My experience with the Greenlee School’s caucus class

Ariana Sanchez, Celeste Ki and Olivia Benjamin covered the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Dinner Nov. 1 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

By Olivia Benjamin, junior in public relations

As a public relations major, I had never really taken any reporting classes besides JL MC 201. So when I decided to enroll in the fall 2019 caucus class, I knew I would learn a bunch of new things and take my reporting skills to the next level.

I found out about the caucus class through the Greenlee School’s Instagram account (@isu_gsjc). There was a fun video from the co-instructors describing what the class would be like. From there on, I knew I was going to sign up!

A little background information on the caucus class:

  • This Greenlee class was a combined course (JL MC 312 & JL MC 414X) focused on Iowa caucus coverage.
  • Because it was combined course, we were able to work on two skills simultaneously, depth reporting and photojournalism.
  • In total, the class was worth 6 credits.
  • The class was taught by Brenda Witherspoon and Deni Chamberlin.
  • There were seven students in the class.

Groups in our class reported on three major issues: health care, climate change and gun reform.

Former Vice President Joe Biden grills steaks at the Polk County Steak Fry Sept. 21 at Water Works Park in Des Moines. Photo by Olivia Benjamin

We also wrote a background story, a candidates/positions story and a human interest story for the course. I covered health care, so my pieces focused on this issue.

A lot of our class time included going on ‘field trips’ to candidates’ various events throughout the state. We also spent a lot of our weekend time in the fall following candidates.

One of my favorite events was the Polk County Steak Fry hosted by the Polk County Democrats in September 2019 at Water Works Park in Des Moines. This event is exactly what it sounds like. The Democratic presidential candidates really fry steaks for everyone to see. The best part? You get to eat the steaks! One thing that was really a learning curve for me was having to push my way through the other photographers to get my shot of former Vice President Joe Biden. There were more than 12,000 people in attendance.

Mark Sanford, former Republican presidential candidate, speaks outside a Des Moines Arby’s Sept. 25. Photo by Olivia Benjamin

By contrast, we also attended smaller events such as Republican candidate Mark Sanford’s lunchtime appearance at an Arby’s in Des Moines Sept. 25. Yes, you read that right. ARBY’S. He asked the question, “Trump, where is the beef?,” as he held a beef and cheddar sandwich from Arby’s. We noticed one thing about his statement. ‘Where’s the beef?’ is a Wendy’s slogan. Sanford is no longer in the race.

I also had the opportunity to attend an appearance by Vice President Mike Pence at a small family farm in Waukee, Iowa. He spoke on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. I attended this event differently than all of the other political events I had attended earlier in the semester. Because I was unable to get press credentials, I was just another spectator in the audience. However, I was able to get close enough for an awesome picture. Check out my Mike Pence story here: Mike Pence and Iowa leaders talk USMCA in Waukee

Vice President Mike Pence appears at a family farm in Waukee, Iowa, Oct. 9. Pence spoke about the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement. Photo by Olivia Benjamin

Our class worked very hard on all of the pieces we wrote. We traveled to so many places and heard so many amazing stories. Here are the links to our stories published by the Iowa State Daily:

This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! I became such a better political reporter and just a better writer in general. I also learned how to take better photos. Before this class, I had minimal reporting and photography skills. Now, I feel strongly confident in both. If you ever get the chance to take a class like this, do it!



Olivia Benjamin is a junior in public relations with a minor in political science from Sloan, Iowa. She currently works as a communications assistant and front desk assistant with the Greenlee School. Her future career goals include working in crisis communications within politics.