we’ve got smarter people. The folks participating in this will be a big part of the state’s turnaround.”
Harvey Wallace, the interim dean of NMU’s College of Professional Studies, said that the contest will not only give students a chance to gain practical experience, but also afford them an opportunity get involved with the legislative process.
“If the students aren’t involved, who should be?” Wallace said. “Students are our future, and they will play an important role in the future of our state.”
Wallace said that the NMU faculty could be a valuable resource for students entering the competition because of the wide variety of specializations and areas of focus that could help strengthen proposals.
“It’s really a student project. The faculty will facilitate in a way that will apply to topics here, from creative writing to government or engineering technology,” Wallace said. “The students in those programs will have a different perspective on the kinds of policies that they’d like to influence and faculty will help them clarify those perspectives.”
Brad Smith, a sophomore physics major at NMU, is working on a proposal that focuses on cutting costs and enforcing stricter time limits in relation to infrastructure development, which he said will increase both efficiency and public support.
Smith said he entered the competition because he wanted to have an effect on how things are done in the state.
“It’s important for students to be involved in these discussions,” Smith said, because they bring “a younger generation’s view on how to change things into a more modern day setting.”
For more information about the competition and how to enter, visit www.studentsreinventingmichigan.com.