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Presidential Election Offers Career Opportunities

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Zach Cohen interviews former presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman for The Eagle. DIANA BOWEN/THE EAGLE

As Election Day rapidly approaches, many AU students are participating in the political process through a variety of volunteer and internship opportunities. Whether stumping for a candidate or peppering them with questions, getting involved in the red-and-blue fray helps students build important organizational and writing skills that will impress employers, AU professors say.

Before applying for internships, volunteer positions, or other opportunities, students should visit the Career Center. Being prepared and early to the application process are imperative to snagging some of these coveted spots, said students who visited the Career Center before beginning their internship experience.  

On a campus as politically active as AU, students are bound to get involved, says Professor Candice Nelson, chair of the Department of Government. Nelson credits her own college summer internship experience on Capitol Hill for cementing her interest in politics.

“If you like it, people tend to stay involved,” Nelson says. “Sometimes people try it and say, ‘No, this isn’t for me,’ but a lot of people get hooked pretty early on. … On Nov. 7, some people say, ‘Oh, I’m never going to do this again,’ and then come January, they start thinking about, ‘Oh, well, we have another cycle coming up, and maybe I’d like to get involved.’ It’s cyclical.”

And it’s not just the allure of politics that draws interested students; campaigns also help students develop a variety of different organizational skills—“door knocking, canvassing, literature drops, phone calls … techniques which can be used later to motivate other people into doing what you want them to do,” Nelson says—which provide them with opportunities to move up the chain of command.

“People can advance very quickly,” Nelson says. “If you show up every day and do a good job, next thing you know, you’ve gone from a volunteer to head volunteer to maybe an unpaid internship, maybe a paid internship, maybe a staff position. You see a lot of people start on campaigns in high school or in college, and by the time they’re 30, they’re chiefs of staff on the Hill. Anyone who has energy or drive and is good at what they’re doing, they can move up really fast.”

Energy and drive have come into play for Eliza Brashares, SIS/BA’12, who is currently working with President Obama’s re-election campaign in Chicago. After an internship with Environment America in summer 2011, Brashares—who worked closely with her SIS advisor at the Career Center and credits a series of self-assessment tests she took there for affirming her interest in activism— was inspired to join Obama’s effort. Now, as she spends her days talking to countless people about Obama’s record and plans for a second term, she acknowledges the shaping influence of AU’s diverse community.

“I met many different people from all different backgrounds, and that’s definitely come in handy, just being around different groups of people and learning to listen and be receptive to ideas,” Brashares says. “Being at AU definitely aided in that understanding … it was just such a great environment to learn that in.”

Michael Eyerman, SPA ’16, is experiencing the same array of responsibilities during his semester-long internship with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. As the youngest person in Bachmann’s office, Eyerman is seeing firsthand how the political machine works, working two full days a week and talking to constituents, researching issues, and writing in a style that builds upon his already-established academic tone.

“It’s not the normal freshman experience; it’s not exactly what I was expecting when I applied to college,” says Eyerman, who is considering an internship with the Department of the Treasury in the spring and plans to visit the Career Center to prepare his resume for that application process. “But I know that I’m getting ahead.”

Being aware of the political process can pay off for students interested in pursuing a career in journalism, too, says Prof. Wendell Cochran, who teaches journalism in SOC and helped cover the 1988 presidential campaign.

Rachel Karas, SOC/SIS/BA ’13, is learning about those connections as an intern with the Local desk at The Washington Post. As an SOC Dean’s Intern who visited the Career Center to meet with SOC advisor Julia Beyer to revamp her resume before pursuing internship opportunities, Karas has covered the Washington, D.C., primaries, and is currently working on presidential coverage. And that isn’t her first political internship—Karas spent this summer reporting on Capitol Hill for The Durango Herald.

“The campaigns are fascinating,” Karas says. “They’re really, really interesting to follow, just the ins and outs of everything and the psychology that goes into them. … [Covering this presidential campaign] will be one of the highest things up there on my resume. I think it shows employers that you know how to think on your feet, how to analyze things, how to deal with different groups of people. I don’t think there’s any better way to show you know how to write objectively than to be in the middle of two sides going back and forth, yelling at each other.”

Those skills are priceless, says Cochran, who adds that students can also develop research and information-verifying skills when covering an election. Zach Cohen, SIS/BA ’14, did just that during his politically themed internships at TIME magazine and New Voices, the former of which he wrote about on the Career Center’s Intern Blog. As D.C. Bureau Chief for New Voices, Cohen helped cover the primaries, while his internship at TIME involved combing through former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s released emails, covering the Senate, and speaking with U.S. Sen. John McCain during the debt ceiling negotiations.

“Those days on the Hill, those were the days I loved the most of my internship,” says Cohen, who interviewed former presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman in April for The Eagle—of which Cohen is currently editor in chief—after he dropped out of the race. “It’s kind of an adrenaline rush thing; you just keep going. I don’t consider it working, to a certain extent, because it still feels like I’m doing something that I really enjoy.”  

That kind of passion is integral to transforming an interest in politics into a realistic career, both Nelson and Cochran stress.

“Many organizations rely a lot on people doing internships and volunteer work for really important tasks,” Cochran says. “There’s no question that it’s fun to a certain extent; you are there with people whose ideas are going to have an important role in what goes on in the country.”

“Young people can be very helpful on campaigns; they have lots of enthusiasm, they’re willing to work long hours, they have a lot of energy,” Nelson adds. “Take a chance … because you can move up quickly. … Just be open to experiences and great things can happen.”