With the conference going full blast, we awoke early to get in a full day of learning, networking, and marketing Sam Houston State University!
NextGen Under 30 Breakfast
If your city suffers from a high percentage of brain drain and you are looking for a way to “honor, and retain talent,” then the NextGen Under 30 breakfast was the place to be. Across the nation, a lot of cities have experienced or currently have a brain drain problem. This is mostly seen in smaller cities that lose young individuals to larger cities with (1) universities and (2) a more competitive workforce. To combat this, Kansas joined the NextGen Under 30 Foundation which recognizes and honors young leaders and helps them become more engaged in their home state.
NextGen targets individuals who are 30 or younger and aids them with knowledge about their cities while providing them with a vast networking opportunity through various events. To be considered for this opportunity, you must not only be under 30 years of age, but you must also be nominated and complete the application process. All applicants are then considered, and the winners are selected by a group of judges who are business and civic leaders. The winners get the opportunity to meet the governor and lieutenant governor of the state, tour the capitol, and participate in an awards dinner and ceremony. The honorees have the opportunity to apply to become ambassadors for the following year and assist the upcoming winners.
Kansas State Senator Tom Hawk then welcomed comments and questions from the legislators.
However, the narrative was quickly turned over to us (the younger crowd) when one of the legislators asked to hear from us and what would compel us to stay in the area. The number one response to the question was “respect.”
My personal answer was upward mobility, in addition to respect.
Young people want to be able to grow and advance in the field that they go into and not remain stagnant through the course of the years. The lack thereof adds to the brain drainage in certain cities because there is either (1) no competitive work opportunities or (2) no mobility, even after a few years of working there. This dual lack of employment opportunities and career advancement makes it a simple decision when larger cities or even the private sector offer competitive employment opportunities.
The breakfast was not only a good opportunity to be heard and to network but also a nice start to our busy day! (Professor’s note: At lunch, a state representative came up to me and told me that the comments from Morgan helped him feel much better about the younger generation.)
Opening Session: Warm Welcome to Kansas
The LEAP Ambassadors received a warm Kansas welcome from Kansas State Senator Carolyn McGinn, Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple, Kansas State Senate President Ty Masterson, and Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman! All of these legislators shared interesting facts about Kansas. The most important fact that we learned is that Kansans do not speak of the Arkansas River in Kansas as the “Arkansaw” River. Calling it so, is a great indicator to the locals that you are not from the area because it is referred to as the “big river” and “little river”–or, maybe the “ArKansas River.” Along with its geography, Kansas is known as the air capital of the world! Kansas is the home of the Spirit Aerospace Headquarters and the National Institute of Aviation Research, a facility that Morgan and Jessica got to tour! Following this interesting detail, Mayor Whipple mentioned that Wichita is rated the #1 city to be single in and the worst city to date in (a prospect that excited Yvette greatly).
Dante Chinni, our keynote speaker and the Director and Founder of American Communities Project, specifically reviewed Kansas demographics and discussed how the statistical data are interpreted and utilized to highlight issues such as the benefits of Kansas’s manufacturing and the brain drain Kansas is experiencing.
More specifically, Chinni highlighted demographic characteristics such as exurbs, working-class counties, military posts, and college towns, etc. These data show that the Midwest consists of a highly complex terrain that defines easy understanding. Even within individual states, single policies can be difficult fits.
Along with demographic research, we were also shown economic differences and challenges. Coming out of COVID, new problems arose, such as population growth vs. decline, internal personal wealth, and internal community wealth. With these topics, Chinni emphasized the greater use of specific data such as the asset income per capita.
Hearing the data from Kansas allowed us to compare how our city Huntsville, TX, experiences brain drain. Our university facilitates brain gain with incoming students, but after graduation, a high percentage will leave to pursue their careers elsewhere in a more populated city that has much more job opportunities. This phenomenon leaves the City of Huntsville with a much bigger brain drain problem.
Aside from the obstacles Kansas must overcome, we can see the beauty Kansas has to offer and what it can produce to have a better Kansas and uplift our nation. I was fascinated to learn more about the state. I consider Kansas a great state to visit with its excellent hospitality.
Postsecondary Access and Affordability: Policy Options for States
Yvette and I made our way to the post-secondary access and affordability breakout session which was moderated by Senator Dietrich…
… and featured by Dr. Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. As a national expert on secondary education affordability, Dr. Baum was able to provide plenty of statistics to support her claims. Her point was very clear. Not only are we wanting to make colleges more affordable to students, but we want to keep them at a decent quality to have constant graduation rates. There have been frequent conversations about the possibility of college being free and whether that possibility could potentially lower the quality of the schools, which is something Dr. Baum is afraid of.
The statistics showed that more than half of the full-time students at public four-year institutions have their tuition and fees covered by grant aid. The obvious trend we see is that low-income households are not saving their money to put towards their child’s college career. This explains why most students at public colleges are depending on grant aids and loans. Many young people are not willing to go thousands of dollars into debt just to get a four-year education.
Our focus needs to be on helping low-income students become more aware of different financial aid options that will pay for their college. On their behalf, colleges need to, in some way, be accessible to everyone who is willing to put in the effort and work into programs, related to financial aid, that can help tremendously.
Luncheon with Legislators
Once the clock struck noon, we followed the hungry crowd toward the Redbud Ballroom for the featured presentation over lunch. Ashlyn and I sat at a table with State Senator Reynold Nesiba from South Dakota and Kansan State Senators Beverly Gossage and Kristen O’Shea (Senator O’Shea is the youngest female Senator in Kansan history!). Similarly, Yvette and Jessica sat at another table with a senator from Illinois.
Having asked plenty of questions of our own, the legislators were curious to know where we were from and soon enough, we found ourselves answering questions about LEAP and Sam Houston State! Before the presentation commenced, we were able to learn more about what each senator was passionate about, why they chose to become public servants, and asked for advice on running for office.
Soon after, Senator Carolyn McGinn made her way toward the stage and began introducing the guests of honor. The first guest of honor was Kansas Governor Laura Kelly. Governor Kelly expressed her gratitude for all the legislators in attendance and gave a shoutout to our neighbors in the north from Canada!
Unfortunately for us, she was unable to stay for the lunch, but as the past CSG National President, Governor Kelly knows the importance of attending conferences to learn as much as possible from others.
The next speaker put on quite the show! CSG national Chair, Washington State Senator Sam Hunt gave a brief CSG report. He reminded everyone to not forget that the national conference, hosted in Honolulu, Hawaii, is just a few months away. To emulate the spirit of the next host state, Senator Hunt stripped off his dress shirt and jacket–amid nervous twitters from the audience–and showed off his best Hawaiian gear, gear that was underneath his sports jacket!
Senator McGinn then introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. H. W. Brands, the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at UTA. Dr. Brands is a renowned author of 30 books covering American politics and history and two of his books were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.
Dr. Brands told us the stories of two completely different historical figures, with a common objective in mind: John Brown and Abraham Lincoln.
Both Brown and Lincoln shared abolitionist views but acted in very different ways. Dr. Brands explained that John Brown acted with violence and aggression, while Abraham Lincoln believed that the law and policy were the best avenues for change.
Dr. Brands did a great job of outlining why the men thought the way they did, and what implications their different perspectives had on the nation. It was a captivating lecture, and I’m sure the whole room cannot wait to read The Zealot and The Emancipator!
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
On the Second Family evening, Ashlyn, Yvette, Jessica, and I all experienced a new touristy trip with LEAP: a trip to the zoo! The Sedgwick County Zoo is the seventh largest in the United States and is home to 3,000 individual animals and 400 species.
Typically, a zoo groups species of animals based on the region they are from or the type of habitat they belong to. With cameras in tow, and knowing that we had the zoo for the evening, we scurried over towards the different habitats hoping to capture some great shots!
We were thrilled to see African giraffes graze on leaves…
…the running rhinos playing in their pen…
…and the zebras strolling lazily.
The meerkats were already posed to perfection and proved to be some great models!
As we wandered through the different continents, we eventually found the buffet meant for us! We had a great meal over which we shared our thoughts on the day’s sessions. While jokes were made, (ambassador note: mostly at our expense), we shared a few laughs and enjoyed gazing at the animals.
Despite missing out on the opportunity to touch and feed the stingrays, we enjoyed seeing the available exhibits in the Reptile and Amphibian room through the glass, except for the tortoise! The room was full of a wide array of different creatures from the rarest turtle in the world to recently fed snakes.
While in the room, we found it amusing that a turtle and a frog were playing a game of copycat, as humongous bullfrogs sat idle and lurking in the murky water.
The Cessna Penguin Cove exhibit was right around the corner and Jessica was eager to check it out. We quickly learned why: penguins are Jessica’s favorite birds! The zoo supplied many interesting facts and displays, but most insightful for us was the chart showing the different heights of the penguins. After some convincing (editor’s note: and some dragging) we learned how LEAP Ambassadors fit into the size up!
Stepping back into our childhoods for a lovely outdoor trip to the zoo was so much fun! Thank you to the Midwestern staff.