Vanderbilt rolling seminar to Iowa caucuses offers unique learning opportunity

A select group of Vanderbilt University students, faculty and staff will experience firsthand a pivotal part of the 2008 presidential campaign when they participate in a rolling seminar to the Iowa caucuses.

Approximately 50 students who have committed to volunteer in Des Moines in a presidential campaign of his or her choosing will depart by bus from the Vanderbilt campus at 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1 for the trip to Des Moines. Eight other students will travel on their own to join the group in Des Moines for the experience, which includes the opportunity to observe one or more caucuses and take part in faculty-led discussions.

Vanderbilt students, who will volunteer for six Republican and six Democratic candidates in total, have committed to each work four hours a day. During free time they can attend political rallies, hear the candidates speak and meet other college students involved in the campaigns. The rolling seminar is sponsored by Vanderbilt’s Office of Active Citizenship and Service.

“The bus trip to Iowa will fully engage our students in the political process while exposing them to diverse perspectives through their in-depth discussions with the other participants,” said Mark Dalhouse, director of the Office of Active Citizenship and Service. “In addition, there will be a special event for area Vanderbilt alumni and other friends of the university to interact with the students.”

“This is a rare opportunity for our students to see the caucuses up close and gain a better understanding of the steps in the process for selecting the next president,” said Christian Grose, assistant professor of political science at Vanderbilt. Grose is making a return visit to Des Moines after observing the caucuses in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Grose will be the keynote speaker for a Vanderbilt alumni and friends reception on Jan. 2 in Des Moines. The title of his talk is “Are the polls right? Predicting the winner of the Iowa caucuses.”

Spencer Montalvo, a freshman in the College of Arts and Science from Powder Springs, Ga., chairs the seminar’s student committee. It has compiled a series of clips from YouTube in which candidates explain some of their policy positions. The DVD will be shown during the 12-hour bus ride to Des Moines, and students and faculty will analyze the videos as part of the trip’s educational component.

Montalvo said that he decided as soon as he learned about the trip during freshman orientation that he wanted to go. “It’s great to learn about the candidates by watching them on television, but to actually be in the same room when they are speaking makes the political process more meaningful and exciting,” he said. Montalvo was involved in Young Democrats for America in high school and served as a junior alderman in his hometown. He said that the trip will help him decide if he wants to pursue a career in politics, perhaps working on campaigns, when he graduates.

The capstone of the four-day seminar will be the Iowa caucuses, which the participating students will be able to observe in various locations in Des Moines on Jan. 3. The rolling seminar is scheduled to return to Nashville on Jan. 4.

Last January OACS and the Division of Student Life sponsored Vanderbilt’s first rolling seminar when students, faculty and staff retraced the 1961 Freedom Rides with some of the original Freedom Riders. The group traveled to Montgomery and Birmingham.

For more information, contact Lilly Massa-McKinley at 615-322-7859 or

Media Contact: Ann Marie Deer Owens, 615-322-NEWS

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