University sends ISS delegates to Association of Big Ten Students Winter Conference

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Senator Dick Durbin, one of the keynote speakers at ABTS Winter Conference, speaks.

By Charlotte Collins

The University sent eight representatives from the Illinois Student Senate to collaborate with other Big Ten schools at this year’s winter conference for the Association of Big Ten Students, ABTS. Student delegates discussed campus and student government related issues at the event, held at Northwestern University from Friday until Sunday.

The association’s mission is to create a network for student government leaders to share ideas within the conference and to “serve as the active collective voice of students” of the Big Ten Conference. They seek to achieve this goal through bi-annual conferences, an annual conference geared toward federal lobbying in Washington D.C. and year-round communication among the 14 schools regarding the improvement of student government operations and general campus concerns.

Matt Hill, vice president-external, was one of eight representatives delegated to attend the conference from ISS. He said he believes ABTS is gaining influence, and that its conferences put the universities in a position to communicate and network.

“The momentum ABTS is building as an organization is becoming really big,” Hill said. “The collaboration that is going on between the Big Ten is going to be unprecedented because we have such a core set of student government leaders across the Big Ten right now. All the ideas we shared and learned will be huge going forward.”

Kevin Harris, vice president of community relations for Northwestern’s student senate and coordinator for the 2015 Winter Conference, believes the conference met the goals it sought, particularly in terms of attendance. 

“It was the second time ever we had all 14 Big Ten student governments represented, the largest number of delegates ABTS has ever had, at 92,” Harris said. “It went a long way in terms of collaboration, and we got a lot of great feedback from everyone that came.”

The conference is organized into breakout sessions and keynote speakers. Among the keynote speakers this year was Sen. Dick Durbin. 

Mitch Dickey, ISS president, said he believes the conference produced valuable information to take back to campus, including student government’s relations with the community.

“A takeaway (of mine) was buffing up community relations outside of just the campus area; our student government hasn’t done a good enough job of that in comparison to some of the other universities,” Dickey said. “Coming back, a lot of us were excited to start talking about getting involved with the city councils and the mayors, as well as with the rest of the community.”

Looking forward, Dickey said Illinois will most likely be sending students to Washington, D.C. in the spring to lobby at a conference. Harris said the ABTS Winter Conference focused in part on preparing students for the spring lobbying event.

He said the annual lobbying conference, called the Big Ten on the Hill event, is “a collective way to lobby for higher education issues” and meet with White House and Department of Education representatives.

Students will be selected to participate in the lobby event in April.

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected]