“We’re asking the question: what would happen if Saint Leo hosted a presidential debate?”
Dr. Jeff Borden, “Chief Innovation Officer,” posed this question to an audience of students, faculty and staff at the kickoff of one of the largest innovative learning experiences in the school’s history.
This fall, Saint Leo University will be hosting a mock Presidential and Vice Presidential debate with its very own students starring as the candidates. Students will play the roles of the Party Leader, Campaign Director, Communications and Logistics Directors, and Policy Advisors for both the Democratic and Republican parties. The students playing these roles are all enrolled in the Political Science class POL-300: The Presidency, taught by Mr. Frank Orlando, but Political Science is not the sole department involved in this upcoming experience. Six other departments including Criminal Justice, Marketing, Video Production, Communication, Education, and Psychology will also be involved in multiple ways.
“This is an opportunity for students to learn about politics by doing and practical engagement. Also, the fact that so many classes are involved is going to give this an importance that’s going to allow us to do more events like this, bring in more people, and really give students great experiences,” said Political Science Department Advisor and
Instructor Frank Orlando.
This experience is all part of a new method of education that Saint Leo is experimenting with called an “Alternate Reality Learning Experience,” which aims to engage students in learning through active participation as opposed to simply listening to lectures for an entire semester.
“I believe that this will be a great way to get people involved in politics because it will show them what an actual election would be like, just on a smaller scale,” said senior Jacob Gates. Gates will be playing the role of Christopher Sampson, the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. “[The Alternate Reality Learning Experience] gets people more interested in the real campaigns occurring right now as they’re in the national spotlight, and I believe that it will prepare students for the actual 2016 Presidential election that will occur in about 14 months.”
On Wednesday, September 2, Saint Leo welcomed four honored guests to
discuss topics such as the importance of youth’s involvement in political activism, how a campaign is run, media coverage, the importance of voting, and even to the crucial role that Florida – specifically, Tampa – plays in national elections. The guests included Tyler Cash, Dr. Steve Kistulentz, William March, and Kurt Browning. Cash worked on the Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Charlie Crist campaigns and currently works for the Republican Party of Florida. Dr. Kistulentz is a former polling consultant and published author currently an Associate Professor of English, who worked in national politics for 17 years. March is a veteran freelance political reporter and editor for the Tampa Bay Times who has covered every presidential race since 1994. Browning is a former Pasco County Supervisor of Elections as well as the Florida Secretary of State and currently serves as the Pasco County Superintendent of Schools.
With the upcoming presidential election, Tampa will be thrown into a national spotlight as the epicenter of an important swing state – as March stated, “[Florida is] basically at the center of the universe and the black hole at the center of that center is Tampa.” This environment provides an opportunity for complete immersion as students begin to campaign alongside actual presidential candidates.
“A lot of young people are disconnected from politics, but if we can bring it to campus and make it more approachable and something that everyone can relate to, it will be a really great learning opportunity,” said senior Zoe Mathieu. Mathieu will be playing the role of “Rachel Bowman,” the Democratic Presidential candidate.
The first mock debate will be between the Vice Presidential candidates for the Democratic and Republican parties and will be held on Wednesday, October 21 at 5p.m. in the Boardrooms. The second debate and main event will be between the Presidential candidates for both parties and will be on Friday, November 13 at 7p.m. also in the Boardrooms. All students and faculty are welcome to witness the productions created as a result of weeks of the students’ hard work.
“The eyes of not only the campus community but also the greater campus community are going to be on them. The pressure is definitely on, but I know that there’s talent in that class and that they can do it,” continued Orlando.
The Lions’ Pride Newspaper will be covering the A.R.L.E. throughout the semester as students campaign and prepare for the debates.