Simpson is The Place to Study Politics, Meet Candidates

In a two-week period, Simpson senior Steffi Lee met a United States senator, two potential presidential candidates and the person who helped get Barack Obama elected to the White House.

“I love my school and Iowa,” Steffi posted on her Facebook page. “Loved hearing David Axelrod speak tonight!”

For students who want to get an up-close-and-personal view of the political process, there are few places better than Simpson College.

The college’s proximity to Des Moines, and Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status in the 2016 presidential election process, makes Simpson a popular stopping point for candidates and their supporters.

For students majoring in political science, history and communications, as well as students who are simply interested in the political process, the opportunities are endless.

“Student journalists at Simpson get to do it all,” says Steffi, a multimedia journalism major, “and I think what stands out is, we’re able to get insights from potential 2016 presidential candidates as the political craze is starting up. You don’t get to do that anywhere else, or at any other college.”

Senior Tessa Lengeling interviewed political consultant David Axelrod for the Simpsonian one day, then had her photograph taken with Hillary Clinton the next day at the State Capitol.

“While at Simpson I have had the opportunity to meet so many inspiring people in both politics and communications,” she says. “I have made invaluable connections who helped me land my first job after college. Without the opportunities Simpson provided me with, such as candidate visits and chances to conduct once in a lifetime interviews, I would not be where I am today and on the path to my dream career in political communications.”

Simpson has another unique advantage that is attractive to prospective students: The John C. Culver Public Policy Center.

Named for the former U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from Iowa, the center encourages young people to pursue careers in public service with integrity and moral courage.

Culver Fellows like Steffi Lee receive an annual scholarship and the opportunity to meet prominent figures that visit campus at the center’s invitation.

“The Culver Center and Culver Fellowships attract top students from across the nation who seek experience – and eventually, careers – in politics, policy, and public service,” said Kedron Bardwell, department chair of political science.

“Simpson students already work as field staff or volunteers for several potential 2016 candidates. I have first-year advisees interning in state politics, hoping to take that experience national via our Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP). A national interest group just offered one of our 2015 graduates a great job in political communications. If you are a student interested in politics, there truly is no better place to be than at Simpson in the year or two before a presidential election.”

The Culver Center, for example, invited Axelrod, a former senior strategist in the Obama White House and strategist for his two successful presidential campaigns, to deliver the fifth annual Culver Lecture on April 14. He also spoke to a political science class.

“I know if I went to a larger school, I would not necessarily be able to have one-on-one time with candidates and have the opportunity to talk with them and ask questions,” Lengeling says. “Being in Iowa and so close to the state Capitol, as well as the airport, is how I have met all these influential people. I have worked at the State House and various campaigns and have seen first hand what the political process looks like. It has enhanced my love for politics and keeps me excited and hungry for more. I know no matter where I end up, Simpson was where my passion for politics and journalism started and where I know I can always go back and see smiling faces.”

Axelrod represents one of several prominent state and national figures to visit campus. U.S. Senator Joni Ernst made Simpson the first stop during a return trip to Iowa.

On April 8, Donald Trump, the real estate mogul, TV celebrity and potential Republican candidate for president, rented Pote Theatre and spoke to a packed auditorium.

Trump was complimentary of Simpson, saying he Googled the college to learn more about it.

“You have an excellent college,” he said. “This is a highly regarded place. I congratulate you. Simpson has a fantastic reputation.”

Trump answered questions posed by three Simpson students: senior Alex Severn, junior Evan Sinclair and freshman Zach Goodrich.

At one point, Trump asked Sinclair how well he could handle pressure.

“I’m on stage with you, aren’t I?” Sinclair responded, drawing a big laugh from Trump and the audience.

Senior Kelsey McLaughlin said it was “awesome” to see Trump in person.

“Just to know that Donald Trump is coming to Simpson is an experience I’m not sure you’d get at a bigger school. I think it’s awesome that he looked into us.”

Trump was followed to campus the next day by Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland who is considering a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. O’Malley was invited by College Democrats.

“It’s amazing how many opportunities come straight to me just by being on Simpson’s campus,” says junior Brittany Robb. “In just two days, I listened to and asked questions of two possible presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Martin O’Malley, without having to leave campus or pay a cent…Being at Simpson makes it so easy to be involved and informed, and I couldn’t have chosen a better place to do so.

Bardwell says it’s no surprise that candidates from both parties feel welcome at Simpson.

“Simpson College has always been very politically engaged,” he says. “We have active College Republicans and College Democrats, and the campus has hosted many presidential contenders, from Mitt Romney to Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. Now the non-partisan Culver Center, which brings in two or three nationally known speakers each year, makes Simpson a prime venue for political events in Iowa. I expect students and staff will have the opportunity to see nearly all of the serious presidential contenders on (or near) our campus by January 2016.”