DES MOINES, Iowa – Ten Mercer University students are in Des Moines, Iowa, learning firsthand the dynamics of the presidential nominating process as they work on and observe the preparations of political campaigns for today's Iowa Caucuses.
Dr. Chris Grant, associate professor and chair of the Political Science Department, and Dr. Kevin Cummings, professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, accompanied the group of political science, communication studies and journalism students, who spent their first two days in Iowa observing candidates and the past three days working with the campaign of their choice. The students have gotten the opportunity to meet candidates, ask questions and work to get their favorite candidate elected.
Dr. Grant, who is incorporating the trip into his Presidential Primaries course this semester, wanted his students not only to learn the theory behind primary campaigns, but also to gain some hands-on experience working with the campaigns.
“This trip is one that has led me to feel more connected to our democratic system than I ever have. It has been such an eye-opening experience to see how much work, time and how many people it takes in order to get the citizens of Iowa out to caucus and start the most important process in this country,” said junior political science major Bonnie Whelan.
There is a service component to Dr. Grant's course. In addition to working on the campaigns, students will talk about their experiences in local schools upon their return to Macon.
“Coming to Iowa has given me a chance to see and do things I have only dreamed of. I have gotten a chance to see people I have only imagined seeing. There is a chance that I have seen the next president of the United States,” said junior political science and communication studies double-major Desirrae Jones, who added that she is eager to share her experiences with others who have not gotten to see the campaigns up close and personal.
“The trip to Iowa has truly been enlightening, and I am so grateful that I was able to have the opportunity to experience the caucuses firsthand,” said sophomore political science and psychology double-major Drew Bryant. “The people of Iowa were very welcoming, and Mercer University definitely rocked the campaigns. We knocked on many doors and made a lot of phone calls. I enjoyed every candidate's speech and event. The trip really has prepared me for my future in politics.”
This is not the first time Dr. Grant has traveled with students to the presidential primaries. However, he does acknowledge the uniqueness of this election.
“Never in the history of the nominating process have so many candidates competed representing such a diverse set of views,” he said. “Giving our students the chance to be a part of the history of the 2016 presidential election is a remarkable opportunity.”
Next week, Dr. Grant will take more students in his Presidential Primaries course to New Hampshire to observe the first-in-the-nation primary.
“This is the only chance Americans can have to truly witness presidential politics on an intimate basis,” he said. “After the first few nominating events, everything becomes mass rallies and media.”
The travel costs of the trip are supported by Mercer's Research that Reaches Out Quality Enhancement Plan begun last year and directed by Dr. Bridget Trogden, as well as a grant from the College of Liberal Arts under the direction of Dr. Keith Howard, interim dean.