ESU students gain valuable experience while working on political campaigns

Posted by: admin on May 19, 2014, No Comments

Five days after Daniel Hagan ’14 graduated from East Stroudsburg University on May 10, he was still building signs, manning the phones and adding to a website for the political campaign he had interned with during the spring.

Unfinished coursework, perhaps? Hardly. Hagan’s internship had ended but not his enthusiasm for politics nor for his candidate, Republican Jim Becker, who is running for the 176th state House seat.

“Campaigns never sleep,” explained Hagan, who is from Dingmans Ferry, Pa. “The internship has been phenomenal; the campaign has been great.”

Hagan was one of six ESU students, mostly political science majors, who volunteered or interned on state campaigns this spring.

ESU students researched political issues and briefed candidates. They analyzed voting patterns, updated campaign websites, recruited volunteers and represented their candidates at events.

While it’s practically an American pastime to bemoan the state of politics, the students said they were more energized than disillusioned by their campaign work.

Leah Majdic, an ESU junior from Mountaintop, Pa., said she loved volunteering for David Parker, a Republican candidate for Pennsylvania’s 113th House District.

“Everyone has these really negative connotations of politicians, that they’re this evil, moneygrubbing entity,” Majdic said. “And working with David Parker, I learned that’s not true.”

Rachel Kohler, an ESU graduate student who is working on her master’s in political science, had a similar experience with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty.

“My first day interning I was introduced to Katie and from that day on she remembered my name, she remembered what I was studying in school and what my thesis was on,” said Kohler of Havertown, Pa. “She was just so personable.”

Kohler learned a lot about environmental policy from McGinty, who formerly headed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Like Hagan, Kohler continued to volunteer for McGinty even after her internship was over.

“I see politics as a way that we can change what isn’t working in government,” Kohler said. “And the only way to change it is to be a part of it.”

The students said they were able to build on lessons they had learned in their classes and found the campaigns to be fast-paced and labor-intensive.

In interning with the Monroe County Republican Party, Zach Niles ’14 of Sellersville, Pa. and Tyler Day ‘14 of Belford, Pa. worked on attracting young voters to the party. They helped create multiple social media platforms.

“We still operate the social media platforms for the county and their following base continues to grow every day,” Niles said.

The students even advised party leaders on the advantages and disadvantages of using various social media in campaigns. Day also worked for Jack Rader, GOP candidate for the 176th state House district.

The ESU students honed their networking skills, getting to know candidates, staff and party activists. Day and others said those connections will be a great advantage if they choose to look for jobs in Harrisburg.

They also met people from all walks of life and were able to engage them in discussions on issues.

Kwaku Adjei-Bohyen ’14 of Edison, N.J., who worked with Hagan on the Becker campaign, said he was skeptical going into the internship. But all the voter outreach by phone and in person honed his communication skills and he learned new talents, such as how to manage a website.

He remembers making calls to remind Republicans to vote in the primary when he reached a retired Vietnam veteran who at first wasn’t very receptive.

“But then he kept engaging me in conversation and before I knew it we were already talking about the 1940s and how the government was, the kind of politics,” Adjei-Bohyen said. “And I was on the phone for almost an hour. It was actually a great experience.”

Amy Majani ’14 of East Stroudsburg, Pa., wasn’t working on a campaign but she got a bird’s-eye view of how a labor union decides which candidate to endorse when she interned with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) in Harrisburg during the spring semester.

Among her other duties, Majani, who earned her degree this month in political science, was asked to research each of the gubernatorial candidates’ records and positions on higher education in Pennsylvania so the union leadership could make an informed decision on an endorsement.

Ultimately, APSCUF decided to endorse Democrat Tom Wolf.

ESU’s political science department is committed to creating these kinds of opportunities for students in the political arena, according to Kimberly Adams, Ph.D., associate professor of political science.

“Bridging the gap between theory and practice is paramount if our students are going to find work in their field after graduating,” Adams said. “Last fall I reached out to the [Democratic and Republican] Party chairs of Monroe County to cultivate partnerships so that my students could get the much-needed experience of working on political campaigns.

“Judging from their written reports and evaluations, it seems that the students have captured the essence of what political campaign work is all about. More importantly, they have developed relationships with political candidates and have gained a deeper understanding of the process. This internship experience will definitely help them as they move forward in their careers. I am absolutely certain that several of these young people will be influential players in the politics of Pennsylvania in years to come.”