Students get a glimpse inside the American presidency, courtesy of White House officials

A podium stands before a blue background, between a pair of american flags. A White House emblem can be seen behind the podium.

UArizona students in the spring session of Political Science 205: The American Presidency learned, through recorded interviews featuring bipartisan perspectives, about the role of the presidency and its intersection with civic discourse.

Rarely does a student get to watch an exclusively curated interview — produced just for their learning experience — with a former vice president of the United States. 

University of Arizona students recently got that opportunity in a spring semester class focused on the American presidency. 

As the U.S. prepares for this year's presidential election, students in spring session of the course Political Science 205: The American Presidency learned, through recorded interviews featuring bipartisan perspectives, about the role of the presidency and its intersection with civic discourse.

The American Presidency is an online, asynchronous class open to all students, and has attracted people from various time zones, with students logging in from cities such as Dubai, Madrid, Chicago and Tucson. 

The course is offered in both the fall and spring. The spring course is taught by former White House spokesman and UArizona alumnus Pete Seat, an adjunct instructor in the School of Government and Public Policy in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, who conducted a series of recorded interviews with experts specifically for class. 

A group of six people in a montage of headshots.

Clockwise from top left: Former Vice President Mike Pence; Mike Froman, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration; former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten; former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest; Kristen Welker, moderator of "Meet the Press” and former White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.

Among the featured experts are former White House officials and staff, media personalities, a think-tank director and others from both sides of the aisle. They include former Vice President Mike Pence; former White House chiefs of staff Josh Bolten and Ron Klain; Mike Froman, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration; Kristen Welker, moderator of "Meet the Press;" and Shealah Craighead, former chief official White House photographer for the Trump administration.

Through the interviews, students learn things like how to craft a presidential speech, what considerations go into building a presidential cabinet, how to think like a political pundit, and what recommendations and suggestions a press secretary might give a president in various scenarios.

Students in the course learn about the role of the commander in chief, political strategies and governmental interactions, the history of the presidency and the electoral process, all of which Seat hopes gives them a clearer perspective of presidential expectations and responsibilities.

"I strongly feel that if we want to encourage civic participation, students need a connection to the real world and a practical application to help them understand the difficulty of making decisions in these roles," Seat said. 

Will Gibson, a political science major who took the class in the spring, said he enjoyed the guest interviews immensely. 

"Professor Seat assembled a remarkable lineup, from a journalist to a chief of staff to a former vice president," Gibson said. "These conversations focus on the triumph and the hardship, the daily life and the unexpected moments, the joy and the difficulty of working near the White House. Their perspectives on public service and civic engagement are so inspiring."

Normal people with important jobs
A middle-aged white man with strawberry blonde hair poses for a photo in a blue suit with a white undershirt and striped blue and white tie.

Pete Seat

Seat, a vice president at Bose Public Affairs Group in Indianapolis, attended UArizona as an undergraduate theater major and graduated in 2005. His first job after college was working in the White House as a research assistant in the Office of Presidential Scheduling. As he worked his way up to deputy assistant press secretary, he realized the people working in the White House were just "normal people who happen to have important jobs." He hopes to help students understand that as they learn about civic discourse. 

In his recorded interview with Seat, former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who served under President Barack Obama, discussed the open-door policy the president maintained. Earnest highlighted how this policy allowed him to easily access the president's thoughts or arrange rehearsals before briefings. The sense of familiarity Earnest had with the president was surprising to many students.

"In their discussion posts, students remarked how amazing this was," said Seat. "They never thought a press secretary had this kind of access. One of my goals in this class is to help show that it's easy to watch elected officials and their staff on TV and lose sight of the fact that they aren't different from anyone else." 

Challenging assignments: Engagement and tough decisions

In one assignment, students were asked to write a letter to the editor of a newspaper, sharing their candidate preference for the 2024 presidential contest. Seat saw the exercise as a skill that will serve students later. 

"To me, that's part of the civic engagement piece. I want them to be exposed to that process," he said. "Hopefully, it inspires them to write a letter to the editor when there's an issue they care about down the road."

Another task required students to act as president and build their cabinet – choosing a vice president, secretary of state and other roles – and provide a rationale for their choices. Caleb Charlie, an undergraduate law major, aspires to run for president someday. The class helped him realize that, ultimately, the Commander-in-Chief carries the load, regardless of those who help make decisions. 

"The presidency is an ever-changing role," Charlie said. "There are always problems, concerns, issues and events happening that affect all Americans, but the president is always the one who takes responsibility for the outcome."

Seat believes there are many ways to be civically engaged, whether in the community or politically. Ideally, students in the class will gain a "deeper, more practical understanding of the process" and become inspired to ask more questions, he said.

"The School of Government and Public Policy prides itself in offering rigorous and engaging courses that encourage students to be active in the public sphere. The American Presidency course is a perfect example," said Edella Schlager, the school's director. "Civic engagement is critical for a vibrant democracy, and Pete Seat is providing students with multiple learning and outreach opportunities."

One student shared in an online post at the start of the course that she was taking the class because she was embarrassed by how little she knew about the presidency; she had gone her entire life not knowing the basic functions of the office and why it should matter to her. 

That resonated with Seat, who tailored his class to put students like her as close as possible to the presidency without being in the White House. 

"That's why I'm here, too," said Seat. "For that very reason."

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