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From writing opinion columns to working at voting polls, Penn students will have several unique academic opportunities in the fall semester to get involved in the 2012 presidential election.

Several professors are in the process of revising their curricula or creating new ones for fall semester courses — from Political Science to journalistic writing and communication studies — that will center around the election.

One such course is Dick Polman’s English 162, “The 2012 Presidential Election.” Polman’s course is a journalistic writing seminar that explores political commentary writing and requires students to write political opinion columns on a class blog for assignments.

This course is taught every year, but the name of the course changes depending on what is going on in politics, Polman explained. Last semester the course was called “The 2012 Republican Primaries,” and in fall of 2010 it was called “The 2010 Congressional Elections.”

According to Polman, the underlying philosophy of the class is “trying to connect the classroom to what is going on in the world and to use political news as sort of a jump-off point for an opportunity for people to experience it journalistically.”

Polman added that he evaluates his students and their writing as though he were a newspaper editor and not an instructor.

“I do this to try and keep the course timely,” Polman said. “It’s very important to have courses that are timely and pay attention to the 24/7 news cycle.”

Another election-centered course is John DiIulio’s Political Science 244, “Engagement & Elections,” which will be available for the the first time ever this summer, as well as in the fall.

According to DiIulio, the course will be a lecture taught every year that “attempts to cover all of the relevant academic literature relating to political participation, all the things that relate to civic engagement and all the conventional things people associate with politics and government.”

Additionally, the course will require students to participate in Penn Leads the Vote, a non-partisan student group that aims to increase voter turnout. According to College junior and PLTV Public Relations Chair Abby Tran, students in the course will be participating in various fieldwork, such as registering voters, watching and working polls and handing out flyers on Locust Walk.

The course will also bring in guest speakers — such as political officials involved as campaign strategists — to make it “especially unique and special, as students will be doing practicum as they hear from people in greater depth that have tried to do this,” DiIulio added.

Another election-focused course is Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s Communications 226, “Introduction to Political Communication.” It is a regularly offered course that focuses on the history of presidential campaigns from the 1950s to the present. In the fall, however, it will touch on the 2012 election in another unique way.

According to Jamieson, “The students in the class will form the audience for the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s 2012 presidential election debriefing in which those who created the ads, conducted the polls and charted the strategies for the Romney and Obama campaigns discuss what worked and what didn’t, why the winner won and the loser lost.”

Both Polman and DiIulio agree that these election courses are effective in getting students involved in current events and civic engagement.

“It’s wonderful when professors can connect students to what is going on day to day in the world beyond campus,” Polman said.

“Liberal arts learning is hands on and courses like these provide hands-on applications that sensitize students to current affairs,” Dilulio added. “They are ways of drawing out the practical applications of liberal learning.”

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