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Students experience national political conventions

Throughout the month of July, Lamar University Reaud Honors College students Victoria LaFleur, Ryan Sherer, Tara Hoch and Madison Marino participated in the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively.

LaFleur with Luttrel and PerryLaFleur, a junior accounting and finance major from Port Neches and Sherer, a junior business management major from Nederland represented Lamar University at the Republican National Convention (RNC). Hoch, a junior political science major from Beaumont and Marino, a junior economics major from Vidor attended the Democratic National Convention (DNC).

The students’ trips were organized and supported by the Department of Political Science with the financial help of the Reaud Honors College. All four students participated in an academic program put on by the Washington Center, an organization which aims to “provide students with transformational experiences that foster academic and professional achievement, leadership and civic engagement” according to their mission statement.

While LaFleur and Sherer were away July 10-22 and Hoch and Marino July 17-29, their curriculums were identical.

“The first week, we were engaged in intense seminars and lectures by amazing public officials and community leaders, including Ed Rendell (former governor of Pennsylvania) and DNC CEO Rev. Leah D. Daughtry,” Hoch said of the DNC. “In those afternoons, we participated in small group discussions, then had homework assignments. The academic portion kept us busy most evenings into the night, but considering the knowledge I took away from Philly, it was worth it.”

Tara Hoch with TapperThat weekend, most students were allowed free time to complete homework and explore their cities before the beginning of the main portion of the seminar—their fieldwork— which consisted of week-long, observational internships aimed at helping students pinpoint their future career field while building connections.

“My fieldwork experience was absolutely amazing. After an intense first week of course work, it was refreshing and exciting to begin my placement with CNN,” Marino said. “I was assigned as a runner for them. The biggest things I pulled from my fieldwork were the connections and opportunities. I worked with the set production crew and many of the guest political commentators on CNN, which allowed me to meet and gain contact information from top executive producers and anchors including Carl Bernstein and Wolf Blitzer.”

Wolf Blitzer with MarinoAccording to LaFleur, she was placed in her “dream job” with Fox News, where she worked directly with anchors and guests and acted as an audience member for network content aired nationwide, while Sherer worked with the Texas State Delegation to ensure Texas Republican delegates had a well-coordinated experience at the convention. Hoch worked with Voice of America (VOA), where she was able to produce digital journalism and photo content for various regional services.

“During my fieldwork at VOA, I learned the many ways regional services work together to create cohesive content the world over,” Hoch said. “For such a huge international news source, my co-intern and I were afforded a lot of independence over our content. I was able to ‘take over’ the VOA Serbia Instagram from inside the convention hall and acted as camerawoman for the VOA Bangla affiliate. I also transcribed interviews, did research that was mentioned in the Cambodian service’s stories, and acted as the personal assistant to the French African service’s journalists—meaning I carried out the calls, emails, and string pulling to secure them event access. It was altogether really neat.”

Paul Ryan with ShererSherer was surprised to learn through firsthand experience and lectures the volume of work that went into ensuring a cohesive convention and a positive experience for delegates.

“I didn't realize just how much work went into the delegations! The effort it takes to make sure the delegates are happy is incredible, and the Texas delegation staff did a great job of making sure everything went smoothly,” he said. “As for the convention itself, the rules votes may have been the most interesting part I witnessed because none of that process is shown on television typically.”

Besides gaining access to the convention itself and to multiple delegate parties, Sherer also got a unique glimpse into intra-party politics.

Texas delegation“I met many people, like Speaker Paul Ryan, multiple congressmen, former Senator Rick Santorum, and former Governor Rick Perry,” he said. “But most notably, I was in the room for the aftermath of Senator Ted Cruz's controversial speech. He came to breakfast and had to face the Texas delegation, who were not particularly happy with him.”

Marino too got an insider’s view when she was granted access to the convention the night President Obama spoke. She says besides that, the highlight of her trip was when she and Hoch attended a rally for Hillary Clinton the morning before their flight home.

“It ended up being one of those spur of the moment type things; we briefly talked about attending the rally the night before, but didn’t know if we could fit it in before our flight. We took the chance,” Marino said, “and it was worth it. Being at the rally was fantastic. We were able to be in the same room as Tim Kaine and his wife Anne Holton as well as Hillary Clinton—the possible first female president of the United States—and former president Bill Clinton. It was incredible!”

The highlights of Hoch’s experience pertained to her fieldwork with VOA.

Dukakis“The reporters at VOA gave me unprecedented access to the convention hall every morning before the convention proceedings. I saw all of the artists warm up (including Katy Perry and Lenny Kravitz) and was within touching distance from Tim Kaine, Vice President Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and all celebrity guests,” she said. “I also met Peabody and Pulitzer winning journalists and photographers from the New York Times, Reuters, Associated Press, and the Wall Street Journal, who were all in the same working tent as VOA. I had a long conversation with one of WSJ’s political editors, Daniel Nasaw; he even let me interview him about his career and advice for young journalists. Also, the cheesesteaks were a notable part of the convention.”

After returning home, Marino felt a deepened gratitude for public servants and a greater drive to participate in politics.

“No matter how many times I was told attending the convention would be an experience like no other, I didn’t understand until I actually attended,” she said. “We do not always realize as students or as citizens how crucial it is to be involved in our political process and the nominating conventions are such an integral part of that. Attending and working at the convention gave me a newfound respect and interest for the politicians who give up their lives for public service. I feel fortunate to live in such a great country as the United States.”