LEAP students woke up to nerves this morning, looking ahead to a day of preparation and presentations. After roughly forty-eight hours of learning the ins and outs of campaign management, fundraising, budgeting, and direct voter contact, we finally had the chance to present our path to victory for our fictional candidates to an esteemed panel of expert judges, most of who had been lecturing us this weekend on the same topics.
We worked for the beginning hours of the day to practice and make finishing touches to our presentations, with jitters pervading most group sessions.
In the early morning, we made some last-minute revisions to our projects, working in groups or, occasionally, alone.
By 10:30 we had to turn in our finished products and hope that everything would go well. After getting a group picture with the whole Campaign Bootcamp group, we split up into three different groups of three different rotations: presenting, a session on getting your foot in the door in the workplace, and a workshop over civic reflection and engagement in young people.
After the group photos, all of the groups were separated into three rooms, one of which was meant for civic reflection. Deborah Wise, the director of educational outreach for the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life was there to guide the session and explained to us that civic engagement is how the community gets involved with politics.
Once in the room she separated us randomly into three different groups where we discussed the lack of civic engagement as well as solutions for it. The topics revolved around the age gap in voters, why people don’t go out to vote and the impact of the media. Once we had enough time to discuss the issues and possible solutions, all of the groups sat together as a whole and we went into a deep brain storming session. Everyone had their own opinions for targeting younger people to get involved in politics but the main ones were to target education, parents, and how politics are viewed. I shared my opinion about the lack of education over local politics in high schools and giving politics a “young face”. Others shared their opinions of targeting the parents and educating them in politics. Deborah Wise then separated us into groups of 2-3 to discuss plans to boost civic engagement for younger people in communities. Once we had time to discuss our plans in the small groups we went back to our whole group and discussed them with everyone. The group as a whole agreed that the reasons that young people do not participate in politics is because they believe their vote doesn’t matter, they are undereducated in regard to local government and they believe it is an old mans game and its out of their reach. Solutions for this were showing younger people that they CAN vote by setting an example and being civically engaged ourselves, local government having a bigger part in high school other than just federal government and targeting issues in politics that affect the 18-29 year olds.
The Civic Reflections section was a great session that provided a more hands-on learning environment that we really enjoyed. Everyone was vocal and loved sharing and hearing different opinion. It showed us that people could really come together to solve an issue.
Heading to the conference room to present between the two different sessions, each group was given just eight minutes for their presentation and an additional seven minutes to answer questions from the judges.
As a student, the presentation was intimidating because groups were given relatively little time to prepare and practice. Although daunting, presenting to our judges proved to be a useful learning tool and a valuable public speaking experience.
In addition, each group had the opportunity to observe various other groups present and learn from what they did well and ways they could improve. Stressed the whole weekend, the hard part did not end once the presentation was over, but instead the Q & A proved to be almost more strenuous, as the judges asked questions and probed for questions that could have been left out during the presentation. The group presentations may have been stressful, however; it was arguably the best hands on learning experience and preparation for a career within political campaigns.
Continuing with rotations we moved on to a presentation by Maegan Stephens, a communications lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin. We learned about the major steps for getting our feet in the door in political campaigns. We started with an interesting and fun activity of searching for the person sitting next to us on the internet and finding anything that could affect their possibility of getting hired. It was a fun way to learn about tactics professionals use to search job candidates and tips for us to remember when posting on social media. Next, we signed up for a LinkedIn account. Our trainer gave us tips for developing our account such as customizing our URL, and developing a strategic headline and summary. She also gave us great tips for building our endorsements and recommendations on our profile. After developing our LinkedIn accounts we moved on to interview tips. We learned that Interviews would be a very important part of an employer’s decision. We learned great ways to answer commonly asked questions in a strategic way and ideas about our goals to have clear in our mind before an interview. Clear goals will help us build a story and may brand our name. Interview delivery tips are also of great importance. We should be able to deliver effectively even if we might be nervous during an interview. Lastly, we discussed networking and the importance of making connections in political careers. Sometimes networking may be hard, but we learned excellent tips on how to approach it and overcome challenges. Networking should be the next step for getting our foot in the door.
After our rotations and regrouping in the main conference room, we were able to give some feedback as a large group about what was good and what could improve for next year. Following the opinion piece, we finally received the judge’s decisions on the different categorical winners for the campaign plans and also the overall winner. Representing Sam Houston State University, Constance Gabel and her group Democratic Team 4 won the “Get Out the Vote”/voter contact category over the other teams efforts in the same area. Needless to say after much networking techniques, knowledge, and tools for campaigning presented to us, we left the New Politics Forum Campaign Bootcamp completely different students.
We did some brief site-seeing around campus…
At this point, Jazmin Perez and Mitchell Sanchez had to leave, going back to Huntsville to begin work the next day. The rest of us, however, stayed on in Austin for another day to watch the House and Senate in their final day of the session.
To finish the day, we ate dinner at The Clay Pit, a wonderful Indian restaurant in the heart of Austin’s downtown. Most of us not ever having tried Indian, it was such a blessing to have a waitress that clearly walked us through the menu and gave suggestions that turned out to be delicious. We tried many different kinds of dishes including Naan, a pita bread type of dish, a seafood grill, Tikki Masala, a red sauce, Khuroos-E-Tursh, a chicken dish stuffed with cheese and spinach in a sweet, almond sauce, and Lamb Roganjosh, a lamb dish in an onion sauce that might have been the table favorite. We finished with a dessert of Chai Spice Crème Bru Lee, rice pudding, and vanilla pudding with a side of grated carrot pudding. Stuffed, we left the restaurant to take a late night stroll through some of the older parts of UT’s campus.
We spotted some art and some strategically placed greenery, but the evening and the whole weekend culminated standing between the UT Tower and the Capitol, feeling the immensity of the city and our civic purpose as college students in a time full of political apathy. We also ended the weekend a much closer group, better prepared to tackle future challenges and opportunities.
We ended the evening exhausted and drove back to the hotel ready to tackle the last day of our weekend trip.
LEAP Center Students would like to thank Emily Einsohn, Drew Galloway, Luke Marchant, and Matt Glazer for leading such a great program!