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Democracy on display

March 14, 2016

During a presidential election year, Ohio State students get a front seat to the democratic process.

Wayne Carlson had a moment in the spotlight during Sunday night’s CNN Town Hall Forum. During the event, televised nationally, he had a chance to ask a presidential candidate question about college affordability.

Carlson is personally and professionally passionate about the issue: He is a first-generation college graduate whose higher ed path started at a community college and led to a doctorate. Today, Carlson serves students as Ohio State’s vice provost for undergraduate studies and dean of undergraduate education.

“I’m a big fan of communicating the political process to students,” Carlson said. This year, he said he sees more engagement than usual: “The students are really engaged. It almost goes back to the Chicago political events of the 60s.”

Months before the general election, it’s clear Ohio State students will have an active front seat as the presidential election cycle continues to unfold.

In addition to last week's town hall, in July, Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced his presidential candidacy at the Ohio Union. (Kasich is a 1974 political science alum of Ohio State.)

Ohio State has a history of welcoming the major politicians of the day, regardless of party.

Both President Barack Obama (2013) and President George W. Bush (2002) have spoken at spring commencement during their terms of office. (Former President Bill Clinton addressed graduates in 2006, and President George H.W. Bush spoke during his vice presidency.)

The months ahead will likely give students more chances to meet the candidates, both on campus and around Columbus. Leading up to the 2012 general election, President Obama visited a campus diner and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan attended an Ohio State football tailgate.

Carlson sees these campaign stops as opportunities for students to become more aware of the political process. He believes that leads Ohio State students to graduate as a more engaged, more civil body of political citizens.

“It gives them a co-curricular experience that is second to none, in terms of learning the process,” Carlson said.

Learning opportunities abound

Looking up at the dais during the Democratic town hall, Carlson recognized the faces of several politically active Ohio State undergraduates, including Abby Waidelich, the current vice president of Undergraduate Student Government

“To be engaged with politics at that level is a critical part of their academic career,” Carlson said.

Ken Turscak is majoring in political science and history, and he interns downtown at the Ohio Statehouse. He said the in-person experience enhanced his experiences in the classroom and around Columbus.

"This is something I learn about in the classroom every day,” Turscak said. "It's amazing that the candidates are actually here on campus."

Shaina Morris, who is pursuing her master's at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, agrees.

"It adds a lot of depth to my degree," Morris said. "At the John Glenn College, inspiring citizenship is really important. When we are able to engage in the democratic process, it's really inspiring citizenship. As a young person, having these things right next to us is exciting."

Teaching moments

Chrissy Gilbert is a field education coordinator in Ohio State’s College of Social Work, connecting students with opportunities around Columbus. Gilbert teaches a class on economics and social justice. When Ohio State is front and center during events like the town hall, she said, her students benefit.

"We are really trying to get our social work students to think more about advocacy and policy and what it means to be engaged in the world,” Gilbert said. "Being able to have Ohio State so involved in the political campaign is definitely something I can talk to my students about. I'm always encouraging them to figure out what their piece is and how to get more involved.”

Cade Leebron, a graduate student in Creative Writing, teaches English composition to undergraduates. She attended Sunday’s town hall to observe the candidates as masters of rhetoric — something she says will help her as both a student and teacher.

"In the MFA program I get a lot of instruction about my writing and how to improve that, but it's really great to have political opportunities to witness political rhetoric firsthand,” Leebron said. “As a teacher, I talk to my students a little bit about the rhetoric surrounding a political campaign: ‘How do these candidates speak? Why do their words matter?’ So it's great to get a chance to witness this firsthand."