Debate 101

Debate 101

Students learn—and shine—as Rowan hosts Booker-Lonegan U.S. Senate debate.

The U.S. Senate debate between candidates Cory Booker (D) and Steve Lonegan (R) gave New Jersey voters the chance to better understand each candidate’s platform in preparation for the Oct. 16 special election, which Booker won.

But for students in majors across Rowan University, the debate on Tuesday, Oct. 9, held before nearly 1,000 people in Pfleeger Concert Hall and televised live on NBC10, provided some real world, real life lessons.

The journalist

Senior journalism major Christian Hetrick of Manahawkin, editor of The Whit, Rowan’s student newspaper, sat in media row in Pfleeger, rubbing elbows with journalists from The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal, the Star-Ledger, the Associated Press and The Record, among others.

 But, at the post-debate press conferences for Booker and Lonegan, Hetrick more than held his own among a sea of journalists as he questioned the candidates about their ideas to make college tuitions more affordable.

 Then, like his fellow journalists, Hetrick and Matt Turner, his assistant news editor, turned around their stories that evening so that their coverage could appear in Thursday’s Whit.

 Throughout the debate, Hetrick’s impressive live tweeting provided Whit followers with up-to-the-minute coverage of the lively tête-à-tête between the candidates, who are vying to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

 “Matt and I were forced to turn our stories around in probably under an hour,” Hetrick said. “Great learning experience…definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

 It’s been a busy, excitement-filled month for Rowan—and The Whit. Just a week prior to the debate, Hetrick covered the groundbreaking of Rowan’s new engineering building. Gov. Chris Christie and State Senate President Steve Sweeney were among the speakers.

“The last week has been awesome for me, a big deal for us,” says Hetrick. “Between the groundbreaking ceremony with the governor and the Senate debate, you really couldn’t ask for more as a student journalist.

“If you want to talk about learning experiences, you can’t get much better than getting to cover a U.S. Senate debate and asking questions to the candidates after.  I certainly picked the right school at the right time.”

See Hetrick in journalistic action at

The NAACP President

Aliah Duckett, president of Rowan’s student NAACP chapter, never made it into Pfleeger. But she did get a little face time with Booker…and she landed her second interview in a week with NBC10 reporters covering all angles of the debate.

Instead of watching the debate in the auditorium, Duckett hosted a “Pizza and Politics” program in the lounge of Mimosa Hall for students who didn’t have tickets. Beforehand, she hung out in Robinson Circle and was one of a number of Booker supporters to meet the candidate as he entered Wilson Hall.

 “I didn’t have a plan to meet him. I like to think I was in the right place at the right time,” said Duckett, a psychology major from Camden. “He asked me my name and thanked me for coming out in support of him.

“Senate debates are a big deal. I enjoyed the fact that Rowan hosted an event like this and I felt very privileged to have experienced it.”

The “Pizza and Politics” party, which drew a sizable student crowd, was covered by NBC10’s Denise Nakano. The day before the debate, Duckett was interviewed by Cydney Long, who did a number of preview stories for the station.

The debate was co-sponsored by Rowan, NBC10 and the Inquirer.

The filmmaker

It was a gripping experience for Eric Cheavers. Literally.

The senior radio/television/film (RTF) major from Howell had the prime job of being the grip—the camera assistant—for NBC cameraman Manuel Noguera as he covered the debate with reporter Rosemary Connors. At producers’ request, Cheavers was one of eight RTF/Rowan Television Network students handpicked to assist the network on debate day.

He was able to witness the debate from both the audience and behind-the-scenes perspectives. At the post-debate press conferences, Cheavers was at Noguera’s right hand.

“In two words: simply amazing,” said Cheavers, an intern at Center City Film & Video in Philadelphia.

“Being part of a network of people who enjoy what I love made the night something I will never forget.”

The fashionista turned political enthusiast

Down to her high-heeled black wedges, Stephanie Ronchi can tell you exactly what she was wearing at the debate. That’s because she was freezing.

Of the 16 student volunteers from the colleges of Humanities & Social Sciences and Communication & Creative Arts who helped with debate logistics, Ronchi volunteered for the least glamorous of the jobs. She was in Parking Lot D, a nice hike from action-packed Pfleeger, helping some of the nearly 1,000 debate goers navigate parking as they flocked to the event.

She dressed appropriately—and fashionably—in cropped black dress pants and a white dress shirt, but she forgot her jacket on the blustery night.

“Working outside for two hours without a jacket in the cold in the boondocks of Rowan was probably not the most fun thing to do. But I did have a friend who stood out there with me and we made the best of it,” said Ronchi. “We greeted many guests.”

With 10 minutes to go before the debate, all of the student volunteers bolted to Pfleeger, scrambling for seats as moderator Jim Rosenfield began the broadcast.

Ronchi was finally warm…but also entertained and intrigued.

“I’m not one to really like politics all that much, but the debate was very interesting,” said the communication studies major from Leonia, who has plans for graduate school and then career working in communications in the fashion industry.

“The whole experience gave me a feel of what happens behind the scenes of large televised events. Being a communication studies major, I appreciated that very much.”

The least exciting volunteer opportunity turned out wonderfully, she said.

“Someone has to do the job. Sometimes, when you do the right thing, great unexpected things come to you in return.”

The everyman

A “campaign staff” placard hanging over his Rowan Profs hoodie, Jeremy Kashan of Edison volunteered to be a runner—an everyman of sorts—as the NBC10 crew broadcast the debate, truly a monumental undertaking.

“I’m trying to learn as much as I can, to stay out of the way, to be helpful,” the RTF major and theater minor said as the television crew broke down the debate set at breakneck speed.

“I’m another set of hands, really. I learned how things work in the real world, what the industry is like. What an opportunity for me…and for the University.”

With that, an NBC10 staffer walked by and requested Kashan’s assistance—tout de suite.

“This kid,” the staffer said as he walked to the news van, “was great.”