University invites Alaska youth to meet about future

Young people would brain-storm solutions to five challenges facing state at conference

Posted: Thursday, October 13, 2005

As the 50th anniversary of Alaska's 55 founders signing the state constitution approaches, the University of Alaska is seeking the same number of delegates to recreate another brain-storming session among young people.

The first-of-its-kind Conference of Young Alaskans will meet in Fairbanks in January to discuss five challenges the state faces. Organizers are still accepting self-nominations for anyone between ages 16 and 25.

"Everyone has high hopes for what this can be. But it will all depend on the delegates," said Juneau resident Patrick Race, who belongs to a committee overseeing the four-day event.

Alaska, and Juneau in particular, suffers from a so-called "brain drain" with young people leaving Alaska for college education or employment, said Juneau resident Meagan Gleason, also one of the organizers.

The conference will serve two purposes. Eager minds can learn about the political process and steer their careers toward being active in the state. And Alaska's leaders will have an opportunity to understand issues important to young people.

"The great thing about this is we actually have an opportunity to hear young people's concerns," Gleason said.

After rounds of debate, the conference agenda calls for the group to create policy statements and proposed action. Gleason said Alaska's congressional delegation and state lawmakers are interested in the outcomes.

The five topics of discussion are the quality of education, healthy communities and families, creating leaders, responsible development of resources and reviving the Alaska spirit.

"Our hope is that with each of those focus areas, they can come up with actual ideas that can be implemented for change," Race said.

Applicants are asked to submit online a form and an essay about their vision for Alaska. Nominations are due Oct. 28 and finalists will be announced Nov. 11.

Packets will be sent to delegates so they can prepare thoughts on each topic.

The conference is accepting high school and college students and recent graduates with some employment experience. Race said organizers ideally want to gather a wide range of people from different parts of the state and with various backgrounds.

So far, the conference has about 50 applications. About 174 Alaskans applied to be a part of the 1955 state constitutional convention. Race hopes twice as many young people apply.

The conference is a project of Creating Alaska, a program formed by the university to promote the historical significance of the work that went into writing the state's constitution.

Through oral history interviews, program coordinator Joseph Hardenbrook learned from surviving signers of the constitution their one regret was that, "Alaska became too normal, too quickly."

Organizers chose the topic "reviving the Alaska spirit" so young people can discuss what makes Alaska unique, worth living and working here and if the state has strayed away from the ideals held by its pioneers, Hardenbrook said.

The university plans to track the success of the delegates attending the conference. Gleason said there is interest in hosting it again during the next five or 10 years.

The event will run Jan. 13-16 and those interested in applying can visit http://www.alaska.edu/coya.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com

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