2016 Archives

SMU course on women in politics provides backstage pass to presidential race

February 15, 2016

DALLAS (SMU)Field trips just aren’t what they used to be.

Anthony for Student Adventures
Read the blog about their behind-the-scenes experience.

In early February, SMU Professor of Communication Studies Rita Kirk took three students on a field trip to New Hampshire, where they got an up-close and personal lesson in politics by organizing focus groups for CNN and visiting presidential campaign headquarters.  Kirk expects to be taking another group out on the road sometime soon.

“One of the hallmarks of SMU is that we offer students an opportunity to establish relationships with professors and do work that leads to jobs and careers.  There isn’t space that for at a major 40,000-person-plus university,” says Kirk, who has years of experience conducting debate-night and election-night focus groups for CNN.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘If you learn your skills, you can one day be a political consultant,’” Kirk says. “But it’s another thing to take students into the field and show them what that life is like.”

The students in Kirk’s course, “Women in Politics,” find plenty of content in these behind-the-scenes excursions: When students visit campaign headquarters, they meet the staff responsible for conveying their candidate’s message on gender issues, such as income inequality, abortion rights, or Trump’s spat with Megyn Kelly

“The experience resonated with me because never have I been so close to the process,” says Anthony Moss, one of the students who traveled with Kirk to New Hampshire. “We were exposed to the people, the elements, the CNN set, the real world. This was on a different level - this was presidential politics.”

Kirk’s trips for CNN are often crafted at the spur of the moment – in mid-February she took three more students on an assignment to South Carolina on the day of the New Hampshire Primary. Stay tuned to Kirk’s Tweets from @RealTimePolitic to see where on the road to the White House her students land next.  


SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.