College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Political Science Students Get Up Close with Candidates at Iowa Caucus

Students attend Iowa Caucus leading up to the primary caucus

The year 2020 signifies the start of many things: a new year, a new decade, a leap year, and an election year.

For 16 political science students who traveled to Iowa to participate in the Democratic caucus held Feb. 3, the year brought a chance for them to be at the center of a presidential primary campaign.

Political science associate professors Neil Chaturvedi and Mario Guerrero, from the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, wanted students to have the ability to work on campaigns in a more personalized way.

“Our goal was to explore two things. One, is the nomination process representative, and two for our students to get a hands-on experience of how presidential campaigns work,” said Chaturvedi.

This year it meant working on Democratic campaigns during a competitive primary election. As they headed to Iowa, they had no idea which candidates would be at the caucus, but students were eager and ready to help the individual campaigns.

“As a first-year, I never thought I’d get an opportunity like this. I had the ability to work hands-on with campaigns and working on either phone banking or door-to-door canvassing. Coming back to California, I still have the ability to do that, and I have connections, and I can still do that moving on here,” said Tala Qasqas.

Prabhat Jammalamadaka, a freshman, said he saw the experience as an opportunity to increase his knowledge of the political process.

“As a minority, I see that with the states and what’s happening in the nation, I don’t see my rights specifically being established or fought for in the big scheme of things,” he said. “I’m very interested in the political aspect, being more involved in policy, creating change to get more people involved and trying to be more connected to what’s happening.

Iowa also marked a milestone in their lives as voters.

“This is my first election, so I wanted to see how it all goes, and since Iowa is the first state to make their decision, it was interesting to see how people make their decisions and how it affects the country,” said freshman Raisa Majid.

Seeing the political process from behind the scenes and being able to contribute tangibly was a highlight for students, and the return on their hard-work was priceless. They got to interact with presidential candidates, including Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang, and Pete Buttigieg.

The trip motivated the students to encourage others to be informed, become involved and exercise their right to vote for candidates who represent their beliefs.

“One of the things that Dr. Guerrero and I both talk about in our classes is the rate of voting by age. Young people don’t turn out to vote. It’s important because most of the things that Congress, the president, everybody is talking about affects young people,” said Chaturvedi.

The political science students came back to California having established connections in Iowa, some even being awarded presidential fellowships to continue their campaign work. They also forged life-long relationships with each other.

“It’s a new place. I barely knew anyone. Even though there were students on the trip, I didn’t know most of them,” Jammalamadaka said. “We became a tight-knit family on that trip because we had been doing everything together.”

Chaturvedi urged students to take advantage of these kinds of experiences.

“The advice I have for other students is when these opportunities arise, I know it’s scary, but do it,” he said. “It’s so rewarding, and it’s been an amazing experience, for not only us as faculty watching them, but the students as well.