COLUMBIA - Walking door to door, discussing political policies, attending parades and stuffing envelopes aren't summer jobs for many college students. But with a recent increase in youth participation and an election nearing, many students have found work on political campaigns this summer.
Increased involvement and interest in politics makes college students an asset to political campaigns - and politicians have noticed. They're reaching out to youth more than ever. Students' technological expertise and their willingness to dedicate time has given them an opportunity to volunteer or work for campaigns around the state, all while providing a rich experience.
The "student year"
It makes sense that many Missouri college students have been drawn to the campaign trail. Audrey Blumberg, an MU senior and a field organizer for Sean Spence's campaign for the 25th District state House seat, called this the "student year" for politics.
That seems to be the consensus across the state's campuses.
"The youth vote is definitely increasing across the board," said Nate Kennedy, president of the College Democrats of Missouri and campaign manager for Chuck Graham's re-election campaign in the 19th District state Senate race.
Jeremy Hagen, president of Missouri College Republicans, said he works to organize students in his party to volunteer for campaigns across the state.
"I actively encourage students to work on political campaigns," Hagen said. "It's not that hard. Students care."
A lot of the students' political work, especially during the primary season, involves volunteering for a number of campaigns and to support various candidates instead of focusing only on one. Hagen said that building a broad base of support and volunteers is a part of his job, and that the student organizations don't actually endorse specific candidates during the primaries but try to help them all.
"My job is to get students to vote Republican and volunteer for Republicans," Hagen said. "We have a policy of not formally endorsing or creating a perception that we favor one over the other."
Lucas Presson, chairman of the Southeast Missouri State University College Republicans, said it's important to have students volunteering "all over the place" to get as many candidates from his party elected as possible.
"You create an arsenal of students you can draw upon, and then you have a candidate looking for student work," Presson said.
Caitlin Ellis, president of MU's College Democrats, has volunteered for multiple Democratic campaigns this summer and facilitated student involvement by bringing candidates into the College Democrats' meetings.
"Just about every candidate was interested," Ellis said. "Usually the candidates would come to us or e-mail or call me to see if we had students that could help."
Ellis noted that this year, more than ever, many candidates are realizing the importance of reaching out to the youth vote and getting students involved in the political process.
"There have definitely been a lot more students who are still in school but have actually gotten internships or jobs with campaigns for this summer," she said.
Some student campaigners, though, said they have seen just the opposite.
"Students and volunteers are not really jumping on any campaign," said Lucas Case, a field director for Republican Sarah Steelman's gubernatorial campaign and a student at Ozarks Technical Community College. "Because of the economy, students need jobs, and campaigns can't always afford to pay volunteers."
Students have time, tech expertise
Two things students bring to political campaigns that others might not are time and knowledge of technology. Since the social networking Web site Facebook opened up to everyone, many politicians have created Facebook profiles or fan pages. Technological savvy has become something of a must in the political world, and students can teach candidates.
"You're seeing a lot more candidates having their college interns make Facebook profiles and making their Web sites better," Ellis said. Students "know Facebook pretty well."
And it isn't all just Facebook. Kennedy said students can bring an element of "Net roots" to a campaign, in which there is a form of grass roots campaigning via the Internet.
"It's a great way to get the message out and get people involved," Kennedy said, noting that he and Graham both contribute to Graham's Facebook profile and invite people to campaign events.
Hagen said many College Republicans nationwide are socially networking through a Web site called Student Tools for Online Republican Mobilization, or STORM. They can register at the Web site of the College Republican National Committee, crnc.org.
"Built in are a lot of social mobilization networking tools like Facebook," Hagen said. "The only difference is that STORM has only College Republicans on it."
Besides providing a broader knowledge of new technologies and social networking sites, students are valued on campaigns because of their ability to dedicate more time volunteering.
"Students have generally more time to give the campaigns than someone with a job and family does," Kennedy said. "Where other supporters can give money, college students can get active and give time."
Blumberg said she works about 30 hours a week, and Hagen said he is constantly organizing students, meeting with party leaders and participating in conference calls.
"Life is never dull, because you're working constantly," Presson said. "You'll finish up work at midnight and then have to wake up for a 6 a.m. conference call."
The long hours and stressful environment of a campaign seem to be a good fit for students.
"Students are a great resource to a campaign, because they have a lot more energy," said Abby Ladlie, an MU senior and assistant fundraiser for Republican state Rep. Danie Moore, who is running for the 9th District congressional seat.
Brian Roach, the western Missouri field coordinator for Democrat Jeff Harris' campaign for attorney general, said students' energy and dedication can be beneficial to the campaigns and to the students.
"I think Columbia, especially, is kind of a good case study on the way that young people have been influencing the political world," Roach said. "You have a lot of young kids here who have made a name for themselves in Missouri politics. They're young and eager and dedicated to what they're working for."
Kennedy even plans to become a full-time campaigner this fall. He's taking the semester off so he can focus all his efforts on a victory in November.
"The campaign is going 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Kennedy said. "It's very long days and pretty easy to get stressed. But the best part is having all that hard work pay off."
Building experience for the future
Blumberg isn't a political science major like many of the student volunteers. So how did she end up working for Spence?
"I needed a summer job, and I didn't want to flip burgers," she said.
But Blumberg, an education major at MU, said she hopes to use her experience with the campaign when she teaches.
"I would love to take what I learned and put it in the classroom," she said.
For some students, such as Hagen, the volunteer work is done in the name of the party and getting those candidates elected. Hagen, a second-year law student at MU, said he doesn't want to go into politics - at least right away. He'd rather become a prosecuting attorney in St. Louis.
"I'm not out here looking to advance my political career," Hagen said. "I'm really in it for my belief in the values of my party."
But for most politically involved students, many of whom major in political science and want to be involved in politics in the future, the experience of working on a campaign is helpful.
"It's like the 101 of electoral politics," Hagen said. "You see how it's done poorly by some and awesomely by others."
Presson added that through this experience, students can figure out what area of politics they might want to be involved in, such as lobbying, policymaking or volunteering.
"It not only helps us as a party, but it helps our folks start building a career," Presson said.
The insider look into the political world is fulfilling for many students.
"Students go from the classroom straight into what they're wanting to do," said Case, the student field director for Republican Sarah Steelman's campaign. "It's just so rewarding, because you get to work hands-on. I recommend it for anyone looking for a career in politics."
And in a political climate such as that of Missouri, which often has close elections and often serves as a microcosm of the country, students who volunteer on campaigns have begun to realize their importance and hope their work results in victory.
"It's 7 p.m. on election night," Kennedy said. "It's pencils down, and you hope to see the good results come in. It's always a nail-biter in Missouri."