The School of Communication and the School of Public Affairs are partnering to offer an immersive field-experience course called Battleground Pennsylvania this fall.
In this class, students from across all majors will have the chance to go to Pennsylvania and cover both the governor’s race and the U.S. Senate race during the midterm elections in November.
Taught by professors Lynne Perri, Betsy Fischer-Martin and Molly O’Rourke, Battleground Pennsylvania is modeled off a course from 2008 called Presidential Primaries. Now, the course has expanded to include other political races, providing students with opportunities to work in the field during elections. A similar course, Battleground Virginia, was offered during the fall of 2021 to cover Virginia’s gubernatorial election.
During the course, students will study the state of Pennsylvania and complete assignments about polling, political trends and trust in officials. Students will also practice covering campaigns on the ground.
O’Rourke, the director of AU’s Political Communication master’s program, said students in the course can expect an “intense” experience, where they will attend events, interview voters and hear from experts in the fields of journalism and government. Additionally, she said this course can assist with career development, especially for students who are interested in political communication.
“Students really have a clear sense whether this is something that fits them well or is not,” O’Rourke said. “It’s been a springboard for a lot of students into their careers.”
In covering the election, students will get to witness firsthand the unfolding of political campaigns, as well as voter responses. According to Fischer-Martin, a professor in the SPA, the opportunity to speak with those in attendance is vital to understanding journalism during a campaign.
“I think that’s really valuable to be able to have students be on the ground, and talk to strategists, talk to journalists, and most importantly: talk to voters,” Fischer-Martin said.
She hopes that when students leave the course, they can further appreciate the work of political communicators.
“I hope they walk away with an appreciation for the concept of really having to be on the ground to get a sense of what’s going on,” Fischer-Martin said. “You can learn much more from that than you can sitting and reading newspaper articles.”
Through this course, students are ultimately able to have an experience that they could not have in the classroom. Perri, a professor in the SOC, noted that it is not just students who are enthusiastic about this experience — so are the voters with whom they speak.
“Regular voters and campaign strategists and candidates, they're very interested in our students, because they see engaged young people wanting to learn more about the process,” Perri said. “There’s a certain excitement that arises from that, like we’re all in this together in some respects.”
Perri also said the field experience is not “political tourism”: students are encouraged to be as neutral and nonpartisan as possible during the process.
During the application period last month, Battleground Pennsylvania was open to students in any major. Though there were a limited number of spots available, students from all backgrounds applied.
“I wish we could take 200 students, but we’ve decided the 24-25 range is a really good range to travel with,” Fischer-Martin said.