Before the pandemic crisis, millions of Americans tuned in each week to watch former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders state their cases for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination on their television or computer screens.
As an intern for Biden’s campaign during the 2020 Iowa Caucuses, SUNY Cortland Senior Ryann Hudson of Northport, N.Y., had a front-row seat. She gained valuable hands-on experience with the logistics and coordination that goes into a national political campaign. And she enthusiastically spent strenuous weeks knocking on doors, making phone calls and working with the campaign’s operations team.
“I see myself as someone who’s dedicated to the cause,” said Hudson, who studies communication studies and political science at SUNY Cortland.
For Hudson, the Biden campaign was only her most recent cause.
She’s held leadership roles in the SUNY Cortland Political Science Association as well as the Cortland Votes Project. Working alongside Cortland County legislators Kelly Preston and Cathy Bischoff, Hudson received a $1,000 grant geared towards developing an internship with the Cortland County Legislature.
“We (students) make up a huge voting population here in Cortland,” Hudson said. “It’s important to encourage students to be active participants in politics and especially local politics.”
For her steadfast commitment to student engagement and for paving the way for future political science students, in 2019 Hudson was selected as a national Campus Compact Newman Civic Fellow by the Boston-based non-profit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education.
“Each year every university can nominate one student and that student is selected as the fellow,” Hudson said.
The Newman Civic Fellowship is a yearlong program for students from Campus Compact member institutions. The students selected for the fellowship are leaders on their campuses who demonstrate a commitment to finding solutions for challenges facing communities locally, nationally and internationally.
“I got to go to Boston for a conference where they talked about different ways to go about engaging with students and how you can further your projects,” Hudson said of her fellowship experience.
“I got to meet so many amazing students who are working towards similar goals, just to be surrounded by students that are doing other great work was really cool.”
With dreams of one day campaigning for a candidate to occupy the White House, Hudson knew her next step had to be towards the nation’s capital itself.
“In March of 2019 I was applying to internships in Washington, D.C., to hopefully live there for the summer through the SUNY Washington DC program,” she said. “I applied to 32 internships and I didn’t hear back from a single one. Absolutely devastating. Very discouraging.”
After spending that summer volunteering with her local congressman, Thomas Suozzi, Hudson returned to SUNY Cortland not knowing how different her life would be in just a few short months.
An email from Joe Biden’s campaign team reached her that fall regarding the same application she had sent out the previous summer. The campaign team saw Hudson as a great fit and urged her to join them in Des Moines, Iowa.
“It was like one door closed and another flood-gate opened for me,” Hudson said.
Cutting her fall semester a week short, Hudson scrambled to finish her final exams and assignments before making the 18-hour drive to join the Biden campaign in Iowa.
“I finished out the last week of classes,” Hudson said. “That week I took four tests, I wrote three papers and did three presentations. I did a lot before I left.”
In Iowa, Hudson learned valuable campaign skills such as polling data research and how to connect with voters in a high-intensity environment.
“Talking with voters was the best part, because you’re getting to see what drives and motivates them every day: what issues they care about and what’s different from what I care about,” Hudson said. “To get a different perspective on different issues was really cool.”
Hudson’s weeks of hard work led to one shining moment: speaking with former Vice President Joe Biden face-to-face.
“He was talking about the violence against women act and the future of this country for young women directly to me and my two best friends,“ said Hudson.
“I just looked at him with such admiration and I was in such awe of this man who has worked so hard for women’s rights. So powerful. He’s just such a kind man.”
Hudson is grateful for the lessons she’s learned and the connections she’s garnered.
“It further encouraged me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing and it made me enjoy the work that I do,” Hudson said.
“I definitely want to work in government. The goal, though, is campaign management at the end of this. I want to work with women candidates as well, because that’s really important.
Now having prepared for and experienced the Iowa Caucuses first-hand, Hudson said she has the baseline experience on which to build her career.
“When I apply, I can say, ‘This is my background. I don’t care what I do, I just want to learn. Put me somewhere where I can be the most help.’”
Prepared by communications writing intern Dean Zulkofske