Winter Term course offers on-the-ground look at Iowa caucuses

Taught by Associate Professor Rich Landesberg, “The Trail Starts Here: The Iowa Caucuses” class allows students to engage with presidential hopefuls, interview voters, and offer real-time reporting of political events and topics.

Elon students Morgan Bodenarain ’18 (from left), Melissa Douglas ’18, Virginia Townsend '18, Kelsea Johnson ’17 and Michaela Healy '17 met and spoke with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Iowa. Photo courtesy of Melissa Douglas and Gary Grumbach
​For many Americans, the Iowa caucuses signal the official kickoff to the 2016 presidential election process. As a result, the state attracts an inordinate amount of attention from candidates as well as media members.

Among those on hand to document and assist the campaign events and presidential hopefuls are 23 students enrolled in a political caucus course offered by Elon University’s Study USA program. Titled “The Trail Starts Here: The Iowa Caucuses,” the Winter Term course is taught by Richard Landesberg, associate professor of communications. Mark Dalhouse, director of Elon’s Study USA program, is also accompanying the class in Iowa.

In addition to on-campus classwork, the four-credit course includes a 10-day program in the Hawkeye State where students are receiving an inside look at the primary process. The program participants, most of them School of Communications students and political science majors, are documenting their experiences on a course blog,

“You can read about it and talk about it but nothing compares to actually experiencing the Iowa caucuses,” Landesberg said. “This quintessentially American way to start the process of picking our next leader needs to be seen from the ground. What the students are doing is the very definition of experiential learning. And the odds are good we will get up close and personal with the next president of the United States. How cool is that?”

Brianna McClelland ’16, a journalism and political science double major, notes the setting is just as energetic and lively as one might expect.

Ashley Bohle ’17, an Elon Local News reporter, interviews Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Jan. 11. Photo courtesy of Richard Landesberg, @RichLandesberg on Twitter
​”The atmosphere of these events can be summed up into one word: electric,” she said. “Regardless of your personal political views, every event is an incredible experience. At these events I’ve been able to interact with Iowans from all over the state. Without fail, every citizen I have had the chance to speak with has a true passion for politics and their favorite candidate.”

Additionally, several members of Elon Local News, Elon’s student-produced newscast, are reporting from Iowa. The students’ coverage, including work by McClelland, is available at The Iowa Brown & Black Presidential Forum and town hall events with Bernie Sanders and Ben Carson were among the events the newscast has covered so far.

Elon Local News also captured Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addressing Elon students and sharing why college students should vote for her.

Gary Grumbach ’16, news director of Elon Local News, points out that his student organization provides a different vantage point than most other media outlets. And it’s an opportunity the journalism major said he appreciates Study USA offering to prospective media members.

“Getting to attend these events, and get up close and personal with the candidates running for leader of the Free World is an incredible experience,” Grumbach said. “Elon Local News has the opportunity to look at everything from a different perspective than the NBCs, ABCs and CNNs – the college angle. With education reform and candidates suggesting ‘tuition-free’ college, it is a topic that deserves our attention.”