Tech Student To Lead Panel At Policy Conference

Tech Student To Lead Panel At Policy Conference

Cassandra Sanchez Leading Mental Health Policy Discussion

SOCORRO, N.M. – University students from across the state are preparing to serve as this year's Domenici Public Policy Conference panelists, including Cassandra Sanchez of New Mexico Tech. Sanchez and 18 other university students have been busy for weeks, preparing for the important role they'll play during the conference, set for Thursday and Friday, Sept. 14 and 15, at the Las Cruces Convention Center.


Cassandra Sanchez


Sanchez is a master's student in environmental engineering, having completed her bachelor's at New Mexico Tech in December 2015. She went to high school in Los Lunas, N.M. 

Hosted by New Mexico State University's Domenici Institute for Public Policy, the annual conference will bring together policymakers and experts including former U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, former U.S. Congressman and mental health advocate Patrick Kennedy, political strategist James Carville and author Kristen Soltis Anderson.

Topics for the conference include some of today's most timely headlines, including police-community relations and the public trust; the state of mental health care and the criminal justice system; national security; and the coming presidential election.

Sanchez will lead the panel discussion linked to Patrick Kennedy's presentation.

"We've been preparing throughout the summer," Sanchez said. "We have researched the speaker, researched what he speaks and writes about, and the topics he is concerned with. We then came up with questions, mostly related to mental health issues in New Mexico, that we can ask the speaker."

Patrick Kennedy, the son of Ted Kennedy, served 16 years as a Congressman representing Rhode Island. Patrick Kennedy has had his own history of addiction and recovery. He crashed his vehicle on Capitol Hill in May 2006 and pleaded guilty to drunk driving charges later that year.

Kennedy has long been an advocate for mental health and addiction issues. He was the chief sponsor of one of the major pieces of legislation of 2008, the Mental Health Parity Act, which required most health plans to provide coverage for the treatment of mental illnesses in a comparable fashion to physical illnesses.

Sanchez said she's looking forward to taking part in a leadership conference that discusses public policy.

"It'll be interesting to witness the conversation and be a part of it," she said. "This topic is not something I've studied before, so it'll be eye-opening to see different aspects of mental health policy and see it addressed by policy makers."

She said the conference presents a good learning experience for potential future leadership positions.

"I think I'll eventually end up in a leadership role and I want to take the necessary steps to get there," Sanchez said. "Mostly, I like to be a part of things like this because public speaking is something that is not very easy for me. It's always a little uncomfortable, but I force myself into these situations. It's good to have exposure and break out of my comfort zone."

With new information emerging daily for many topics, the students have been required to adapt their lines of questioning. Only students can ask questions, reinforcing an important theme of the conference – that the concerns of the next generation matter and are worth hearing.

NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers, who is also director of the Domenici Institute, said that sense of empowerment from the student panelists is an enjoyable part of the conference experience for the presenters, as well.

"We're proud of the caliber of speakers we are able to bring in for the conference, but we're even more proud of the caliber of student panelists who commit to participating," Carruthers said. "Our speakers always comment on how much they enjoy interacting with some of the top undergraduate and graduate scholars in New Mexico."

The Domenici Student Panelist program is supported again this year by a $10,000 sponsorship from U.S. Bank, which will provide each student panelist with a $250 U.S. Bank Visa gift card and cover the cost of the students' hotel accommodations in Las Cruces. Students will also participate in an orientation dinner the evening before the conference.

Registration for the 2016 Domenici Public Policy Conference is $75, but free for university students. Online registration and more information, including a complete agenda, are available at domenici.nmsu.edu. For more information or to register by phone, call the Domenici Institute at 575-646-2066.

The conference is supported by generous contributions from regional and national sponsors. For more information about conference sponsors, visit the sponsor page at domenici.nmsu.edu.

– NMT –