Roanoke College students take to campaign trails for Republican and Democratic candidates
"Just because you don't take an interest in politics, doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you."
Quoting the Greek statesman Pericles, Dr. Todd Peppers, associate professor of public affairs at Roanoke College, reminds his students that politics, government and law affect the lives of everyone. "And you may find that if you're not proactive and involved, you may be affected in ways you don't like," he says.
Roanoke College students from across the political spectrum are getting involved in local, state and national politics - from the City of Roanoke mayoral campaign to Virginia General Assembly and Congressional races to the presidential election.
"I've always been a political junkie," says Meghan Brinkley '12, whose passion for politics was stoked during her experience last summer in the Washington Semester Program, in which students explore their interests and gain real-world experience in the nation's capital. "I've always loved politics, always been a little involved. But it became an obsession in D.C. last summer and I wanted to keep it up," she says.
Brinkley spent last fall interning for Virginia Del. Charles Poindexter's campaign for re-election to the 9th District seat in the state House of Delegates. Poindexter, R-Franklin County, defeated Ward Armstrong, D-Henry County, in a heated incumbent race. "Being a part of the Poindexter team gave me hands-on experience learning the basics of campaigning on one of the biggest state campaigns in Virginia," Brinkley says.
Evelyn Clark '15 agrees. She interned last fall for the re-election campaign of Virginia Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.
"There are some experiences you just can't get inside the classroom," says Clark. "I have loved being involved in the electoral process while learning about it in my public policy class."
"As the main intern for communication between the campaign and Roanoke College, I ran a phone bank on campus and communicated with the field director to organize events for students," Clark says. "Phone banking and going door-to-door on campaigns incorporated my academics."
Courses in public policy made it easier to interpret the policies voters ask about. "Since I understood the issues, I could better portray our candidate's stance to constituents," Clark says.
Josh Ferrier, '13 worked in Washington, D.C. last semester with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and now he works as a field organizer in Southwest Virginia for President Barack Obama's campaign.
He says classes and campaign experience have informed his understanding of the political process. "You put all the pieces together. You see how policy is made, influenced, enacted and enforced."
"You don't look at the news in the passive way you used to," adds Kathleen Haugen '12, who has interned for U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and worked with John Edwards' Virginia Senate campaign. "You have a better understanding of what went behind the action."
Working on the campaign trail is hard work - Brinkley estimates she spent 30 hours a week volunteering, on top of classes - but rewarding work, students say.
"I really enjoyed working on the campaigns," says Haugen. "There are days where you've made a hundred phone calls and gotten a lot of hang-ups, but then you reach those few people who are thrilled you reminded them and they run right out to vote. Those are really big moments."
--By Laura Snyder
Posted May 11, 2012