wide shot of the debate stage inside Kingsbury Hall featuring three student volunteers sitting in place of Kamala Harris, Mike Pence and VP debate moderator Susan Page.

The volunteer experience

The University of Utah was honored to host the only 2020 Vice Presidential Debate at Kingsbury Hall on Oct. 7, 2020. The historic event could not have been done without the hard work and support of more than 300 student and staff volunteers. From providing golf cart rides to members of the international media to ushering guests to their seats inside the debate hall, volunteers describe their roles and reflect on the experience.

wide shot inside the VP Debate Hall with 3 students standing in for Kamala Harris, Mike Pence and moderator Susan Page.

Student volunteers stand in for Sen. Kamala Harris, Vice President Mike Pence and debate moderator Susan Page.

“I loved it. It was a great experience. I feel like I got kind of an insider’s perspective on all the moving parts and I was just really impressed by all the different things being done.”
—Sheely Edwards, junior, political science and criminology, volunteered as moderator Susan Page’s stand-in

 

“I was asked to stand-in. I’m the right height and I’m also from the state of Indiana similar to vice president Mike Pence. I was very fortunate for the experience and loved every second of it. As a chemical engineer, this is definitely not something I normally get to experience. Having this opportunity to see the production that goes into it and be able to act like a vice president for 20 minutes is pretty exciting.”
—Matthew Williams, senior, chemical engineering major, volunteered as Mike Pence’s stand-in

 

“I am the same height as senator Harris. We are 5’2″. This has been a great experience. I’ve definitely seen all the work behind the scenes and I never would have imagined just being able to have that experience, so it has definitely been amazing.”
—Gabriela Villalobos, senior, sociology and international studies major, volunteered as Kamala Harris’ stand-in

 

Merry Joseph talks about her volunteer experience ahead of the 2020 Vice Presidential Debate.

“I’m a first-generation immigrant. I moved to the United States roughly 10 years ago. Politics and elections are things that my family and I have been reading in newspapers and seeing on TV when we were living outside the United States, so who would’ve never imagined 10 years later, I would actually get to be part of something so special and monumental. When the opportunity presented itself, I knew right away that I wanted to play even the smallest role in this event and I’m so grateful that students get to be involved.”
—Merry Joseph, senior, biomedical engineering and psychology major, volunteered as an usher

 

“I was an usher in Kingsbury Hall, helping guide the attendees to their seats and whatever the Commission needed. I also was a volunteer at the COVID-19 testing site helping to make sure that those who needed could get the test. It was my pleasure to volunteer. I am thrilled to have been included in this once in a lifetime opportunity and witness one of the greatest historic events in Utah since the 2002 Olympics.”
—Parker Neff, senior, political science major, volunteered as an usher

 

volunteers stand at the entrance of the Media Center ahead of the 2020 VP Debate

Volunteers stand ready to check credentials outside the media center.

“I think it was a great experience to bring everyone together and create such a special moment. Volunteering and working with others reminded me of the importance of valuing our common goals. I chose to volunteer because there is such utility in being involved in your civic duty: educating voters on the policies/ideals of our leaders is so important!”
—Michelle Valdes, senior, ASUU vice president for student relations, writing and rhetoric studies major, volunteered in the media tent

 

“I loved volunteering. During one of my shifts I checked credentials at the entrance to Libby Gardner Hall. I had some great conversations with staff from the Commission on Presidential Debates and even a Secret Service agent about how welcoming and kind everyone at the U is and how beautiful our campus is. This was a wonderful opportunity and I’m grateful for the awesome experience it was!”
Kristin Randall, manager, governance & accreditation, School of Medicine

 

 

a volunteer sits in a golf cart waiting to provide rides around the VP debate grounds

A volunteer is ready to provide rides to media inside the VP Debate perimeter.

“I was a media assistant at the Media Center tent in President’s Circle. I provided support to the national media outlets covering the debate. It was a once in a lifetime experience!”

—Mason Januszewski, freshman, computer science major

 

“I was able to scan attendants’ credentials to allow them within the perimeter, including many people from media organizations and both campaigns. It was a very unique and lively environment and it was amazing to say that I was able to participate in such a historical opportunity for the University of Utah!”
—Romney Peterson, sophomore, undecided

 

“I had such a wonderful time volunteering for the VP debate. I mainly made sure that everyone within the perimeter wore the required medical masks and provided them to people that did not have one. It was really cool to be a part of something so important for the university.”
—Sophia Reyes, freshman, construction engineering major

 

Rebecca Schwartz poses for photo inside the debate hall with Utah Governor Gary Herbert. both wearing masks. Debate hall stage in the background. “It was fascinating to interact with many of the people who made the event happen, including members of the media, campaign staff, CPD officials, university staff, and more. In an increasingly divisive political climate, the incredible efficiency and coordination between all parties to set everything up so quickly is something I’ll never forget.”
—Juan Rubio, junior, management major

 

“It is certainly an experience I’ll remember the rest of my life. I feel honored to be a part of the democratic process, even in a small way. I got to meet the governor and mayor and see behind the scenes of major news organizations. And my parents saw me on the news while I was helping people find their seats in the debate hall. I’m very thankful to the U for such an amazing opportunity.”
—Rebecca Schwartz, doctoral candidate, Educational Leadership and Policy