SPA senior Nikolas Liepins was the driving force behind the first press conference for student-journalists with Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and members of his team on Friday, October 2.
The "Governor's Student Press Summit," which was televised on the Governor's YouTube channel, brought together student-journalists from across the state to participate in a press briefing about Minnesota's response to COVID-19. The briefing including Governor Walz, Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, Minnesota Department of Health Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann, and Minnesota Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Heather Muller, as well as 10 student-journalists from across the state. The students were seated in front of the professional media and asked the Governor and his team questions about COVID-19, the upcoming elections, distance and hybrid learning, and more.
The initial idea for the Student Press Summit came to Liepins—a photojournalist for SPA’s student publications—last spring when he noted the lack of student-journalist representation at COVID-19 press briefings with Governor Walz. "What inspired me was the need for youth voices to be heard and their concerns addressed,” Liepins says. "Like adults, students have questions they want answered, especially in these ever-changing times."
Liepins submitted his Summit proposal to the Governor's Office last spring, where it was enthusiastically received by the Governor’s media team. Planning for the event started later in the summer with the Governor's staff, who helped organize the day's logistics, and SPA Director of Publications Kathryn Campbell, who reached out to her Journalism Educators of Minnesota (JEM) cohort with a proposal for students to apply to participate in the event. Liepins and Campbell selected 10 students who represented five of Minnesota's eight congressional districts, as well as numerous types of student publications (newspapers, yearbooks, broadcasts, etc.). The 10 students included 3 from SPA—Liepens and classmates Annika Rock ‘21, who represented RubicOnline, and Julia Baron ‘21, who represented The Rubicon—and 6 student journalists from around Minnesota.
The briefing with Governor Walz on October 2 was a robust and wide-ranging 45-minute exchange that included questions from the students about the state’s COVID-19 response, school openings, and athletics during the pandemic. After the briefing, Walz, a former teacher, tweeted, "Even as a former social studies teacher, holding a press conference with student journalists was a first! Have to say I was impressed – but not surprised – by their tough and insightful questions."