Class allows an insider’s view of the political process

Michael Hagen’s political science class pairs learning with internships.

Between the gaffes, the debates and the highly energized rallies from the past year, this election season has been captivating, especially to young voters.

Students do not have to be political science majors or be enrolled in political science courses to be passionate about politics.

The students in Michael Hagen’s courses, Seminar in Campaign Politics and Cooperative Education Project, are keeping track of campaigns, and some students are participating in them.

Kevin Belmont, a senior political science major, is an intern for Pennsylvania’s GOP main office in Philadelphia. Belmont said the experiential learning course has played a major role in his understanding of campaigns and career goals.

“This is a great course for anybody who wants to be involved in political campaigns and wants to clarify where they want to be in terms of a career in politics,” Belmont said. “It helped me decide to get a graduate degree in public policy or political science.”

Elizabeth Hanson, a junior political science major and president of the Temple College Democrats, said she was impressed by the professor’s emphasis on learning through experience.

“Learning from a textbook is great, but it’s a really incredible experience when you are actually immersed in the situation,” Hanson said. “[Experimental learning] definitely prepares you once you graduate.”

Seminar in Campaign Politics and Cooperative Education Project are taken simultaneously for six credits. The courses aim to familiarize students with the world of campaigning through the combination of traditional academic learning and experiential learning with internships, which are an essential part of the course.

“The purpose of this course is to expose students to the nuts and bolts of campaigning, both from the point of view of academics and from the point of view of people who are engaged in such things,” Hagen said. “The students are having a real-world experience that gives them insight into the way things work, an insight they couldn’t get any other way.”

This is Hagen’s first time teaching the course. It was previously taught by political science professor Robin Kolodny, who is currently on a Fulbright Scholarship in England.

Hagen said it has not been difficult teaching the experiential learning courses because it was such a pleasure engaging in discussions with the students about campaign strategies and internship experiences.

The internships allow students to not only network with public officials and other students, but also allow them to become familiar with the U.S. political system.

Students maintain weekly journals, in which they record daily tasks completed and comment on their roles at their assigned campaign offices.

Hagen said he tried to steer students away from focusing exclusively on presidential campaigns.

“Presidential campaigns are so big and so sprawling and involve so many other people and interns that you can get lost in the shuffle,” Hagen said.

He said getting involved in a state legislative or congressional campaign allows interns to be closer to the action and decision-making, and interns are more likely to meet the candidates.

Not all of the students are interning with politicians’ campaigns. Hagen said a couple of students are involved in campaigns organized by interest groups. One student worked for the Committee of Seventy, an election reform organization located in Philadelphia.

No matter where they interned, students will have to answer an important question while enrolled in the courses.

“One of the fundamental questions of this class is if elections are won and lost by their campaigns, or [are they] won and lost by factors already in place long before the campaign begins?” Hagen said.

Hagen said the answer depends on the number of Democratic and Republican voters, the condition of the economy and a wide range of other factors. Once the results of Nov. 4 are available, the students in this course will be able to determine why their campaigns won or lost.

Joshua Fernandez can be reached at

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