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New ‘My Prez’ program encourages Drake students to meet candidates

photo of My Prez program buttons
Students collect “My Prez” pins at presidential campaign events.

CONTACT: Rachel Paine Caufield, 515-710-3745, rachel.caufield@drake.edu;

Arthur Sanders, 515-271-3172, arthur.sanders@drake.edu


With the Iowa caucuses fast approaching, Drake University has launched the Iowa Caucus Project and “My Prez” program to encourage students to attend campus events with presidential candidates and engage in public discussion about issues, candidates and the electoral process.

“Our goal is to increase student access to and awareness of the presidential campaigns,” said Rachel Paine Caufield, associate professor of politics and coordinator of the Iowa Caucus Project. “As citizens and as voters, Drake students have a unique opportunity to learn about the 2008 presidential candidates up close and personal.”

When a presidential candidate visits Drake, any Drake student who attends the event can pick up a “My Prez” pin while there. Those who collect eight pins will be eligible to enter a drawing to win an iPhone. Those with five pins may enter a drawing for an iPod.

So far, Drake has distributed a total of nearly 600 pins to students who attended recent events with Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani. More than 160 “My Prez” buttons were distributed when Democratic hopeful John Edwards spoke at Drake at Saturday, Oct. 27.

Amy Benes, a junior marketing major from Downers Grover, Ill., already has collected two “My Prez” pins and intends to attend one event for each presidential candidate this semester.

“It doesn’t matter what party they stand for; what matters is that you get yourself as involved and educated as possible,” Benes said. “It is just as important to know the opposing view as it is to know your own.”

The Iowa Caucus Project developed the “My Prez” program in cooperation with Drake’s Student Life Center and the Donald V. Adams Leadership Academy. The project has launched a Web site at www.drake.edu/iowacaucus that offers a wealth of resources for those seeking information about candidates and campaigns. The Web site includes:

• Information about internship, job and volunteer opportunities with the candidates, political parties and interest groups

• Reports, stories and photographs from the campaign trail, filed by Drake students

• A list of campaign events in and around Des Moines that’s updated twice a week

• A directory of all the presidential candidates and their local offices

Accounts of how the campaign for the White House is unfolding in Iowa are provided by 20 students enrolled in a new politics course taught by Arthur Sanders, professor of politics and chair of the Department of Politics and International Relations. The course on the Presidential Nominating Process requires students to complete a three-credit caucus-related internship and to submit news, reports and photos about their internship experiences for the class blog.

The best of the blog is featured on the Iowa Caucus Project Web site. Ten of the 20 students in the course are interning for Democratic candidates Joe Biden, John Edwards, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson. Eight students are interning for Republican candidates Sam Brownback, Rudy Giuliani, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson. The other two students are interns for Drake’s  Iowa Caucus Project and IowaPolitics.com, an independent, nonpartisan online news service.

“The internships give students firsthand experience with grassroots organizing, voter contact, event planning and, in many cases, dealing with the news media,” Sanders said. “The students learn from working in a presidential campaign and from studying in class the way in which we choose our presidents. By having students involved with 10 different campaigns, we get a collective wisdom that goes well beyond what you can get in a single class or from one campaign.”

The Iowa Caucus Project is partnering with IowaPolitics.com to sponsor question-and-answer sessions with presidential candidates. So far, Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrats Bill Richardson and Joe Biden have participated. Additional events with candidates are being organized this fall.

Although the fall semester ends in December, students in Sanders’ class will have a few more assignments to complete in connection with the Iowa caucuses in early January. They’ll write a final paper summarizing what they learned from their internships and their recommendations for improving the presidential selection process. Sanders, who was in Berlin, Germany, this week to speak at an international conference on political communications, also plans to organize a panel discussion for his students to talk about their experiences on the front lines of presidential campaigns in Iowa.

“Drake is a great place to study politics because we’re in the state capital and the largest city in the state,” Sanders said. “There are lots of opportunities to work in state agencies and government offices. On top of that, during one of their four years at Drake, each student gets to experience the Iowa caucuses.”