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Students get unconventional look at politics

Aug 24, 2016

Several Ohio Northern University students received an unconventional look at politics by attending the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer. This type of educational opportunity allows ONU students to experience what they are learning in the classrooms and apply theory to real-life situations.

It was part of The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. The students were under the tutelage of ONU political science faculty member Robert Alexander, Ph.D., himself a renowned expert in presidential politics, particularly in regards to the Electoral College.

“It seems appropriate for college students to become involved in this type of activity,” Alexander said. “Politics affect everyone; you cannot escape it. It is important to have an informed electorate, and college students are at a particular time in their lives when they naturally have a good deal of intellectual curiosity as well as interest in current events that affect their futures.”

“While the political discourse may tend toward insults and partisanship during the political season, from experiences such as this, the students learn to focus on the topics that matter. It is interesting that the students are from various academic disciplines, which supports ONU’s liberal arts education and emphasis on interdisciplinary learning,” Alexander said.

Students participating in the Republican convention included Jeff Alexander, a sophomore political science major from Monroeville, Pa.; Troy Brinkman, a sophomore political science major from Lima, Ohio; Seth Ferguson, a sophomore political science major from Mansfield, Ohio; Scott Gerdes, a third-year pharmacy student from Conneaut, Ohio; Ryan Hetrick, a senior history major from Frazeyburg, Ohio; and Jocelyn Reinhart, a sophomore political science major from Fostoria, Ohio.

Those at the Democratic convention were Derek Price, a sophomore political science major from Howell, N.J.; and Robert Putman, a junior political science major from Delaware, Ohio.

The participating students earned academic credit and completed written assignments associated with the experience. They students joined more than 250 students from across the country who attended guest lectures from prominent political leaders and volunteered on-site at the convention grounds. This volunteer work included working with the convention’s communication team, assisting with the production of live news coverage at the major networks, writing articles for newspapers, and supporting the logistics of other delegation events and receptions.

Students who participated in the seminar spent the first week of the program learning the history of political campaigns, convention planning and procedures, and the role of the media. The second half of the program was spent at the convention, participating in fieldwork assignments and attending convention receptions and rallies.

“The national convention, an integral part of the U.S. political process, is a piece of preserved history,” said Michael Smith, ONU alumnus and president of The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. “The academic seminars teach students about the process, but not from the sidelines. Students learn from within, in the thick of it. We’re grateful to have the support of ONU and applaud them for making this opportunity a reality for their students.”

Since 1984, more than 2,500 students from more than 300 academic institutions have attended The Washington Center’s two-week academic seminars at the Democratic and Republican national conventions. To date, the convention seminars remain the only national academic program of their kind and size.

The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars is an independent, nonprofit organization that serves hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States and other countries by providing selected students challenging opportunities to work and learn in Washington, D.C., for academic credit. The largest program of its kind, The Washington Center has more than 50,000 alumni who have become leaders in numerous professions and nations around the world. It was established in 1975. For more information, visit