We recently talked with Elias Benjelloun, the Student Body President of the Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV CSUN). He spoke to us about a recent lobby day attended by Nevada students from across the state. Please tell us your name and current position in student government. Please also tell us a little bit about who you are: your year, area of study, any other background info you’d like to share. My name is Elias Benjelloun and I serve as the undergraduate Student Body President of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I represent the 23,000 undergraduates at UNLV and oversee a $1.2 million annual budget. I am graduating this semester with my degree in biology and plan on pursuing graduate programs here at UNLV where I can continue serving my local communities. How did you get involved in CSUN? When I heard in 2012 that CSUN decided to spend nearly $200,000 on a concert that ultimately served only 1,100 students yet failed to recoup any of those funds back, I realized it was high time to bring in a wave of responsible spending and programming to our student government. I ran for Senator of the College of Sciences and later as President to ensure that we manage our funds effectively in sustainable ways while managing programs and events that will benefit our campus for years to come. Where did the idea come from to hold a statewide student lobby day? Which schools participated? Four years ago our predecessors held a rally in Carson City to oppose statewide budget cuts to the Nevada System of Higher Education. Over 1,000 students joined hand in hand to protest the governor’s budget cuts. This legislative session, the Governor has proposed in his budget steps that would enhance higher education throughout Nevada, including the building of a medical school at UNLV. We believe it is essential that we maintain a presence in Carson City as much as possible. Quoting a good friend of mine and former CSUN Legislative Director, Daniel Waqar: “These decisions will be made with or without us by the table. It is our job to ensure students are at the table.” UNLV collaborated on the lobby day with the College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College, Truckee Meadows Community College, and students from the University of Nevada Reno. What issues did students lobby on? Why are these issues important? We lobbied on a variety of issues. UNLV CSUN focused on an expansion in the Millennium Scholarship to cover up to 15 credits, rather than the current 12 credits. This ensures that recipients of the scholarship can be sponsored to take up to 15 credits (the amount recommended to graduate on time in four years). The four-year graduation rate is dismal in Nevada and we must take a comprehensive approach to improve that so our students can graduate and join the workforce – ultimately contributing to the economy – as quickly as possible. We also supported a $27 million earmark for the establishment of a medical school at UNLV, among other earmarks to improve higher education in infrastructure, faculty support, and student resources such as scholarships. What were the goals for the lobby day? Were those goals met? The goal was to make a strategic presence and have students organized to speak with as many members of the legislature as possible. We split our students up into teams of 4 and designated a team leader from each group. Teams were delegated specific meetings with members of the legislature and reported back to myself and our PR Director on the results of those meetings, so we could keep track of our supporters and those who may need more convincing to support higher education. Each team also maintained a strong social media presence through Facebook and Twitter with the hashtags #NVED15 and #BeHeard. It was also a goal to train the future leaders of student government so that they are equipped to sustain these activities in the future. With over 50 representatives from student government having gone to Carson City at least once, we are assured that goal has been met. What are the next steps in this effort? We will continue a strong and vocal presence with the legislature. We are organizing two additional trips in April. One will be a small group of students who will fly up for specific meetings to maintain our presence, and the other trip will be another bus drive to Carson City in an attempt to meet with as many representatives as possible.  What were the biggest challenges with organizing the lobby day? Lessons learned? We had thought the biggest challenge was going to be keeping the teams organized. Fortunately, our leadership (both junior and senior) excelled at keeping to their plans. If there was something we would have done differently, that would be to set up a lot more meetings with members of the legislature. What advice would you give to student leaders in other states who want to hold a similar lobby event? We’re all really “green behind the ears.” Don’t underestimate yourself or your students. Remain organized, and keep track of logistics (travel, stay, food, meetings, etc.). Ensure you have a clear command and team stucture for effective reporting and effective assessments to pass on to future leadership. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions at Elias.Benjelloun@Unlv.edu.