A Zoom Boom! Unprecedented Access to Political Professionals During Pandemic

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Sophomore Lauren Ashton
Sophomore Lauren Ashton: ‘…I got to ask questions to people that I never thought I would have the chance to talk with.’

Originally published on November 10, 2020

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, faculty at George Mason University have found unprecedented opportunities to bring in high-caliber speakers who are willing to engage with students in the virtual space.

At the Schar School of Policy and Government, political leaders nationwide have met virtually with students throughout the past few months.

“To be honest, I can barely keep up with the number of amazing speakers that are coming to our virtual events,” said Doug Goldstein, senior associate dean for administration at the Schar School.

Schar School sophomore Lauren Ashton heard Republican strategist Rick Wilson, cofounder of the Lincoln Project, during the First Tuesday guest-speaker series, co-sponsored by the Schar School and the Honors College.

“He talked about the importance of to-the-point advertisements. The Lincoln Project’s advertisements, as he pointed out, are targeted, emotionally triggering, different, and very effective,” said Ashton, a Government and International Politics major and a member of Mason’s NCAA swim team. “Overall, the First Tuesday speakers have been a very interesting experience because I got to ask questions to people that I never thought I would have the chance to talk with.”

Bennett Freeze
Bennett Freeze: ‘I enjoy hearing both perspectives of the political spectrum…’

Bennett Freeze, a Government and International Politics major from Rockford, Ill., has also enjoyed the access afforded by the First Tuesday series, moderated by Mason Robinson Professor of Public Policy Steven Pearlstein.

“I've tuned into all the webinars this semester, but my favorite guests have been Rebecca Pearcey, Rick Wilson, and Danny Diaz,” he said. “I enjoy hearing both perspectives of the political spectrum, the guests are high caliber, dynamic thinkers in their field, and the opportunity to ask them questions at the end of the session is invaluable. Steven Pearlstein is an excellent moderator, and the sessions are especially relevant during the pandemic.”

Beyond learning expert insights, Freeze said “each guest has motivated me in my political aspirations and provided a window into their area of expertise. I'm truly thankful that the Schar School is organizing these events. I will be tuning in for more.”

Freeze said he is contacting Congressional offices for internships for when he relocates to Fairfax in the spring. “I’m a real politics junkie,” he said. “I chose George Mason because I wanted to be close to the action in D.C.”

Carol Pineau, a senior fellow at the Schar School, will be leading two virtual study abroad programs to Africa starting in January. The programs, run through Schar and the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, will allow students to connect with African leaders.

The Schar School program, called Africa Zooms Ahead, will allow students to see how African-led initiatives are transforming the continent. Students will meet virtually with leading economic and social development leaders, including officials from the African Development Bank and the Africa Finance Corporation, and even engage in cultural exchanges via Zoom.

“Once you start accepting that things are what they really are, and we can’t travel in person right now, you find there are surprisingly interesting opportunities to connect with people in meaningful ways,” said Pineau.

Additional reporting by Buzz McClain/Schar School of Policy and Government.