Hofstra University Hosts the Presidential Debate: Perspective of a Student Volunteer

Hofstra University made it a priority to get students as involved in the first presidential debate as possible. For days leading up to the event and after, volunteer students worked around the clock to make sure the night ran smoothly and was well documented. Journalism student, debate volunteer and CNN staff member Marisa Russell shared her volunteer experience during the historical day.

Marisa in front of what would become the debate stage

Whitmanythoughts: What was your experience like as a volunteer?

Marissa Russell: I was a media/communications volunteer and I worked under University Relations as a social media ambassador. My job was mostly to spread the word on social media, on my own accounts and to send in content to the Hofstra social media manager for the Hofstra University accounts as well. I also shared our hashtag, #HofDebate16 with students and encouraged them to post on social media and just tried to generate as much conversation on the different platforms as possible. My experience was awesome! I got to really use my social media skills to make sure social media platforms got as much traction as possible. I really enjoyed sharing techniques with other students and just having a conversation about a historic debate.

WMT: How did being a communications student influence you as a volunteer?

MR: Being a communications student directly impacted my ability to succeed in my volunteer position. With my knowledge of journalism and social media I was aware of what to post, when to post it and how, and I think it really helped me out. I was able to get a ton of posts on Snapchat and really capture all of the moments of the debate.

Marisa Russell with fellow volunteer Jordan Heiden (Photo: Jordan Heiden)

WMT: You worked for CNN a bit during the debate as well, could you tell me more about that?

MR: My role at CNN is Social TV intern, and much of my team was at the debate, helping out with social media and producing a ton of Facebook lives. I was able to help out around the “Camper” which is CNN’s #MyVote van, where people can take Instagram pictures and Facebook photos or do a Facebook live. It’s really awesome and they got a lot of interaction from students. So I was helping with that, explaining to students what it was and just making sure no one around needed anything. I also helped pick up different talent and people with CNN from the media parking lot and made sure they made it to where they needed to be and made sure they were comfortable. Overall, I was just responsible for making sure that anyone that needed help that was working with CNN, got the help that they needed.

WMT: What was your favorite thing about volunteering for the debate? What did you take away from the experience?

MR: My favorite thing was just being a part of the action and getting to take it all in during the process. You have no idea how much is going to happen until it’s literally happening and then you’re just starstruck by how huge and awesome of an event it is. I took away that so much goes into a huge historic event and the election cycle is crazy, exciting and always changing.

One of many large screens set up for the debate (Photo: Marisa Russell)

WMT: Was there anything about the behind-the-scenes work you didn’t expect or thought was interesting?

MR: I guess I didn’t really realize how much building and physical structures went into a debate this big. From the stages, to the standup platforms to the individual tables in the media filing center, literally everything had to be put together. I also thought it was really amazing how every single person at the university helped out, regardless of what their role at the school was.

From volunteering to working, Russell definitely received a unique and thrilling experience during the presidential debate.


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