NEIU Delegation to Model of Illinois Government Brings Back Award, Advice for Future Participants

NEIU was the only participating institution from Chicago in the event.

Erwin Lopez Rada, Sports Editor

NEIU Delegation from left to Right: Ryland Pietras, Alan Mares-Green, Brian Tran, Olga Shalaeva, Nikki Vangelista, Itzel Linares and Francys Munoz. Photo by Erwin Lopez Rada/The Independent

A group of NEIU students competed in the Model of Illinois Government (MIG) during the weekend of March 4, 2022 in Springfield, Illinois.

 

The tournament is a three-day simulation of the legislative government in the State of Illinois, that offers participants an in-depth look into the workings of Illinois state politics and the nuances of working in government. The simulation has been hosted in Springfield for 44 years without interruptions.

 

The NEIU delegation had a makeup of undergraduate students from the Student Government Organization (SGA) that participated as members of Congress or lobbyists with members of the Student Media Board covering the event as journalists. 

 

Ryland Pietras, undergraduate student and managing editor for The Independent, won the Kurtis L. Hermes Award for Outstanding Journalist during the weekend simulation. Pietras said about his award, “I went [to MIG] with the mindset of knowing that we will have to work a lot and be disciplined with our writing because we will have to post several articles a day, having that preconceived idea really helped.” He is the first NEIU winner in the competition since 2011. 

Ryland Pietras, Managing Editor for The Independent. Photo by Erwin Lopez Rada/The Independent

Pietras also said that the MIG experience of simulating the coverage of the government is valuable for journalism students since they rarely have a chance to do something similar on campus, “You need to be really disciplined and that is an important skill to develop,” he added.

 

Nikki Vangelista, NEIU’s Head Delegate, said that most participants in the Senate, where she represented Democrats, did not know what to do, and that the training was insufficient. For this reason the debate sometimes stalled. Still, her tone showed excitement when talking about the intricacies of government business and political negotiation.  

 

Alan Mares-Green, one of the SGA members, who participated as a Republican Senator, said about his experience: “It was a good learning experience. I am a not so conservative and I am undocumented, so I had to stay away from my own beliefs and that was weird,” he said, adding that “When we were discussing a drug legalization law, I just lost my train of thought and I did not know what to say because I actually believe that all drugs should be legalized and regulated and I had to defend the opposite position.”

 

Brian Tran, a SGA member that went to the simulation as Head Lobbyist said, “the experience is eye opening because you get to understand how government works and make yourself an idea on how local politics should work.” 

 

NEIU Delegation Should Prepare Better for Upcoming Participations

 

MIG 2022 was mired in organizational problems that hindered the participation of the delegates, like the change of venue a month before Opening Day, internet issues in the Wyndham Springfield City Centre Hotel, the place that hosted the event, and some logistical problems with scheduling.

 

Still Pietras believes that NEIU “should go again [to MIG] and prepare a month in advance, as it should be.”

 

Vangelista expanded on her reasons to go back to Springfield in 2023. She said the competition speeches “geared toward the white male perspective in most of the things.” Alluding to a moment during the simulation in which African American participants were not allowed to speak on African American issues by the Chair of the Senate and were accused of using the race card, a situation that forced Vangelista and a considerable part of the Democratic caucus to ponder abandoning the space where the debate was taking place. 

 

She said that coming back to MIG 2023 “it is kind of a social justice thing for us.” She asked for the support of faculty to prepare better for the next year.

    

Most members of the NEIU delegation supported this idea, with students agreeing that the NEIU delegation did well in the competition. Tran said the school did a good job “in spite of being one of the least prepared regarding knowledge of the bills introduced and debating procedures.” 

 

Mares-Green also alluded to the lack of diversity in the competition and the opportunities to steer the debates in a different direction as a reason to attend next year, “the competition needs somebody like me to bring more balance and diversity and make people think about other issues” he said, adding that he wants “to go back next year with a bigger delegation to see what damage we can do [on changing the debate].”