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Interns Get Up-Close Look at Politics
Aminata Diallo, Liam O'Brien and Benjamin Foster (L-R) at Project Vote Smart in Montana

July 27, 2016

As the U.S. presidential election approaches, it seems every political stump speech is followed by a news story that fact-checks said speech. Voters are often left unsure of who or what to believe.

It seems more appropriate than ever, then, that three Susquehanna University students are spending their summers interning at Project Vote Smart in Montana. Staffers study the backgrounds and records of thousands of political candidates and elected officials to discover their voting records, campaign contributions, public statements and biographical data.

Though each Susquehanna student is researching something different, all are getting an intense education about the U.S. political system, from county commissioners to the presidency.

Economics major Benjamin Foster, of Mobile, Ala., works in Vote Smart's speeches division, which collects all publicly released written documents—press releases, interviews, Congressional floor speeches, etc.—to provide voters with a simple overview of every position a candidate or elected official has taken on any issue.

"As my job includes collecting statements from congressional members and candidates, each time a presidential candidate makes a controversial statement, I have days of reading and categorizing statements on the issue," Foster said. "Often, minor issues brought up in the presidential race can create deeper tensions and division through the rest of the political system."

Political science major Liam O'Brien, of Simsbury, Conn., works in the bios division, collecting and categorizing primary sourced information about political candidates.

"Whether I want to go into politics or not is still up in the air," O'Brien said, "but it's allowed me to reflect and think about what I really want to do with the rest of my life, and what kind of an impact I want to leave on the world."

Meanwhile, international studies major Aminata Diallo, of Bronx, N.Y., works on ballot measures, researching what pieces of proposed legislation will be approved or rejected by voters.

Throughout their work, each has been struck by the varied paths many take on their way into politics.

"There's no perfect formula to having a political career. For some, you go to college, get a degree, go to law school and become a lawyer," Diallo said. "But through my work, I get to read about some of the things they've done, people who are formerly accountants, engineers, former community organizers."

The three envision different careers for themselves. For Diallo, maybe an ambassadorship. Foster plans to enlist in the Peace Corps. O'Brien can see himself entering politics, or perhaps returning to Vote Smart. All three credit Susquehanna with giving them not only the academic background, but perhaps more importantly the drive and confidence to succeed in whatever path they choose.

"As a liberal arts college, Susquehanna has not only prepared me for the hard work of dedicating myself to a task, but how to take the information being thrown at me and learn and grow from it," Foster said.

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