The Burton K. Wheeler Center for Public Policy – Unique river setting sets excellent tone for colloquium for young Montanans

It is often lamented that 20-somethings and 30-somethings – people who are the future of our communities and state — are some of the least engaged. To whatever degree the statement is accurate, encouraging more thoughtful discussion and involvement from young Montanans undoubtedly would help generate good ideas and move our state forward.

The problem, of course, is that reaching a younger audience can be challenging. Perhaps some of us feel disempowered or have not yet realized the extent to which our lives are shaped by social and government policies. Careers, families or other interests may take center stage instead. Or maybe it’s just that sitting around in a boardroom, or trying to wade through the political process, sounds tedious.

Rather than bemoaning the problem, the Burton K. Wheeler Center for Public Policy at Montana State University , which promotes civic discussion of critical statewide policy issues, chose to address it head on. The center, which is best known for holding two "traditional" conferences each year, put out a call last spring to Montanans under the age of 35 to sign up for a five-day "Envision Montana" summer colloquium. There, participants would lead and join in big-picture discussions on issues ranging from education to healthcare to energy to business to culture.

In a brilliant move, the center hooked the younger crowd by offering a killer conference setting: a clear mountain river that flows through a wilderness area.

Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

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