Mock Election, Trial Prove Successful For Fall 2016

November 09, 2016

A passion for politics and the law helped spur two Alternate Reality Learning Experience projects this fall at Saint Leo University.

The Presidency, a mock election scenario, concluded November 7, while The Trial of the Century, a mock criminal trial, was completed November 5.

The exercises involved students, faculty, and staff from multiple disciplines and integrated curriculum from various courses.

Judge -and -students

“An ARLE represents real-world tasks, authentic assessment, and the most meaningful collaboration found in a university setting,” said Dr. Jeff Borden, Saint Leo’s chief innovation officer, who leads the university’s Learning Innovation team.

“I’m extremely pleased with this year’s ARLE efforts,” Borden said. “As always, we learned some lessons that we’ll take into 2017, but overall the experiences were very successful.”

In The Presidency, students in political science, communication management, political science, education, social media, marketing, and video production conducted campaigns and an election. A vice presidential and a presidential debate were held, complete with moderators, supporters, and news media coverage.

With 409 votes cast, the fictional Republican ticket of Friedman/Castillo defeated Howard/Johnson in the mock presidential debate.  Electronic voting immediately followed a spirited debate between the faux presidential contenders, Libertarian-leaning Paul Raymond Friedman, played by Saint Leo student Mark Saunders, and Democrat Marcus Howard, brought to life by student Leandrous Chieves. Student Amanda Miceli played Caterina Castillo, the Republican vice presidential nominee. Sophie Metellus played Angela Johnson, the Democratic vice presidential candidate.     

The voting breakdown favored the Republicans 58 percent to 42 percent. During the tallying, the race was often close and at times it seemed possible the votes could be evenly split. University President William J. Lennox Jr., who observed the debate, helped announce the winners and congratulated all the candidates.

The students relished the experience. As Chieves told The Laker/Lutz News  columnist Tom Jackson, he will argue politics anywhere, anytime, with anybody, “as long as they’re coming with facts.”

“We really learned from last year’s event regarding scale, flow, the importance of hard dates, etc.,” Borden said. “While we still struggled to a degree with student timeliness [there are always reasons work doesn’t get done on time], we did a much better job aligning our class schedules toward one another.  I think we truly created interdependence between students and across courses, which is the ultimate sign of a great multidisciplinary experience.”

In The Trial of the Century  scenario, students from criminal justice, biology, theater, public relations/professional writing, cyber forensics, and sociology courses played various roles. The simulation involved a fictitious crime and students served as witnesses, forensics experts, news reporters, attorneys, public relations professionals, jury members, and yes, criminals.

“I like the ARLE because it gives my student a feel for the relevance of what they’re doing,” said Dr. Cheryl Clauson, assistant professor of biology. “Instead of just going through the motions of the lab activity, and then writing up a report on it, they see an important endpoint of their work. If they make a mistake in a lab report, they might lose a few points here or there, but if they make a mistake with evidence in a trial, they could send an innocent person to jail [or to a mock conviction in the ARLE].”

The ARLE projects allowed students to get a glimpse of various careers, too. “My favorite quote from a student was, ‘I never considered becoming a lawyer until now, but I think I’m going to law school…,’ ” Borden said.

“The teachable moments were abundant on Saturday,” he added about The Trial of the Century.  “From skills like communication, persuasion, and reasoning, to definitive work around forensic collection, DNA, etc., the trial brought out a powerful demonstration of curriculum integration.”