Students Travel to Iowa Caucus

Freshman Kaylee O'Dell interviews an Iowa voter after a rally for Vivek Ramaswamy. O'Dell attended caucus to assist with coverage for the Index.

Eight Truman students traveled to the Iowa caucus the weekend before classes started to gain hands-on experience as a continuation of a communication course they took in the fall.

The group had the opportunity to gain journalism experience acting as an extension of the Truman Media Network. Communication students Abigail Knabe, Ali Werner, Ben Henderson, Colleen O’Reilly, Kathryn Hammock and Stephanie Nau were joined by Index staff Kaylee O’Dell and Lillie Morisaki.

“I think trips like the Iowa caucus are important because it gives students real life experience and we had very hands-on learning. It also gave us an opportunity to get closer with our classmates and with the faculty,” Hammock said.

Faculty members Jay Self and Don Krause work together to teach the course. Self focuses on the political science side and Krause focuses on the impact of the media. Self is the chair for the Communication Department and Krause is the advisor for the Index.

“It is a great opportunity to take what we learned in the classroom and see it happening in real life and to get to see democracy in action,” Krause said. “To really see the concepts from the book and how it applies to real life, I think it’s a great opportunity to just become more engaged in the democratic process, but also to study it from different lenses from communication to political science and get a good understanding of how that works.”

The course is taught every four years alongside a presidential election in order for students to attend the first event in the primary nominations. In the class, students learn about the significance and process of the Iowa caucus, as well as the effect the media has on politics. The trip to Iowa is the summation of the content and gives students a chance to apply what they had been studying all semester.

“Trips are important for any student, but I think particularly for liberal art students,” Self said. “One of the purposes of a liberal arts education is to make you a more productive citizen, so the idea here is that not only do you learn about this particular process, but you learn about political communication writ large and you see how campaigns function, how they’re trying to persuade to get your vote, how the media covers it, and this is really important for civic engagement.”

Truman has been sending students to the caucus since 2004. Self and Krause were involved in the 2008 trip, with Krause leading a team of students through Iowa and Self helping anchor the coverage in Kirksville. After realizing students didn’t have much political background in the caucus, Self created the course students would take before the trip. He and Krause have taught the class together twice.

“It’s fun to go on a trip like this where students can see what they’ve learned in the textbook and how it plays out in real life,” Krause said. “There’s no better way to learn about something than to actually go through the process and to see that.”

Students were in Iowa Jan. 13-16 where they had the opportunity to attend rallies and events for the candidates, visit the media center and sit in on a caucus in the Des Moines area.

“My biggest takeaway from the trip is how the caucus process works and how democratically it functions within our nominating process. I find that really interesting, and to be able to see that in person was really beneficial to my understanding of it,” Werner said.

While on the trip, students were tasked with writing a story about the event in order to practice their journalism skills. The stories can be found at under the Iowa Caucus Coverage tab.

“I love watching [students] get excited and become more civically engaged,” Self said. “It’s why I took this gig, it’s why I do this job, and to see that happen, it’s always exciting.”