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Juniata Politics Professor Takes Students to Political Conventions

(Posted August 23, 2012)

Six Juniata students pose in front of The Washington Center's 2012 Republican Convention logo.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Usually the final week of a college course centers on lonely nights studying theorems, formulas and possibly the Magna Carta. At Juniata College, the final week of Political Party Conventions course is likely to be filled with confetti, balloons and thousands of celebrating delegates.

"It's an intense experience for the students and an intense experience for me," says Dennis Plane, associate professor of politics at Juniata, who organized and offered the course, which sends students to attend the Republican and Democratic national conventions. "The students spend two weeks at the convention sites. Last spring we held several meetings to prepare, but once the students are there, they are really thrown into new things very quickly."

This fall marks the second time Plane has offered the course. Four years ago a contingent of Juniata students attended the 2008 conventions. That course was a semester-long experience, but Plane has streamlined it into a two-credit course that allows students to witness history without detracting from their regular Juniata courseload.

Right now, six Juniata students are at the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., and next week four Juniata students will attend the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Plane has organized the course with The Washington Center, a nonprofit agency based in Washington, D.C., specializing in internships and seminars for college students. During the first week the students will attend lectures and seminars given by nationally known journalists, academics and politicians. This year, the students were taught by Aaron Brown, former news anchor for CNN, and Mickey Edwards, a former Congressman from Oklahoma.
"I was able to ask (Aaron Brown) about his emotions covering 9/11 and he talked about how he was personally affected by (it), in addition to the rush he felt as a reporter covering the largest event of his lifetime," wrote blogger Elise Mihranian, a junior from Chester Springs attending the Republican Convention. "It got me thinking about broadcast journalists and how as professionals they can be put through an emotional wringer."

"There are a lot of ways to be a good citizen and one of the best ways is to become involved in the electoral process. I expect they students will come back from the conventions energized to work hard electing the candidate of their choice."
Dennis Plane, associate professor of politics


The second week of the course centers on, as the Washington Center puts it, "field experiences." These weeklong assignments match students up with organizations covering the conventions or working at the event. In the past, Juniata students have worked for McClatchy Newspapers, CNN, ABC- News, Roll Call and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

"At the last convention, a student working for a European Press photo agency was able to photograph John McCain and Sarah Palin at their convention appearance," Plane says. "Another was asked to get comments from the Alaska delegation when Sarah Palin was nominated."

The students also have to do a bit of schoolwork as well. Each student is blogging at jcgopconvention.posterous.com or jcdemconvention.posterous.com, and each student is expected to write an op-ed opinion essay. In 2008, students published their essays in six newspapers across Pennsylvania.

Plane says the students earn college credit for their compressed experience, but more importantly, they also participate in the political process.

"There are a lot of ways to be a good citizen and one of the best ways is to become involved in the electoral process," Plane says. "I expect they students will come back from the conventions energized to work hard electing the candidate of their choice."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.