By Sean O'Connor, University of Delaware senior and intern for the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication
JANUARY 14, 2021—During a year of unique challenges, the University of Delaware’s National Agenda program helped create a sense of community for students adjusting to the stressful impact of the coronavirus pandemic. UD students experienced the first effects of COVID-19 on March 12 with the announcement of an extended spring break, followed by a transition to online learning for the rest of the academic year. Some students worried that their ability to learn, interact with peers, and gain valuable experience was at risk.
After the University community learned that courses and events would be nearly all virtual, UD’s Center for Political Communication adapted by offering students a chance to interact virtually with nationally known speakers via the National Agenda speaker series and class. Under the leadership of National Agenda Director Lindsay Hoffman, Ph.D., the CPC transitioned its tenth annual fall program from a live public format to an online webinar series. The election-year theme of "We Are the People" called attention to the power and liberties of United States citizens, featuring a diverse slate of speakers who brought experience, knowledge, and energy.
Spencer Babcock, a UD senior majoring in public policy who was a part of the National Agenda class, said the speakers gave her a new perspective on the 2020 election’s numerous complex issues. In particular, GQ Magazine correspondent Julia Ioffe, who spoke on November 11, was “candid and insightful about what it is like to be a journalist in this age of disinformation campaigns,” she said.
Fellow National Agenda student Eleni Finkelstein, a senior and political science major, shared Babcock’s enthusiasm. “[Ioffe] talked a lot about antisemitism in Russia, and as a Jewish college woman myself that really spoke to me.”
All of the speakers stressed the importance of honesty not only in journalism, but in all aspects of work and life. Whether that be The Onion founder Scott Dikkers, who encouraged personal honesty, or Lincoln Project co-founder and UD alumnus Steve Schmidt, who said the accountability of elected officials is now more important than ever.
During a time when many students have seen their lives and dreams put on hold, the speakers gave the National Agenda students a mission, said Babcock. “They encouraged us to pursue our passion and create our own path in whatever fields we may go into after graduation.”
One of the most valuable aspects of the National Agenda program is its tradition of connecting alumni and students with new opportunities. Alumni from past National Agenda classes joined the conversation at receptions and at the public talk. “I hope that connection-making is something I can take advantage of, and something that can continue in the future, even with everything online,” said Babcock.
As an aspiring journalist, Finkelstein said the opportunity to connect with speakers and alumni for career advice greatly expands the benefits of the National Agenda experience. “A lot of our speakers were journalists, and they all basically said you’ve got to go to where the work is,” said Finkelstein.