MARTIN, Tenn. — University of Tennessee at Martin students left their mark on the 45th General Assembly of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, Nov. 13-16, in Nashville. TISL is an annual event that provides college students with real-world experience about the workings of the Tennessee General Assembly. Among the UT Martin delegation’s accomplishments were earning TISL’s Carlisle Award for the second time and having three of nine delegates elected to the TISL executive council.
The proceedings include debates and lobbying for bills among delegates. Bills that pass at TISL move to the actual Tennessee General Assembly for consideration. Laws about meningitis vaccinations and seat belts originated from TISL student bills. The experience also includes an appellate moot court that benefits students considering law school. More than 40 colleges and universities participated, the most ever to attend TISL.
John Domanski, a junior political science major from Dickson and UT Martin’s current Student Government Association president, became involved in TISL almost from the time he arrived on the Martin campus and is an enthusiastic proponent of the experience. “My PEP leaders were both in TISL and really encouraged me to do it,” he said. Peer Enabling Program or PEP leaders are students selected to assist incoming freshmen in the transition to college life. Seeking and screening potential TISL members is an ongoing process.
“We do an application process, and usually a lot of people don’t hear about TISL, so we really have to search out (participants),” Domanski added. Good candidates for TISL include students who are good speakers and are interested in politics or media. Current members conduct interviews with potential members. Membership records over the years are not exact, but recruiting appears effective because this year’s 24-student delegation is possibly the largest ever from UT Martin and arguably one of the more successful.
Rikki Erwin, a freshman communications major from Brighton, brought home UT Martin’s second-ever Carlisle Award, which recognizes effectiveness in a delegate’s legislative chamber. Delegates who earn this award were effective speakers, successful in securing votes on legislation from other delegates, and placed motions strategically to either kill bills or bring them forward.
In addition, Domanski was named an outstanding senator, and the moot court team went to the semifinals for the first time in university history. “On top of everything else, we had three of the nine executive council officers for the state come straight from UT Martin, which is something that hasn’t been done in over a decade, … ” he said.
Domanski said that preparation for the General Assembly is a main reason UT Martin has experienced more success at TISL. In recent years, the university’s delegation is divided into specific areas for practice, such as media and legislative, and led by a chair with previous experience in the General Assembly. “So it’s a great way to make sure that all the new people get well prepared months ahead of time, whereas in the past we were only prepping a month before, …” he said.
The preparation paid off last year when Jamie Arnett, a May 2014 UT Martin graduate, became the first UT Martin student to be elected TISL governor since 1974. She was the first female governor from UT Martin, the first female governor since 2002, and only the fourth female governor in TISL history. Domanski sees many benefits of TISL membership, whether delegates are elected to office or simply participate in the proceedings.
“I think the best part about this experience is it’s something that I want to do in my future,” he said. “My final goal in my life is to become a U.S. senator, and even though this is on the state level you really get a good understanding of how our Tennessee legislature works, and I think it’s great to be able to get to meet people like (Tennessee) Secretary of State Tre Hargett. ... ”
The networking opportunities at TISL are also invaluable, he added, which includes “meeting people who are out there in the real world looking for internships and jobs on an everyday basis, which is a great opportunity for anyone at college.”
The UT Martin delegation is already planning for 2015 when the 46th General Assembly of TISL will be held Nov. 12-15. Domanski will return as a delegate for his senior year, and TISL will continue to receive guidance from Dr. Chris Baxter, longtime TISL faculty adviser.
PHOTO CAPTION: University of Tennessee at Martin students left their mark on the 45th General Assembly of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, Nov. 13-16, in Nashville. TISL delegates from UT Martin included John Domanski, Dickson, named an outstanding senator; Rachel Washburn, Summertown, elected to serve as the chief justice of the Tennessee Intercollegiate Supreme Court next year after serving as an associate justice this year; and Elizabeth Sanders, Smithville, elected to serve as secretary of state next year. Dr. Chris Baxter, associate professor of political science, is TISL faculty adviser.