This fall, Portland State University is launching a timely new certificate program to prepare students to work on political campaigns.
While earning their Campaigning to Win a U.S. Political Campaign certificate, PSU undergraduate students will learn about the real world of political campaigning and will develop tangible, real world skills that they can use in future campaigns — whether that be a local city council race or a national election.
“We have a lot of students who are interested in not just studying politics from an academic point of view, but in doing it,” says Jack Miller, senior instructor of political science at PSU’s College of Urban & Public Affairs, who developed the certificate program. “I got this real sense of urgency among students to not just understand the political world, but to acquire some real skills that will allow them to be effective political actors.”
The program’s core course — also called Campaigning to Win a U.S. Political Campaign — provides a survey of the different roles people play in a campaign, such as campaign manager, fundraiser, event planner and social media manager. The course features guest lecturers who work on campaigns and can share their experiences in the political trenches. Students discuss pragmatic topics like how to campaign during a pandemic, reaching undecided voters, managing a candidate, raising money, getting endorsements and work-life balance.
Other required courses in the certificate include Political Parties and Elections; Media, Opinion, and Voting; and The Politics of Public Opinion. Electives include Persuasion, Political Communication, Oregon Politics, Congress, Interest Groups, Comparative Political Parties and Elections. An internship is also required to complete the certificate.
“All of the courses that were picked to go into the program are academic in orientation, but they have an action-oriented perspective as well, which is, if you're going to succeed in this highly competitive landscape of political competition — to either win elections or to get policies passed — you're going to have to know what that landscape looks like really well,” says Miller. “People go into politics because they want to change the world in either a large or small way and in order to change the world you have to understand how the system works.”
This term Miller is teaching Political Parties and Elections, one of the certificate’s required courses. In this course, students will follow competitive senate or gubernatorial races from across the United States. Students will track how the campaigns are doing, campaign messaging and the strategies campaigns are using to try to reach voters.
According to Miller, earning this certificate signals to potential employers that students have a deep understanding of how campaigns work.
“Having the certificate will tell people who are running campaigns that you have the ability to be hired for a high level role in the campaign right off the bat,” says Miller.
Miller says launching a new certificate program was a lot of work, but he felt supported and encouraged by PSU colleagues and the administration.
“I would never have done this program if I hadn't been encouraged by people in administration and felt this overall environment of innovation at Portland State,” says Miller. “The students are hungry for it, and the administration wants to feed that hunger.”