Vice presidential debate offers learning experience for Centre students

lblackford@herald-leader.comSeptember 30, 2012 

DANVILLE — As head of Centre's Young Republicans, Luke Wetton will be in the thick of things when Centre College hosts its second vice presidential debate Oct. 11.

Wetton is coordinating with the state Republican Party to get his members different volunteer gigs — everything from being runners to escorting VIPs to the spin room.

"This really gives the students an opportunity to witness a very important civics discussion in their back yard," said Wetton, who hopes to meet such Republican heavy hitters as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "It brings the things you talk about in the classroom to a very personal level."

Centre scheduled its fall break to coincide with the debate because of limits the Secret Service put on many campus buildings. But officials say that hundreds of students will stay anyway, volunteering to do whatever is needed by event organizers and getting a unique educational experience.

Spokesman Michael Strysick, for example, said the communications department will have 50 students sending out constant Twitter updates about the debate. Others will run errands, help with the Debate Festival, give directions and hold doors open for as many as 3,000 members of the media who will be on campus.

Patrick Noltemeyer, associate dean of students, has been in charge of student engagement, which actually started with area school systems. Centre students published a debate guide that's been handed out while also putting together a drawing and essay contest for K-8 students about the debate.

This week, more than 800 local students will visit the campus to see the debate venue, including the massive media center.

"This event is so big that it's hosted at Centre but it is a community event," Noltemeyer said. "It's a common belief that young people are disengaged from the political process, but we want to re-engage them."

For Centre's students, debate activities start Wednesday, when the school will host a viewing party of the presidential debate at the University of Denver. They'll be encouraged to register to vote through the online service TurboVote, trying to get 100 percent registration among students. They're now at 85 percent, Noltemeyer said.

Centre wouldn't be hosting the debate again if it weren't consistent with its core educational mission, said Clarence Wyatt, a history professor and co-chairman of debate steering committee.

"We educate students for lives of learning, leadership and mission," Wyatt said. "This a great way to take the theoretical of what our students learn in the classroom and apply it to real life."

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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