State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) brought together dozens of high school students from across the 59th Senate District to participate in his annual Youth Advisory Council March 15, a unique opportunity for area students to learn about leadership, state government and public policy.
“This is one of my favorite events to host each year, bringing together students to engage with one another and providing a platform for them to get involved and learn more about state government and leadership,” said Sen. Fowler. “While hosting it virtually makes the event look different, it didn’t take away from the passion, interests and enthusiasm our students have for learning about government and how they can become leaders in their communities.”
“It is important for students to participate in events like Senator Fowler’s Youth Advisory Council so that we can not only learn from the Senator and other local community leaders, but also so that they can hear from us and get an understanding of what our concerns are regarding the issues that we face as youth in Illinois today,” said Caden Cockburn, a senior at Johnston City High School.
As with Sen. Fowler’s fall Youth Advisory Council, his spring session was also hosted virtually. Students from Anna-Jonesboro, Benton, Carrier Mills, Century, Cobden, Crab Orchard, Eldorado, Hamilton County, Harrisburg, Johnston City, Joppa, Pope County, Vienna, Zeigler-Royalton, Gallatin, Goreville, Frankfort Community, Marion, Shawnee Jr. Sr. High, and Herrin participated. Students were chosen based on recommendations made by area administrators and local educators.
As part of the event, Sen. Fowler invited local community leaders and government officials to speak to the students, including Jeff McGoy, the Director of Exploratory Student Advisement Center for Learning Support Services at Southern Illinois University; Dale Righter, Chief of Staff of the Illinois State Senate Republican Caucus; Colleen Callahan, Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources; and Patrick Barry, lobbyist at Phelps Barry & Associates.
“Today’s Youth Advisory Council meeting was enlightening. Senator Fowler’s character shone through as he poured out support and well wishes to all in the chat,” said Aubrey Fisher, a senior at Cobden High School. “I was given the opportunity to speak with individuals in various roles of government, including the chief of staff for the Republican Caucus, giving me well-meaning ears to hear my concerns. The ability to engage in such activities reminds me just how wonderful our region is and the potential that lies within us all.”
Sen. Fowler also spoke about his experience as an area businessman, state legislator and philanthropist in Southern Illinois. He also discussed his ongoing projects in Southern Illinois, including the Cairo River Port project, updates to Illinois state parks and the Golconda Job Corps.
“You learn so much by surrounding yourself with people you respect and people who motivate you, which is how I chose my speakers,” said Sen. Fowler. “I wanted to bring together a diverse group of leaders both at the local and state level to inspire these students and share their varying experiences with leadership and state government.”
“It is important for students to be engaged and involved in the policy-making process with the state government because today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders,” said Zachary Oates from Marion High School. “Now why that is important this early in the game is because building good character and building key leadership skills at this age will make fitting into leadership roles much easier.”
Students were also asked to participate in a roundtable discussion about pursuing careers and education in the region and the biggest challenges they confront in that pursuit. In past years, students would have visited the Capitol to witness legislative session in person and participate in a mock Senate committee hearing.
“While I’m looking forward to the time when we can bring students together in person for this event, I’m so grateful that we were still able to make this event possible this year,” said Sen. Fowler.