The Debate: Debate brings pride to Longwood

Published 11:12 am Thursday, September 29, 2016

The vice presidential debate will leave a lasting legacy both on campus and off, according to Longwood Chief of Staff Justin Pope.

Pope said the primary reason Longwood University is hosting the debate “is to give a jolt of energy and pride to our mission and community.” He includes students, faculty, alumni, Farmville and Prince Edward County as parties that will be impacted by the debate.

“The most important long-run effect of hosting this event, I believe, will be the strengthening of our ties as a community, both for Longwood and our surrounding community.

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Ryan Catherwood, assistant vice president of alumni and career services, said the debate has already increased alumni support and pride.

Almost 150 alums have volunteered to host watch parties, Catherwood said. Longwood sent those individuals watch-kits that include garden flags, napkins, plates, koozies and more.

Catherwood said over time he hopes to see this sense of pride bring about a more expansive alumni network.

For students, Pope said, the debate will bring about the opportunity to be a part of history.

He said about 700 students have volunteered to help with the debate. They will be filling a wide variety of roles, from serving as ushers to helping the broadcast networks to helping ensure public safety.

Pope said the university has worked hard to match students with their interests, and their service provides a great line on their resume.

“It won’t necessarily get them a job by itself, but it will be a conversation-starter in a job interview. Our hope is that it’s something they’ll remember the rest of their lives,” said Pope.

Catherwood said he thinks another result is a lot of students pursuing careers in communications and public relations.

“Perhaps, having those roles for campaigns for sitting members of Congress,” he said, adding  he hopes they can start to develop political connections and find opportunities for students.

Pope also mentioned how many professors have incorporated the debate into their courses, opening up opportunities for more than 1,000 students to learn about the debate through various academic perspectives.

One course, “Art 495: On The Campaign Trail,” taught by Professor Michael Mergen, has given students the opportunity to contribute real campaign coverage, according to a Longwood press release. Students not only attended rallies for both candidates, but also had the chance to cover the presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York.

“All of that said, the attention it will bring to Longwood and to our area is certainly welcome,” Pope said.

He said there will be a short-term economic impact due to people staying in town, but the more important impact will be “getting this place on the radar screen of more people, who will increasingly see it as a historic and important place that is also a lovely two-college town to visit.”

Pope said President W. Taylor Reveley IV’s office sees this as a great opportunity to share Farmville’s story with the world.

According to the Longwood debate website, recent debate sites have calculated that hosting a debate produces immediate economic impact exceeding $10 million, and more than $50 million worth of global publicity due to media coverage. It says television viewership of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate exceeded 50 million people nationally, and countless more worldwide.

In regard to enrollment, Pope said there are no plans to substantially increase Longwood’s population. If the school does grow, he said, it will be through improved retention and possible new graduate programs. He also said the university would like to increase its out-of-state student population.

“It is always a win-win situation when more people around the country for whom Longwood might be a good fit know about us, and know about Farmville, and consider us among their college choices,” Pope said.

Another unexpected impact of the debate, he said, is the opportunity for 650 schoolchildren from Southside schools to visit campus Friday for the 2016 Student Citizenship Summit.

“It’s always a good thing (for) those students to have the opportunity to be on a college campus,” said Pope.

In addition, there are the physical improvement and changes implemented on campus to prepare for the debate, Pope said.

He said these will continue to impact students long after the debate has passed. They include improved pathways on campus, a new entryway, improved cybersecurity and an improved curriculum.