It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, as the saying goes. Access to policy makers in any level of government is a rare privilege. Seven University of New Mexico students were chosen earlier this year for a special opportunity to interact with national and international policymakers and experts as part of the 2014 Domenici Public Policy Conference. New Mexico State University (NMSU) hosts the conference and provides a venue for New Mexico’s students and politicos to discuss national and international policy issues.

Since it’s inception, the Domenici Conference has allowed any attendee to ask questions of speakers. However, the Domenici Institute, which is housed on NMSU’s campus, realized that students were not getting as much of a meaningful connection with the experts as expected. So conference organizers created the student panelist program to offer students the rarified opportunity to speak with the men and women who help to shape national policy.

Several UNM students were selected for the 2014 Domenici Public Policy Conference Student Panel including Rosstin Ahmadian, Melissa Auh, Emma Grazier, Megan Kashmer, Hunter Thompson, Xochitl Torres Small and Nicole Taylor.

Auh, UNM political science major, expressed that the experience has been “very humbling and thrilling.” Auh relayed that “it is important to have the student voice,” represented at the conference.

The Domenici Institute’s Advisory Council annually selects a group of Student Panelists that have been nominated by faculty and administrators of their respective schools. This year, 20 students from the state's universities and colleges were chosen to participate in the Domenici Student Panelist program.

Students were told that they were selected as panelists at the end of June. Panelists began researching for the meeting in July. The process was threefold; first, panelists researched the speakers they were assigned; second, entailed thorough research the topic; and finally, panelists used their research to formulate questions.

Emma Grazier, UNM economics major and lead researcher for the “Bipartisan Challenge in Washington” topic, collaborated with her team to formulate “solution based questions.” The key was to not to choose simple yes or no questions, but to “think in-depth about the current issues,” said Grazier.

Students selected to be panelists work in teams to research and develop questions for each speaker. Xochitl Torres Small, UNM School of Law student and panelist said, “no matter how good our questions started out, each of them improved through peer edits.” New Mexico’s students are “fortunate to have a program so invested in smart, informed dialogue that engages the community and supports scholarship,” said Torres Small.

The speaker lineup for this year’s conference includes former U.S. Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Leon Panetta, former U.S. counterintelligence head and inspector general of the National Security Agency Joel Brenner and national political strategists Donna Brazile and Charlie Black, among many others.

The 2014 Domenici Public Policy Conference, to be held on Sept. 17 – 18, 2014 costs $50 to attend. Online registration and more information, including a complete agenda, are available at The event is free for university students to attend. For more information or to register by phone, call the Domenici Institute at (575) 646-2066.