"Bridge to the future" sounds like a workable theme for a presidential campaign.
It's also an apt description for what 10 Juniata College students experienced recently at the national political conventions.
For the students - six went to Tampa for the Republican convention and four to Charlotte for the Democratic - the experience was a potential bridge between school and their eventually profession, said Dennis Plane, associate professor of politics, who was part of the Charlotte group.
In college, book learning predominates, he said.
But at the conventions - as participants in a partnership between the college and Washington Center - the students got both, attending seminars and discussions for a week, then working as staffers at the convention itself.
Such a mix is in keeping with modern colleges' attempt to provide students with "transformative" or "high-impact" experiences, Plane said.
Colleges traditionally used study-abroad programs to provide those kinds of experiences, but they can do it with less time-consuming and less costly alternatives like the convention trips, he said.
Although the convention trips were a mixture of academic and hands-on, the hands-on component is what made them special, because that's what's missing from the usual college experience.
It can help students improve their academics, because book learning becomes more real, according to Plane.
They read about how the delegations present their votes and say to themselves, "Oh yeah, I saw that in Tampa - or Charlotte," he said.
The hands-on can also help students tell whether they like something they think they like, because they get a visceral shot of the reality.
Elizabeth Wortman of Bellefonte was one of two area students from Juniata - along with Alexis Waksmunski of Northern Cambria - to go to Charlotte.
Wortman said the experience was "amazing."
She caught on right away, according to Plane.
She was "integrated" with the Pennsylvania delegation, Plane said.
She helped at the welcome desk, ushering delegates to their rooms, sorting tickets for events and answering questions, she said.
She started at 6 a.m. and worked until midnight, Plane said.
She didn't need to be prompted to do what needed done, according to Plane.
"She jumped in," he said. "You could just see she got it."
She'd see a delegate looking uncertain, and she would immediately walk up and ask, "What do you need? How can I help," he said.
"She was definitely in her element," he said.
Though a social studies-secondary education major, she found the experience "really made me consider getting involved in politics around the state," she said.
Wortman thrived, but an alienating experience could be valuable too - in showing a student what he or she doesn't want, Plane said.
Digital media major Agatha Wagoner of Huntingdon went to Tampa to work in the foreign press center, where she recorded audio, ran microphones to journalists so they could ask questions of dignitaries, helped set up and tear down press conferences, scanned and printed documents and took photographs.
"It was cool to be in the middle of everything," Wagoner said. "In the middle of history being made."
If nothing else, the experience gave her contacts with people who could eventually write her recommendation letters, she said.
She's hoping for a career with the BBC, which she believes is more innovative and creative than American networks - and "not all about making money."
Political science and international studies major Waksmunski interned with Voice of America, taking photos, helping with interviews, doing "the things they needed me to do."
She wants to become a researcher at the United Nations or a lawyer.
The best moment for her was "when the announcer over the loudspeaker in the convention said 'ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the president of the United States, Barack Obama!"
"It was breathtaking," she said. "[I felt like I was] going to explode with excitement."
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.