Queens students – and Charlotte – can go to school on DNC

Queens students – and Charlotte – can go to school on DNC

This column ran in the Charlotte Observer on September 30, 2011
on the opinion/editorial page.
The link above will take you to the column on the Observer’s website

Our city might learn a lot from the Democratic National Convention this September, if we all become students.

My friends and I share a joke about internships. While in college, I explained to a group the differing functions of an MRI and an fMRI. My friend Jessica responded jovially with, “Did you do an MRI internship or something?”

To her surprise, I had. The joke continues, over a decade later, that I’ve done internships in everything.

At Queens University of Charlotte, all students complete two semester-long internships before graduation. This requirement has inspired our faculty to think experientially as we design courses.

This fall, professors in the Knight School of Communication are embarking on a learning opportunity like none I’ve heard of before. We are “bringing down the walls” of the school by inviting students to focus on Charlotte during the Democratic National Convention.

Before the DNC, students will learn about Charlotte and the role of political conventions in America. Local historians, media makers, and city leaders will investigate the relationship between the life of a city and events it hosts, joining with professors from not only communication and political science, but also environmental science, new media design, history, philosophy and religion.

During the convention, students will work in our city. Some will intern for national media personalities. Others will assist the host committee in their communication center. Some will tell our stories alongside journalists in the press gallery, in the corridors of the Charlotte Observer, and on Charlotte’s streets. Still others will volunteer with the PPL, a first-of-its-kind cultural initiative unique to Charlotte.

And they will learn what it means for Charlotte to exist in the national spotlight and to function under scrutiny for national security. They might even invest in political action or explore the American political process, partisanship and its boundaries.

Our hope is that our students – and the people of our city – treat the convention like a week-long internship.

Internships have the ability to give students a window into options that lie ahead. In my case, internships taught me a little about what I wanted to do with my life, and a lot about what I didn’t want to do.

The convention might do the same thing for Charlotte. The paths that lie before our city are many. As September draws closer, our city can and should prepare to learn a few things – what we want to become, and what we might choose not to be.

Between now and the convention, Charlotte’s citizens should reflect on our city and what we value.

Then, during the convention, join us in the Knight School by becoming a student. Study the city. Learn from visitors. Watch, read, and listen to stories being told about the Queen City and her people. Respond. And, if you come across a good story, share it.

Our week in the national spotlight can be a valuable, city-wide internship. At the very least, let’s take some time to think about what we are learning.

John A.McArthur, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and director of undergraduate programs in the Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte. He can be reached at http://jamcarthur.com

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