Mercer Students Travel to New Hampshire to Experience First-in-the-Nation Presidential Primary

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CONCORD, New Hampshire – After leading 10 of his students through a hands-on exploration of the American presidential nominating process during last week's Iowa Caucuses, Mercer University professor Dr. Chris Grant and 15 students have spent the past five days observing and participating in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary.

Dr. Grant, associate professor and chair of the Political Science Department, and Dr. Jay Black, Schumann Endowed Professor in Writing for Media and assistant director of the Center for Collaborative Journalism, are accompanying the students, who have visited nine campaign events and spent 20 hours volunteering with the candidate of their choice.

Dr. Grant is incorporating trips to the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire, South Carolina and Georgia primaries into his Presidential Primaries course. “This is one of the best opportunities to teach campaigns to students – in fact, it really teaches itself,” he said. “I just drive the van and have conversations with the students and hope that one day we will see one of them in the 'big game.'”

“This is one of those few-and-far-between moments that have greatly affected our lives. In Georgia, all the candidates have been filtered out, so it's amazing to see and hear from the New Hampshire citizens how different their political lives are to ours,” said sophomore Olivia Buckner.

“Being able to experience the campaigns and rallies in person versus seeing them on TV has been amazing,” added sophomore Colbie Ermolenko. “I've loved seeing the candidates and hearing what they have to say and how they interact with people. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm so thankful to have been able to participate.”

Liz McKay, a junior majoring in political science and communication studies, had a unique experience at U.S. Senator Marco Rubio's town-hall meeting in Hudson, New Hampshire. She was initially turned away from the meeting before being invited in as event staff and assigned to the front row. When a diabetic man in the crowd fainted, McKay retrieved two granola bars from her purse, called out “Marco!,” and personally handed the snacks to Rubio to give to the ailing man.

“I started the event by being refused in and ended it by working the event, sitting right by the stage as staff and personally handing Marco Rubio my Chewy bars,” McKay recalled.

Participants in Dr. Grant's course must complete a service component, which not only includes volunteering for a campaign, but also requires engaging in outreach projects to explain the nominations process to K-12 students in Middle Georgia with the hope that as they better understand the process, they will be more eager to participate in it.

“As a 21-year-old who is voting in my first presidential election, this trip to New Hampshire has allowed me to get involved and understand positions on certain issues that no other trip could provide,” said junior Drew Winslett. “I am beyond thankful to Mercer for this opportunity, and I am excited for November.”

The trip's travel costs are covered by Mercer's Research that Reaches Out Quality Enhancement Plan begun last year and directed by Dr. Bridget Trogden, as well as a grant from the College of Liberal Arts under the direction of Dr. Keith Howard, interim dean.

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Kyle Sears