Ohio College Students Study Up-Close at RNC

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by Michelle Faust

Over the next two weeks as the Republican and Democratic national conventions get underway, some 300 college students will have the opportunity to get a close up look at the American political system at work.

The Republican National Convention started early for 130 college students meeting at Baldwin Wallace University in Cleveland for a program with The Washington Center. The non-profit educational organization facilitates projects that get students close to the democratic process.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” says Cuyahoga Community College Political Science Professor Shawn Easley over coffee and pastries. He plans a conversation with his students on how they can be more involved in the political system.

“I have a lot of fun kind of exploring that with the students and getting to think of a completely different perspective,” says Easley.

Over the past week, the students took an intensive, specialized course in American politics, with presentations from experts, including the Secret Service and the Cuyahoga County Republican Party.

“They’re starting us off from scratch. We started off from the pre nomination process. They started us off with the history and how it's evolved into what it is today,” says Nadia Ajlouni, 25-year-old junior and marketing major at Baldwin Wallace University.

During the convention, students will put that knowledge to work with internships with their state delegations, security details, and media organizations.

Ajlouni, and many of her colleagues will be working with CNN, while others have been assigned the Secret Service, FoxNews, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Most of them aren’t certain exactly what they’ll do, but at past conventions students have written stories that made it to air. And that’s what the students came for: a completely different and up-close look at the American political system.

Jacob Carruthers graduated from Cuyahoga Community College and is preparing to enter The Ohio State University in the spring. He’s a 21-year-old Political Science and Economics major who says it’s an education that will prepare him, regardless of the career he eventually chooses.

“Learning how to interact with the media and how they cover stuff is incredibly valuable if I want to pursue politics or if I want to pursue a career in journalism. I'm definitely excited because I always like seeing the inner workings of things, and this is the best opportunity for that: inner workings of the political system, a how media organization is run, how an event is organized,” says Carruthers.

Twenty-four of the Northeast Ohio students in the program received scholarship funding from the Cleveland Foundation to pay the nearly 5 thousand dollar tuition. For Carruthers, he see it as a competitive edge that would have been difficult to afford otherwise, “I'm not competing with kids and the next town or the next state. I'm competing with people in India, China, Germany, everywhere.”

At 60, Ronnie Leeth has more life experience than many in his cohort. The lifelong Clevelander says he recognizes the value of this opportunity for networking. “My goal is to eventually start my business back up. I’d like contacts—the movers and shakers. I want to meet people,” he says.

Leeth’s business is a non-profit service organization helping veterans and seniors. He says—although he’s a Democrat—he’s most interested in voting for candidates who support programs with the same goals.

That’s a key part of what the summer seminar is about.

“It is providing an opportunity for students to really understand the American political framework but also how those policy impact their work, right? Their potential career,” says Washington Center Vice President Kevin Nunley.

After the RNC, 170 students will learn similar lessons when the Democrats have their convention in Philadelphia the following week.

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