By Hayden Frye
As a new semester started, students enrolled in Hans Noel’s Presidential Nominations Lab didn’t gather in a classroom. Instead, they met for the first time in an airport.
The 10 undergraduates were hopping on a plane to Iowa, braving sub-zero temperatures to witness the presidential primary in action.
As part of the course, students got to follow the political primaries from Iowa to New Hampshire, meeting with major political players and seeing their coursework play out in real time.
“The nomination process is so central to what political parties do, but it’s so often misunderstood,” said Noel, an associate professor in the College of Arts & Sciences. “There’s really no better way to get an understanding of it than to see it up close. That includes going to rallies, talking with voters, journalists and politicos.”
During trips to Iowa and New Hampshire, students visited candidates’ offices, met with journalists like Chuck Todd at a taping of Meet the Press, and listened to, and in some cases met, the candidates vying for the U.S. presidential election, including former President Donald Trump, Governor Ron DeSantis, former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Governor Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and author Marianne Williamson.
“It is one thing to read something from a book or watch someone in the news,” said Anna Baramidze (C’24), one of the students in the class. “But seeing it live is a totally different deal.”
Learning on the Campaign Trail
Noel, a political scientist whose research focuses on political parties, first decided to offer the course in 2020 after visiting Iowa and New Hampshire in earlier primary election cycles.
He said he wants students who are interested in politics and government to understand not only the ideologies of parties but also their inner workings, how they advocate for change, adopt ideologies and nominate candidates. The primaries offer the perfect training grounds.
“A lot of primary events are on college campuses, and it was such a great opportunity for the local students,” he said. “If you go to school in Iowa or New Hampshire, at some point during your college career, the whole circus will come to you. We have our own part of the circus in Washington, but not this part. So if it won’t come to us, we should go to it.”
Taking students to the heart of the action allows them to apply their readings from class in real-time and meet with the politicians, staffers, journalists and voters that they’ve spent time studying on the Hilltop, he said.
For Baramidze, a government major pursuing a certification in Russian and Eastern European studies, being at the primaries in person made all the difference.
“This experience provided me with unique insight into the electoral processes, a better understanding of each candidate’s appeal, a sense of why people may support them and obviously a better look at their policies,” she said.