Shortly before the debate began, sophomore Richard Zernickow walked into the Athletic Complex tired and sweaty, but triumphant.
That afternoon, he’d been asked to don the University’s bear mascot outfit and vie for face time during CNN’s and MSNBC’s live broadcasts from the Hilltop Campus.
“I got the call that this was available,” said Zernickow earlier that day, “so I jumped on it because it is a great way for me to show my enthusiasm for the debate being here.”
Wearing a bear suit on national TV is just one example of the pride and excitement shown by University students who volunteered for the debate.
That enthusiasm was obvious to Elizabeth Lukas, coordinator of student volunteers at The Career Center.
“The students are very excited,” Lukas said before the debate. “They are working hard and are willing to put in the hours.”
Even though some students’ original assignments were canceled, most were reassigned.
“They’ve been so good,” Lukas said. “They just jump right in.”
About 670 students applied to volunteer for the debate. Each applicant filled out an online application, submitted a résumé and wrote an essay on why he or she was interested in becoming a student volunteer. A selection committee — made up of 25 University faculty, staff and students — reviewed the quality of the essay, level of interest and schedule availability.
Lukas estimated about 325 students had the opportunity to volunteer.
Days before the big event, Allyn Dault and Katie Koch were giving tours of the Athletic Complex. Dault said he volunteered because “you only get one chance in your college career to do something like this.”
Pamela Bookbinder said she felt honored to be picked. She was originally assigned to help the Com-mission on Presidential Debates (CPD) but was reassigned to NBC. She said she was grateful for the switch.
“(NBC) casually told me to go get new credentials because ‘you’re going to be in the debate hall,'” said Bookbinder, who calls herself a political junkie.
Running errands was a big part of volunteering for many students. Erin Schelar and Stephen Chu, who worked in the CPD office, said they “attended to whatever (the CPD) needed at the moment.”
Trips to Office Depot for printer cartridges were part of their duties, as were other administrative tasks. Chu said they also attended news conferences and heard some negotiations between the campaigns.
Errands were also part of the job for Arden Farhi, who said he’d made trips to Target and Radio Shack for CBS staffers.
In addition, Farhi, who is interested in a career in media, was up at 4 a.m. on debate day to help set up for CBS’ The Early Show. And he said he would be up late, helping CBS tear down its equipment when it was all over.
Credentialing and the levels of clearance were occasionally a problem for students. Rachel Cohen was helping FOX News in the Athletic Complex all week, but on debate day, a Secret Service agent noticed the color of her badge wasn’t right and escorted her from the building. Early on Oct. 8, Cohen and Lukas were trying to fix the problem.
However, before that incident, Cohen was able to sit on the FOX platform in the debate hall as a stand-in for the anchor as technicians tested the lighting.
“It’s fun to see the whole thing come together,” Cohen said.
The tight security also changed Cassie Jones’ plans. She was going to be in the NBC pool truck during the debate helping with production during the live feed. But when she left the truck, parked in the security zone on Big Bend, she was not allowed back in.
Many students reported brushes with fame. At the media credentialing center, Sarah Sutherlin said, “I gave a photo ID to Anderson Cooper (CNN). It was awesome.”
Anthony Cummins was chosen to be an usher and was able to stay in the debate hall for the big event. “It was a great experience,” he said.
In addition to watching both candidates live, he said he sat next to Rams quarterback Marc Bulger and he saw Madeline Albright, former U.S. secretary of state.
Sagar Ravi was disappointed when his assign-ment as VIP assistant was canceled. However, he was switched to security and ended up watching the debate live.
After the debate, he checked credentials at the media filing center. There he met Senate candidate Barack Obama, NBC’s Tom Brokaw and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Caroline Jarka and Ashley Gaia are work-study students at the Athletic Complex who had been helping set up for days. Jarka was asked to help with security while President Bush conducted a walk-through of the debate hall on the morning of Oct. 8.
“I love being here!” she said. “I was actually able to see the president and Condoleezza Rice.”
Second-year law student Terri Payne also was helping with security. She was excited about the prospect of seeing the big names in “spin alley” when she found out she had won a lottery ticket to view the debate.
“I feel like Charlie from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Payne said.
Even students who didn’t land the most glamorous jobs were still glad to be involved. Perhaps farthest away from the action were the unsung heroes who helped guide media and others to designated parking.
Standing in the Oct. 8 rain, Ivy Lynn reported for her four-hour morning shift at Brookings and Hoyt drives.
“Standing in the rain is not my ideal, but it has still been very interesting,” Lynn said.