UI biology students to cap off course by briefing Urbana officials on bills

UI biology students to cap off course by briefing Urbana officials on bills

CHAMPAIGN — As part of their final project, students in UI Professor Alexandra Harmon-Threatt's Conservation Biology course will be briefing Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin and the city council Tuesday morning about 12 bills currently in the state assembly.

The students' briefs are meant to inform legislators about environmental concerns including pollinator conservation, pollution control, storm-water management and urban farming. They'll have 10 minutes to present their briefs to Marlin at the Natural History Building.

"The goal of the final project is to have the students translate their environmental concerns into policy," Harmon-Threatt said. "It's for them to think about and look into the scientific research and fact-based arguments. We can do the science, but if we don't translate that to things people or legislators understand, then we can't deal with those issues."

Harmon-Threatt divided her class into 12 groups and assigned one bill to each. Then she tasked them with writing four-page briefs that they will present Tuesday.

Because the class is mostly for biology majors, Harmon-Threatt decided to focus on teaching her students how to relay information on the subject to the public, something she said biology programs don't teach enough these days.

As an elected official herself, Marlin emphasized the importance of being able to talk to people like her.

"You have to know how to talk with legislators. That's key," she said, adding that although she often gets requests from journalism students who are working on projects, she hasn't gotten a request quite like this one. "I try to accommodate as many of the student requests as possible since it's important to engage with young people on this."

The students have been working closely with the Illinois Environmental Council, which last week held an Environmental Lobby Day at the Capitol for 10 of their priority bills as legislators in Springfield finished off this session.

Tuesday will serve as a way for the students to learn real-world ways to address environmental concerns they have been talking about all semester.

"If we don't have the policies in place to mitigate the behaviors, then we can't move conservation practices further," Harmon-Threatt said.