Building Political Engagement

Students at the RNC

From September, 2012

By Ruthie Kott
Photo courtesy of UChicago Institute of Politics

As someone interested in both journalism and politics, Colin Bradley, ’14, felt that attending the 2012 Republican National Convention (RNC) was like being at the “Super Bowl of it all.”  

“It was very enlightening to watch how the journalists interacted with their interviewees, and then to observe the conversations they had with their colleagues behind closed doors,” Bradley said.

In late August, he and three other UChicago students had the opportunity to attend the RNC as interns, working for political news outlet POLITICO. Eight students also attended the early September Democratic National Convention, either as POLITICO interns or working in the Office of the CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC).

The internship initiative was born out of a partnership between the new, non-partisan Institute of Politics, the College, and Campus and Student Life and was facilitated by the Career Advancement Office’s UChicago Careers in Public & Social Service (UCIPSS). Dillan Siegler, the new Senior Associate Director for Internships and Student Civic Engagement at the Institute of Politics, ran UCIPSS for two years before recently joining the Institute of Politics. Siegler and Darren Reisberg, the Institute of Politics’ Executive Director, worked with Alexis Williams, AB’08, the Events Coordinator for POLITICO, and with the DNCC to create a real-life political experience for the 12 students. 

For Sarah Morell’s (’15) internship with the DNCC in Charlotte, North Carolina, she spent several hours each day helping the staff at their offices, handing out credentials, and running errands. She and her fellow UChicago interns also attended luncheons, panel events, and interviews. Overall, Morell felt the internship offered her a valuable peek into a political career. 

“I learned an incredible amount, and the experience solidified my passion for politics and public service,” she said. 

As part of the POLITICO internships, sponsored by the Institute of Politics, students had access to interesting political figures who came through the POLITICO hub and offered opinions on the election and American politics in general. Reisberg and Siegler, who traveled with the students, also took them to other media hubs, such as National Journal and Bloomberg News. 

“We wanted to give them a flavor of a host of different policy issues,” Reisberg said.

The internship program is just one of many student engagement initiatives underway on campus.  For example, Campus and Student Life is working on student voter registration initiatives with the Office of the Reynolds Club & Student Activities, Student Government, and political student organizations. Groups of volunteers from departments and student groups across campus are working to register voters. These groups attract potential voters to sign up for TurboVote at, where they can register, change their address, request an absentee ballot, and sign up for election information. 

And, on October 3—the night of the first presidential debate and the third day of classes—the Institute of Politics will also sponsor a student debate and discussion with Steve Edwards and Newton Minow, followed by a live viewing of the actual presidential debate in the new Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

Such initiatives build upon the excitement that many students feel about politics and public service, said Eleanor Daugherty, Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Associate Dean of the College.

“I know they’re engaged and invested,” she said. “I’m interested in how it hits home and how it provokes them to get involved. What’s nice is that the election fires you up—you actually have a physical vote to cast.”

Reisberg sees the Institute of Politics playing a large role in helping students learn how they can get involved in politics outside of the UChicago campus.

“Political life ends up pervading a lot of what is important in our country, whether that be education, health care, the economy, foreign policy—it’s all shaped by the political leaders that are making important decisions at the federal, state or local level,” said Reisberg. “Even if politics may seem at times frustrating, I think our students need to understand that the best way in which to resolve those issues is to engage, whether it’s running for office to make the decision ourselves or getting involved in policy. Disengagement is clearly not the answer.”

UChicagoSocial: Campus and Student Life