Students Take Political Plunge

Matt Ciepielowski

A group of Quinnipiac students stand together, in awe of the scene around them. More than 75,000 people pack the stands at Invesco Field, and it seems like every single one of them clutches an American flag. As Senator Barack Obama approaches the podium, the crowd explodes.
“In that moment you’re just thinking, ‘this is so surreal.’ You have to pinch yourself to believe you’re there,” said Hillary Federico, a sophomore journalism major.
This fall, Quinnipiac sent thirteen students to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado and three to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Scott McLean, a political science professor who runs the convention internship program, said that the trips helped students learn valuable lessons about themselves.
“They learned skills of taking the initiative, finding opportunities to meet important people, showing that they can go from very menial work at the convention to doing something very exciting and very important.
Some of the students came to have amazing opportunities and responsibilities because they worked hard and were reliable and they presented themselves as capable and eager,” said McLean.
McLean said that Quinnipiac has been sending students to the conventions since 2000. The trips are sponsored by The Washington Center, a nonprofit organization that provides students with political internships and academic seminars.
The program consisted of both an internship and classroom portion. The class featured guest lecturers, including Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado, a member of the Secret Service, and a production manager, who spoke about all facets of the Students also spent roughly six to eight hours a day working at their internships. Available internships ran the gamut from media giants, such as CNN and Fox News, to simple security work at the convention center. Naturally, this disparity between internships left some students satisfied and others disappointed.
On one hand, there were students like Federico, who worked with several media outlets, including Lifetime Television.
“They had several events throughout the duration of the week. The first event was sponsored, in part, by CosmoGirl magazine. Ten girls were invited as recipients of a grand prize from one of the magazine’s contests. Prominent journalists such as Arianna Huffington as well as congresswomen such as Connecticut’s Rosa DeLauro were present,” said Federico. “The last event was a red carpet event in which Ashanti performed.”
On the other hand, there were the students who were relegated to pass checking and ticket tearing. Quinnipiac sophomore Derek Stanley said, “I feel like we were misled a bit about the internships. I thought we would have direct access to the politicians.”
However, Stanley said that it was still a worthwhile trip, as the seminars were a helpful learning experience, and he was given very good seating for speeches by such high-profile politicians as Obama, vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Sophomore David Anstett said, “I got extremely lucky with my position. Most people who got my job were stuck outside, third floor or some place that didn’t allow them to be on the floor. Some people got extremely lucky and worked at CNN, which gave them an even better experience overall and put them in a position to get an internship over the summer. Overall I would recommend the trip but with the warning that it is exhausting. I think we averaged around three to four hours of sleep a night and we would be standing/walking around for ten hours a day.”
While there were some minor complaints about the internships, each student said they thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and would recommend it to others. Each of them came back with at least one story to share about meeting some of the most powerful and famous people in the United States. David Saponara shook hands with Joe Biden, Professor McLean watched a live taping of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and Sophomore Kathryn Goodleaf denied Mitt Romney entrance to the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Junior David Saponara summed up most of the attendees’ feelings about their experience saying, “I would definitely recommend this program to anyone who is interested in American electoral politics. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to even attend a convention, and being a part of the production of one is a very special thing that I will not soon forget.”