The Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics’ Inside Iowa Project gave an outstanding cohort of 10 students an inside look at this crucial state’s impact on the road to the White House.
About the Project
Beginning in early 2019, students attended a series of expert-led workshops designed to educate them on structure and operations of a modern presidential campaign; to understand the unique political culture and history of Iowa; and to acquire tangible career skills that will prepare them for summer internships in Iowa. Students then received a stipend to travel and live in Iowa for the summer to pursue a provided 10-week internship with a political campaign or political party of their choosing. The year-long program culminated with a four-day trip to Des Moines, Iowa allowing students the chance to observe the caucus process first-hand and the kick-off of the 2020 presidential election.
The students worked over 4,000 hours on 6 campaigns over a 10-week period. Students gained valuable job skills, experienced the thrill of presidential politics up close, and made lasting connections with new friends from across the country.
See what the students said about their experience in the Inside Iowa Project program in this video highlight.
Inside Iowa Project: Student Cohort
“The Inside Iowa program was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am so glad I was a part of it. I gained such valuable work experience on the ground in Iowa, built life skills that will benefit me beyond USC, and had a great time getting to know the state with my fellow cohort members. I am so grateful to everyone at the Center for the Political Future for the opportunity and the constant support throughout the entire process.” Thomas Martin, Junior, Political Science
“I fully intended to return to USC after my summer internship with the Kamala Harris campaign ended, but when they offered me a job as a field organizer, there was no doubt in my mind about staying. Although the campaign ended in December and even knowing the outcome now, I would still do it all over again. I grew so much more than I ever thought possible in the seven months I was there. It was an added treat to be able to return in February as an observer and witness firsthand the craziness and complexity of Iowa during caucus season! The Iowa Project taught me so much about what it means to be civically engaged and how even as a student, I have the ability to create lasting change; it really was the experience of a lifetime.” Lan Duong, Sophomore, International Relations
“My experience interning for the Iowa GOP was unforgettable. I primarily focused on Senator Joni Ernst’s 2020 campaign, which gave me the opportunity to work on incredible events with the Senator and gain a deeper understanding of Iowa politics. I was able to chat with Nikki Haley, march with Governor Kim Reynolds and Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kauffman, cheer for President Trump in person, and shake hands with nearly every democratic candidate. The trip to Iowa for the 2020 caucuses was incredible! Through my work with the GOP, I played a direct role in caucus organization and outreach. I was able to reconnect with Iowa Senator Ernst and Governor Reynolds, as well as meet and mingle with key leaders including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, and Congress members Jordan, Gaetz, and Stefanik. It was a learning experience I won’t soon forget!” Mechelle Philip, Junior, Political Science & Public Relations
“I worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign in Iowa this summer. It was really great to learn the inner workings of a campaign through my work in the field team and in the campaign headquarters in Des Moines. Getting to go back to Iowa was a really great end to the Inside Iowa Program. It was amazing to see all of the hard work we did for our campaigns come to fruition!” Kayla Koerting, Senior, Philosophy, Politics and Law
“Going back to Iowa was an exhilarating experience, as we got to see firsthand what all our hard work over the summer was for. The caucus itself is such a complicated process and the controversy that came afterwards this year both made being there in-person more valuable and educational.” Anant Natt, Sophomore, Communications
“This past summer I worked as a communications intern with Mayor Pete’s presidential campaign in Des Moines, Iowa. It was truly one of the most illuminating experiences I’ve had, not only in terms of the scope of work I was able to do, but also the electrifying energy in Iowa in the months leading up to the caucuses. It was so rewarding to see the enthusiasm and energy surrounding the campaign build from the ground up. Returning to Des Moines for the caucuses was the perfect culmination of the Inside Iowa program. It was incredible to see all the Iowa teams in their peak form and to feel the energy on the ground, and even more rewarding having spent 10 weeks over the summer working towards that night.” Yoko Rosenbaum, Junior, Philosophy, Politics and Law & Piano Performance
“Since watching the ‘West Wing’ box set with my parents at ten years old, I’ve always loved the idea of working in politics. Working on a presidential campaign has always been a dream of mine. I didn’t think I’d get the chance to fulfill a dream of mine so early; I love politics even more than ever and I got to meet Joe Biden, a man I look up to. I thank the Center for allowing me to have this amazing experience. It was a really unique experience to be at the center of the country’s attention for a couple days. I got to meet politicians and press and have serious discussions about Iowa’s future. On caucus night, it was interesting to see how they planned on using the app and it just made me more excited to be an engineer in politics, seeing as my help is much needed!” Mahima Varanasi, Sophomore, Computer Science
“I spent the best summer of my life this year doing what I love most: campaigning. Through the generosity of the USC Center for the Political Future, I was able to move to Iowa for a few months, and immerse myself in its rich political culture. I talked to everyday Americans about the issues that they faced, what they wanted to see from our next President, and how we could all help make a better America. And heading back in February, to go knock doors for the first candidate that has ever inspired me, I had no regrets about what I did with my last summer in college.” Ben Pearce, Senior, Public Policy
“Last summer, I made incredible connections that are only possible in Iowa. Working on Joe Biden’s campaign taught me the ins and outs of organizing, and I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity. Returning to Iowa to finish the work the Biden campaign started and observe practical politics in action cemented my love for campaign politics. Being able to experience the Iowa caucuses, live and on-site, was an unmatched learning experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” Tavis Cote, Senior, Political Science
“Returning to Iowa this February gave me the once in a lifetime opportunity to witness a unique and influential component of our democratic process and allowed me to reconnect with the Buttigieg campaign. It was so rewarding to witness the culmination of all our hard work over the last summer.” Honor Hayball, Senior, Political Science
- Iowa: Politics and Journalism Conan Nolan, NBCLA (February 6, 2020)
- Iowa Project Opens Students Eyes to Presidential Process Em Nguyen, Spectrum News (February 5, 2020)
- USC Student Witnesses Iowa Caucus First-Hand Em Nguyen, Spectrum News (February 5, 2020)
- California Student Travels To Take Part in Iowa Caucus Em Nguyen, Spectrum News (February 4, 2020)
- YDM Ep. 43 – Cornpop/Mechelle Interview You Damn Millennials Podcast (September 25, 2019)
- YDM Episode 42 – Nuke A Tsunami/Thomas Martin Interview You Damn Millennials Podcast (September 3, 2019)
- Students head to Iowa for political campaigns Mia Speier, Daily Trojan (August 28, 2019)