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Center for Politics interns campaign for a more engaged tomorrow

From research assistance to event programming, the interns hope to increase civic engagement on Grounds

<p>Interns work across several different initiatives managed by the Center, typically collaborating with professors and faculty.</p>

Interns work across several different initiatives managed by the Center, typically collaborating with professors and faculty.

Amidst a unique election year, the Center for Politics’ spring interns have been keeping busy. Ranging from first- to fourth-years, the 20-student intern group has been an active part of the Center’s internal operations, studying politics in an effort to increase civic engagement among students. 

Interns work across several different initiatives managed by the Center, typically collaborating with professors and faculty as well as other interns within a chosen area of focus which they study for the semester. According to Celia Calhoun, programming intern and second-year Batten student, one of the biggest focuses of the Center’s programming is to fight low political engagement on Grounds. 

“Thinking about the 2024 election, a lot of students feel that they aren't represented,” Calhoun said. “One thing that the Center for Politics is trying to combat is the general apathy about the importance of voting and the importance of democracy, [we’re trying to tell] students that their voice matters.”

To achieve this goal, the Center has led initiatives urging students to vote, such as the Hoos Vote initiative on Feb. 24. Interns tabled outside of Observatory Hill Dining Hall, Shannon Library and outside of Madison Hall, encouraging students to vote in the primary elections and handing out pizza and t-shirts to garner enthusiasm. 

During his experiences working on youth voter initiatives coordinated by the Center, Wyatt Dayhoff, intern and second-year College student, said he observed a wide range of different attitudes towards political participation. Like Calhoun, he highlighted voter apathy in primary elections as an important issue.

“Voting in primaries consistently is really … an important part of our civic duty,” Dayhoff said. “How we get the candidates to the general election is through primaries, and a lot of times the turnout rates are really low for primaries. If college students would actually turn out, I think they can make a pretty significant change.”

The interns’ work to increase political efficacy expands beyond the University and, through programs such as the Youth Leadership Initiative, this work reaches young people who are not even old enough to vote. YLI aims to promote civic education for younger students through developing free lesson plans for teachers and learning opportunities for students about political issues. 

Grace Duregger, YLI intern and fourth-year College student, said she recalled not feeling politically aware at a young age. According to Duregger, programs like YLI help to demystify politics for younger populations and democratize civic education. 

“All of these different activities within YLI kind of just promote civic engagement and education,” Duregger said. “It makes it less complicated of a process for students … at a young age … to be aware of what's going on and know these difficult subject areas without it being strenuous and too complex.”

In addition to on-the-ground work, interns must, as part of the program, take an American Politics course titled “Workshop in Contemporary American Electoral Politics.” The class meets once every week in addition to the internship serving as a workshop component. According to the Center’s Associate Director Ken Stroupe, who has been at the Center since its creation in 1998, the class selects enthusiastic students who wish to explore a future in politics. 

“This class is not the type of class that one should take if you're not interested in politics and government,” Stroupe said. “That doesn't mean that we only take people who have ambitions of running for high office but … these are advanced-level classes for advanced-level students of politics.”

Stroupe said members of the program ranked their enthusiasm for several different areas when applying to the internship, and were matched with faculty members whose work reflected the students’ interests. Stroupe said the project-oriented design of the internship closely echoes potential future workplaces of interest for the interns. 

Stroupe said that while many interns indicated interest in the field of civic engagement, another potential area of focus for interns is research on a particular political topic or issue. Priyanka Gupta, research intern and third-year College student, is currently working with Senior Scholar Garland Branch to investigate details about the JFK assassination. 

Though her work at the Center is less focused on student political engagement compared to some of the other internship pathways, Gupta said working at the Center has pushed her to become more politically informed and more confident in her beliefs. 

“[The professors and faculty] know how to push boundaries in a good way to make you cover all of your bases,” Gupta said. “If you have an opinion, they make sure you know completely from beginning to end how you form that opinion  ... [and] voice [it] freely.”

In addition to the various research studies and initiatives throughout the semester so far, many of the interns are currently working on planning the Center’s 25th Anniversary Gala Weekend, which honors the Center’s 25 years in action, as well as its founder, Larry Sabato’s, 50th year at the University.

According to Stroupe, the internship program, which has run since the first year of the program, has seen its alumni graduate from the program and move on to work across several areas of government ranging from Capitol Hill to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Stroupe said that the program and its students have proven mutually beneficial to one another.

“I don't think the Center for Politics would have been as nearly as successful as we have been over the last 25 years without the high level of student engagement that we've had in our program [and] the planning and execution that comes from [the interns],” Stroupe said.

Calhoun said participating in the Center and contributing to its mission has helped her both lead and learn. 

“I’m leading through this opportunity, but also learning a lot,” Calhoun said. “I think that having that mixture of getting to be involved and be a part of the action, but then also just having a learning opportunity from all the people that are around you is really, really interesting.”

The 25th Anniversary Gala Weekend for the Center for Politics will be held from April 5 to 7, and will include a cocktail reception, dinner, several roundtable discussions and a ceremony to celebrate the Center.

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