When you get to meet Anderson Cooper, Chris Wallace, and become Facebook famous, your year is pretty much made, according to several students in the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs. They were among those who volunteered to help with logistics for the presidential debate lecture series and watch events, reported on the election issues for journalism classes, photographed debate and election events in Southern Nevada, and worked inside the debate hall.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the students’ experiences.
The highlight of Amanda Haikal’s debate experience came when she met Anderson Cooper, the anchor and host of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.
“I met him. I shook his hand. We exchanged conversation for a bit,” she said. “The fact that he was just chilling on campus in a place that I walk past to get to class — it was so surreal,” said Haikal, a junior communication studies major. Haikal got to the CNN stage just in time for a few of her friends to also meet and greet Cooper inside the perimeter of the stage. Soon after, hundreds of other students followed suit and gathered with Haikal and her friends for a group picture with the Silver Fox (everyone was chanting it as the Cooper’s broadcast started).
As debate day approached Haikal reveled in the seemingly chaotic activities around the media stages on campus.
Haikal was selected by the UNLV Presidential Debate committee to work at an Ask Me Booth and USA Today interviewed her on her thoughts about the election and campaign issues.
A communication studies major, Haikal studies rhetoric, which helped her understand how to view debates and and persuasively address a topic. “It was something that I will always remember taking out of my undergrad experience,” she said. “I think after it was over, I had this post-concert depression because I was sad to see it gone. I feel like everyone — all the UNLV students — were connected on those three days. We all had this passion, this Rebel Pride. To be a part of this school and to see it all come together was the coolest thing ever. I’m glad I’m graduating next year because nothing can top that.”
Chloe Powell, a communication studies graduate student, initially thought the spots to help national media networks were all taken but then a day before debate day, she was one of four UNLV students offered a spot to work the crew of Jimmy Kimmel Live! The late show’s correspondent, Ken Bone, an undecided voter and star of the second presidential debate, broadcast live from UNLV. Powell worked alongside Bone, finding people for interviews and snapping prom-style selfies during down time. Powell viewed the debate from a rhetoric standpoint, and has spent much of her studies examining previous political debates for presidential messages intending to persuade an audience, and learning what does and doesn’t work.
Olivia Tuttle, a criminal justice graduate student, knew she wanted to volunteer for the debate as soon as she heard about it. Tuttle worked in the media pop-up at the Boyd School of Law. She assisted when media members interviewed faculty and students. She also spent debate day volunteering with Kimmel’s production team.
“As a student at UNLV, it was an awesome opportunity for us to have national attention on the university. As a citizen, I think it’s good to be involved in the political process,” said Tuttle. “It’s only every four years that this could even be possible … so the fact that we were chosen and the fact that everyone worked so hard to have the debate here is awesome.”
Tuttle also met Anderson Cooper, one of the many benefits of having media set up throughout the campus.
Reporting from the Scene
Idania Ramirez, a journalism student, received credentials to report for the journalism school’s student-run program Studio G in the debate hall media center, better known as “spin alley.” Ramirez accompanied the National Democratic Institute’s International Study Program, during which 54 delegates from 30 countries spent six days at UNLV learning about the democratic process.
“Having the opportunity to be a student at UNLV during this year’s elections has opened many opportunities for me,” said Ramirez. “As a journalism student, it’s expanded my education on politics by pushing me to learn about certain political issues on a deeper level.”
Ramirez also helped produce debate segments in Spanish alongside journalism student Jennifer Hurtado, who also interned for Fox News.
Several journalism students worked for Studio G and participated with national networks for coverage of the final presidential debate. Student journalists interviewed a wide range of guests including Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for National Public Radio; Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus; the Reb. Jesse Jackson Sr.; and Katrina Pierson, a spokeswoman for Donald J. Trump.
Students who covered the debate also included Rio Yamat Lacanlale with CNN and Karina Perez for ABC News.
Reporting from the debate hall’s spin room is one thing – reporting live from the debate room where the candidates squared off at Thomas & Mack is another. Journalism students Audrey Crawford and Lauren Anderson got debate credentials to report live from the spin room for KUNV 91.5 Radio. Just a day before the debate, officials offered the students seats to watch and report on the debate.
Crawford described the experience: “No one treated me like a student. For a couple of hours, I felt like a professional and it was like Cinderella like at the end of the night - the magic has kind of worn off but I’ll definitely have that memory forever.”
Nadia Basich, a senior broadcast journalism student, worked with C-SPAN as a college correspondent along with Robin Peters, a political science major, and Savannah Stallworth, a business and entrepreneur studies major. Basich used Twitter, Periscope, and Facebook Live and the hashtag #cspanbts to showcase the sights, sounds and experiences of the debate around the C-SPAN bus at UNLV’s campus.
Basich is a public relations intern for Cox Communications and obtained credentials for access to the president debate media center. She armed herself with her tripod and camera and interviewed political parties and celebrities inside of the media center, on behalf of C-SPAN, including actor Scott Baio and Steve Aoki, a music producer and DJ.
“I was in reporter heaven. I learned so much and I’ve never been in a situation like this. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Basich. “In college we’re here to learn; after this, we enter the workforce. I think having the debate here is a great resume builder and it gives us exposure to what it really means to be a journalist.”
The Super Bowl of Debates
UNLV’s debate team coach Jacob Thompson called it the Super Bowl of Debates and on debate day, UNLV Debate Team members Jeffrey Horn and Matt Gomez were ready to call all the plays and provide analysis and commentary leading up to the debate. The debate team students joined Thompson for a live interview on MSNBC and then rushed over to the CNN stage for an interview by CNN digital journalist Chris Moody on CNN’s Facebook live with the sounds of the UNLV Marching Band performing live in the background.
The debate team’s Facebook Live video interview garnered more than 141,000 views, giving the award-winning team national and interrnational recognition. The students offered their preview of the night’s showdown between the candidates and tactics they would advise the candidates to use, as well as a plug for learning debate skills.
Christian Ogata, a senior political science major and member of the debate team, was selected as a stand-in for production teams. Ogata and the students practiced various debate issues in the style of the candidates on the stage so the lighting, sound, and visuals could be perfected. Ogata met the moderator for the final debate, Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace, who did a practice run with the students. In addition, Ogata and volunteers met with and watched the candidates’ campaign staff do their preliminary walk-throughs.
“It was an amazing experience that I'll never forget,” Ogata said.