Students Transform Election Night on Campus

November 6 Update

Rakia Braggs

Preparations are under way for the MBC Live Election.

The broadcast is set to begin at 7 p.m. tonight in Wenger Hall.

Original Story from October 25

With less than two weeks to go in the 2012 presidential election, the pundits are zeroing in on swing state polls, the candidates are making their closing arguments on the campaign trail, and a hard-working group of students at Mary Baldwin College are counting down to their first-ever live election night broadcast.

On November 6, nearly 20 students will execute a live broadcast of election results for the Mary Baldwin campus. The upstairs computer lab in Wenger Hall will be the “war room,” where students will monitor minute-by-minute results; the small glass room inside the Spencer Center will become a green room for guests to collect their thoughts before appearing on camera, and the Spencer Center itself will be transformed into a news studio, where results will be announced and analyzed in front of cameras. The entire event will be streamed live into Miller Chapel, where the community is invited to watch it on a big screen.

Live Election logo

The MBC Live Election is the ultimate simulation for political science, communication, and film students. And it could become a model for other colleges throughout Virginia.

“I’m a huge fan of simulations; I do them in my courses and the students love them. They take on a life of their own and accomplish something that I couldn’t in my lectures,” said Political Science Professor Laura van Assendelft, who conceived of the project in February while attending an American Political Science Association conference. She learned Principia College in Missouri had pulled off a similar election night broadcast. “The more I heard, the more I liked it. I was sold.”

For months, van Assendelft has enlisted support from others across the MBC campus: Bruce Dorries and Allan Moyé from the communication department, technical support specialist Reid Oechslin, and Steve Grande, director of civic and global engagement, who applied for a grant from the Virginia Campus Election Engagement Project. That grant provided $2,200 for cameras, microphones, advertising, food, T-shirts, a van and gas money used on local voter registration efforts, and a bus trip to Washington, DC, for shooting footage and recording interviews.

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The interns have sponsored debate-watching parties, helped register voters with Virginia Organizing, and set up workshops to learn the tools of the trade: how to turn a script into conversational language, how to make yourself slow down while speaking on camera, how to anchor the broadcast, how to write, and how to capture everything on camera.

“There is so much buzz about it,” van Assendelft said. “They are excited. They are paying more attention to the election. They are more engaged.”

“I’m more aware of each candidate’s views,” said Kristina Lee ’14, a communication major from Buckingham County. “After this experience I want to find a way that I can be more involved in politics, like helping at voting precincts and trying to get more students registered to vote.”

Lee is one project leader of the MBC Live Election. She hopes to see the operation run a lot like an internship she had at a local television news studio.

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“We’re really going to do this on our own,” Lee said. “I’m learning to do things by myself without professors in charge.”

The project is already resulting in increased political engagement, van Assendelft said, and could spur confidence among participating students. The professor has read studies that indicate women tend to have lower levels of political ambition — they tend to lack self-confidence and a belief that they could actually win.

“There’s a perception that they can’t win. So they don’t run. Even with similar credentials [as men]” van Assendelft said. “The general consensus is, these preconceptions are shaped earlier in life — as children and even through college. By putting on and staging this election broadcast, not only do they gain this experience, they gain confidence. In my mind, this is changing the way that they will participate in politics for the rest of their lives.”


Morgan Alberts Smith '99 is the web producer and social media manager for MBC's Office of Communication, Marketing, and Public Affairs.