A glimpse into the life of a college student campaigner

I thought my life was overwhelming. Simply being enrolled at Wheaton College feels exhausting, but this year I have been amazed by certain students who went above and beyond. The students we interviewed for this feature are some of those who went the furthest — the Wheaton College student campaigners.

I thought my life was overwhelming. Simply being enrolled at Wheaton College feels exhausting, but this year I have been amazed by certain students who went above and beyond. The students we interviewed for this feature are some of those who went the furthest — the Wheaton College student campaigners.

Emily and Cameron for Students for Rubio:

Junior Emily Hillstrom and sophomore Cameron Van Beek have been enamored with politics for most of their upper teenage and young adult lives. They are both currently political science majors and worked for Senator Marco Rubio before he ended his presidential campaign. Rubio’s campaign had a committee built for students who wanted to support Rubio in the election process, called Students for Rubio. This committee was the largest organization for a candidate in the nation and both Hillstrom and Van Beek held important roles in it.

Junior Emily Hillstrom (left) and sophomore Cameron Van Beek. Photo credit Sarah Holcomb.

Emily Hillstrom:

This past summer, Hillstrom interned in D.C. and made connections there to be able to campaign for candidates in the coming election. She was offered a position on both Scott Walker’s campaign and Marco Rubio’s. She chose Rubio and was glad that she did, even though he eventually dropped out. She had been following Rubio since his career with the Tea Party — around 2010 — and agreed with his message for free markets.

While with Students for Rubio, Hillstrom became the Midwest Regional Director. As the Midwest Regional Director for Students for Rubio, Hillstrom helped coordinate volunteers for the campaign, kept in contact with the campaign and what they needed and participated in the “ground game.” Ground game is one very important part of campaigning: students for Rubio would call people, knock on doors and hand out pamphlets.

Hillstrom had a spark in her eye while explaining the process of campaigning and its importance. I could see the passionate drive behind Hillstrom’s words and beliefs in politics. I interviewed Hillstrom the day after Rubio dropped out. Hillstrom explained to me, smiling, that the hardest part of the whole campaigning process was not the endless amount of work put in, but seeing that work disappear, especially when it was something she really believed in. Hillstrom noted how it “felt almost like a break up.”

After she said that, I knew that the termination of Rubio’s campaign was hard on her and the other Students for Rubio. However, that process and her experience with the campaign taught her something every day about the process of politics and elections and how imperative campaigning really is.

Cameron Van Beek:

Van Beek’s story differs from Hillstrom’s on his introduction to Students for Rubio. Van Beek began immersing himself with politics and the process of campaigning during the 2012 election with candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan. Throughout the 2016 election, Van Beek began working with Scott Walker. But when he didn’t quite know where Walker’s campaign was going, he switched over to Marco Rubio’s.

In Students for Rubio, Van Beek became the Vice Chair for the state of Illinois. As the Vice Chair for Illinois, Van Beek was put in charge of getting signatures so that Rubio’s name could be on the ballot by recruiting volunteers, while also participating in the ground game. Rubio caught Van Beek’s attention because of his presence. Van Beek felt like he represented the future and was the only candidate who wasn’t blaming the past or other people. He attracted younger people and Van Beek is proof of this.

Van Beek had a full plate for this campaign. As the vice chair, he set up chapters at other schools for Students for Rubio. He kept in contact with those schools, keeping them up to date on the campaign, specifically with social media, resources or answering their questions. Van Beek noted the importance of setting up chapters at different schools because of how imperative face to face interaction is in an election. Van Beek pointed out, “That’s why it is so important to have a conservative voice and face on college campuses.”

Van Beek poured countless hours of work and commitment into this campaign; however, he distinguishes that his biggest challenge was seeing someone he believed in slide and eventually have to drop out. Van Beek dismally added that it is hard to see “America choose to submit to fear.”


Lauren Rowley for Ben Carson:

Freshman Lauren Rowley is a communications major with a political science minor. She campaigned for Ben Carson in this election until he dropped out. Rowley’s involvement with politics started her senior year of high school. She was part of the Page Program in Iowa, which allowed her to graduate high school a semester early and work as a page in the Iowa Senate. She was first connected to Ben Carson through her connections there.

In April 2015, Rowley was able to meet all of the candidates who would be running in this election. She was then offered the position on Gov. Scott Walker or Ben Carson’s campaigns, but she chose Carson’s. She initially chose Carson because of her personal connection with him. Lauren said that “Carson was a genuine guy who really took the time to get to know all of us millennials working in the page program.”

Carson approached Rowley and her fellow pages as a friend; she said he was there to simply talk and get to know them. He was not there to get their immediate support. Lauren also recognized that he genuinely cared for the future of America.

While on his campaign, Rowley and another high school student were given the opportunity to be the Senior Field Operatives. As a such, Rowley did ground work, especially this summer. Lauren traveled around Iowa to talk to local politicians and in town hall meetings on behalf of Carson. After starting college, it really all came down to running the social media.

Her main goal with campaigning was to make Carson’s name stick out. Although he also recently dropped out of the election, Rowley warmly acknowledged all she has learned through campaigning.

Without a doubt, Rowley learned how this cycle within politics works and also the importance of getting your name out there. She was encouraged by how easy it is to make connections and get to know people within politics by simply putting in time and effort.


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