Item: December 30th, 2005.
has greatly expanded its off-campus offerings in recent years, adding courses in
The Woodlands and on the internet.
But for several Political Science students, their newest class extended through
the state of Arkansas, and their classrooms
included the Clinton Presidential Library, Little RockCentralHigh
School, and the
gubernatorial campaign trail.
Their experiences in Arkansas
from November 3rd-6th were part of the Political Science
Department’s new Junior Fellows Program, which promotes hands-on learning, civic
involvement, and leadership skills.
The program, according to Political Science Chair Bob Biles, fosters learning
through direct involvement: “It’s a great opportunity for them to learn by
doing.The curriculum enriches
their experience, and, in turn, their experiences enrich our classrooms.”
This happy marriage of theory and application was evident in Arkansas, as history books and civics lessons
sprang to life.Classroom
discussions of the “burdens of the Presidency” were captured in the Clinton
Presidential Library, where the students could view President Clinton’s
schedules, often detailing minute-by-minute his fourteen-hour days.On a larger scale, the Library transformed the 1990s into something more
than a “go-go decade,” as the students traced a timeline of events from 1993
through 2001, colorizing dim memories of NAFTA, the Oklahoma City Bombing, and
the war in Bosnia.
Less than two weeks after the death of Rosa Parks, the junior fellows
revisited the ghosts of a different civil rights battle when they toured Little RockCentralHigh School.It was here in 1957 that the “Little Rock Nine” were escorted by the
National Guard into the pages of history books, amidst much racist outrage.A modest one-room museum across from the high school captures the
poignant images of the time.The
students recognized the photos from their history books, but in this setting the
pictures took on a panoramic quality, reflecting the difficulties of America’s ongoing struggle for
equality, over which the Little Rock Nine labored long ago.The site ranked high on the students’ list of favorites, a sentiment
perhaps expressed best by Emily Johnson, who recorded the following notation in
the museum guestbook: “Thank you for keeping these memories alive, in hopes that
no one will have to relive these experiences.”
The students also visited Arkansas’ old
Statehouse, toured the StateCapitolBuilding,
and visited the Governor’s Mansion, where they lounged for a time in Governor
Mike Huckabee’s living room, and even played with his black Lab, Jet.On a less political note, the students enjoyed visiting
Arkansas’ Old Mill, the setting for the opening of
Gone With the Wind.For Samantha Lee, who ranks Gone
With the Wind as her favorite movie, the setting was a special treat.For Johnson, “it was simply beautiful, and it was great to see all the
happy couples” who came to enjoy the lush and romantic surroundings.
reflective nature of their visits to historical sites contrasted sharply with
the rapid pace of their campaign work. As
part of their field experience, three of the students committed to a two-day
stint with Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe, who is making a bid for the
governorship in what is expected to be the most competitive state-wide race in
the South.It was a unique learning
experience for Sam Houston students, whose home state has trended toward
one-party rule over the past decade.
were given typical volunteer work: folding signs, shredding documents, filing,
and organizing campaign literature.
These tasks were punctuated periodically by impromptu seminars organized by the
campaign staff.There, the students
learned about the media operations and the legal, procedural, and organizational
aspects of fundraising.The
presentations were skillfully conducted, mixing an insider’s knowledge with
illuminating anecdotes that offered insight into the candidate—nicely
complemented when General Beebe arrived and spoke to the students himself.It was, as Brynn Reynolds noted, “much more than I had any expectation
late on Friday night, the second day of campaigning began early; the students
were up by .It was homecoming at the University of Arkansas
at Pine Bluff, a historically-black college
located about sixty miles from Little
thousand people were expected to attend the festivities, and, in a campaign,
where there are voters, there are candidates. And Mike Beebe was everywhere.He was in the parade, he met with university officials, he was at the
tailgate party after the parade, he was at the game.He met hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people that day.With him were the students.
They held signs, distributed literature, helped set up the tailgate party,
distributed shirts, fed visitors, answered questions, played with children, and
spoke with General Beebe.Emily
Johnson even served as the official photographer for the day, following Beebe
through stadium grounds, snapping more than 150 photographs of the candidate
interacting with potential voters.
“It was a wonderful day,” said Johnson, “and I’ll have hundreds of photographs
to remind me of it.”
The work was
appreciated by Attorney General Beebe, who lauded the students’ “inspiration and
commitment,” which “is instrumental to keeping the future of democracy alive.We were excited that students from
lent us their time and effort and joined us on the campaign trail.”The students, too, were excited, and plans of a return trip are in the
early planning stage.Speaking as a
group, the students expressed their “great appreciation to Attorney General Mike
Beebe for his willingness to provide such a wonderful learning opportunity to
students from another state.He and
his campaign staff went far beyond what courtesy required, and we have benefited
The trip is a
culmination of many such educational experiences.They have attended town hall meetings presented by Texas Representative
Lois Kolkhorst, a lecture by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and speeches
by former President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney—which have taken
them to seven cities in two states and the District of Columbia.And next semester, the program will be expanded, further enriching the
students and their classrooms—wherever those classrooms might be.