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Political involvement on campus

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The 2012 presidential election put Drake in the center of the political spotlight during the past fall semester.

Drake was chosen to hold a National Republican Debate with candidates Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. The combination of the Republican debate and the Iowa Caucuses brought several political opportunities to Des Moines, a privilege that would be hard to come by at other schools, professors and students noted.

“I don’t think students grasp the opportunities that are afforded to them — at least in the political world,” said sophomore politics student Alex Latcham. “A lot of them don’t realize how great Drake is and how conducive it is to a career in politics. If you want to go in politics, it’s fantastic.”

Latcham helped out with Sarah Palin rallies in Iowa during the summer of 2011. This fall, professor Rachel Paine Caufield delegated Latcham the duty of finding politicians to come to campus.

Bachmann spoke on campus in October, and after helping to organize the event, Latcham was asked to join the campaign staff. Eventually, he became the director of college outreach for Iowa.

For four and a half months he worked with Bachmann’s campaign anytime she was in Iowa, which Latcham said was the majority of the time.

“It was very fast paced,” he said of the campaign. “I was given a lot of responsibility. There was a lot of stress, and you know the reporters were right there to document every move.”

Latcham said helping out with Bachmann’s 99-county tour was the most stressful part of his experience.

“We had the 10 stops, but if we were late by five minutes for every stop, we’d be 50 minutes late to the last stop,” Latcham said. “It was a pretty impressive feat.”

While Latcham was able to work on a specific campaign, several students got involved through events on campus such as the Republican debate, which took place in Sheslow Auditorium on Dec. 10.

Senior news/Internet major Ann Schnoebelen and sophomore politics and international relations major Alex Shaner both interned with ABC News for the debate. They ran errands and helped with preparation, and Schnoebelen even stood in for Bachmann during a practice debate for the camera and lighting crew.

“It was really interesting to see behind the scenes,” Shaner said. “It seems very seamless, but it takes a lot of time and preparation.”

The Republican debate brought national media coverage to Des Moines.

“Drake is unique in the way that we only have 3,000 students, but that one week in December, Drake is the center of the Republican Party,” Shaner said.

Latcham said the debate was a rare and exciting opportunity for the entire student body, not just for those interning.

“I think it’s kind of a testament to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status,” Latcham said. “That is huge for Drake. Had Drake been in any other state, I don’t think we would’ve been afforded an opportunity like the debates.”

In addition to ABC News, Schnoebelen worked with Caufield on the Iowa Caucus Project. The project is an online resource for people wanting to learn more about the Iowa caucus process. Schnoebelen revamped the website, wrote content, interviewed Iowans, took pictures and completed other tasks to inform citizens about the political process.

After working with the Iowa Caucus Project and ABC News, Schnoebelen obtained a position with the Associated Press for caucus night. Her responsibilities were limited to helping out if something went wrong, but she said observing the newsroom and networking with other journalists was an irreplaceable experience. Some of the people she met included Chuck Todd, David Gregory and reporters from The Washington Post and the Des Moines Register.

“It was like a J-schooler’s celebrity dream come true,” Schnoebelen said.

Like Schnoebelen, Shaner had multiple internships. In addition to ABC News, he worked for the Iowa Democratic Party.

“When you see the caucus on TV, you see very little of the preparation,” Shaner said. “While it would have been nice to be able to attend, I enjoyed the preparation much more.”

Politics major Katy Jones, who graduated in December, interned with the Iowa Democratic Party as well and now works there full time. Through her internships, she gained valuable experiences with skills relatable to each specific job. She said the most beneficial has been having an inside look at the government, something she has carried over into her current job.

“I think it’s interesting to take the theories we’ve learned in classes and apply them into it, especially with campaigns and how voters work,” Jones said.

Students without internships still had many ways to become involved in the political hype. Drake’s Student Senate’s 2012 Election ad hoc committee conducted the largest student straw poll to date, and students were able to meet Bachmann and Romney’s son, Josh, at campus events. Students were picked out of a drawing for seats at the national Republican debate and could apply to sit in on a broadcast of “ABC World News” with Diane Sawyer.

With such considerable opportunities available to students, Schnoebelen urged students to step out of their comfort zones and try to get involved.

“I think a lot of students are apprehensive and don’t know if they have the experience necessary to work for someone or make that phone call,” Schnoebelen said. “But you never gain that experience unless you start looking for that experience. If you really want to learn more and develop professionally, then there are few better places for politics and journalism students than in Des Moines.”

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