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Harris-Stanford Honors Program Mayoral Podcast
Fatima Sohani

As Chattanooga residents prepare for the upcoming Chattanooga municipal election, in which Chattanooga voters will cast their ballots for who they want to help run our city, multiple Baylor alumni have stepped up to announce their candidacy.

With a whopping total of 15 candidates vying for a victory in the mayoral race alone, Jaime Melton ‘94, director of business development and strategic relationships,  recognized that this election could be a great opportunity for Harris-Stanford Honors Program students to not only put into practice some of what they’ve learned throughout their time in the program but also to educate the Baylor community on the election itself.

The Harris-Stanford Honors Program, named for former Baylor faculty members Bryce Harris and Jack Stanford, “collaborates with local, regional, and national partners to provide extraordinary civic engagement, extracurricular seminars, travel and other learning and leadership opportunities for motivated students.” Ninth and tenth grade students involved in the program focus on local business, community, and leadership, including philanthropy, government, and more. The curriculum for juniors and seniors includes presentations by nationally-known speakers through the prestigious Institute for the Public Trust, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Raleigh, N.C. This year, these students collaborated with the QuadPod, Baylor’s new podcast, to create an episode (to be released early second semester) covering the Chattanooga city municipal elections, comprised of interviews of mayoral and Chattanooga City Council candidates conducted by Harris-Stanford students. 

Melton explains that “Harris-Stanford Honors students are interviewing mayoral candidates, city council candidates, and the outgoing city mayor as a creative way for them to get involved with local government by experiencing it.” Melton adds that in this format, "they are able to learn more about running for local office or serving as a staffer by working on this project."

Melton continues to explain that “in this unprecedented year, rather than simply hearing presentations, they [the students] experience what it may be like to run for office by speaking directly with candidates that are Baylor alumni.” Student tasks include preparing questions, interviewing candidates, running the audio tech for the podcast, and editing the interviews. Melton’s goal for the project is that “students will gain an awareness of the importance of civic engagement and that local government is very accessible” and realize that they “are prepared to be the next generation of leaders at the local, regional, or national level.”

Interviews are already underway, with mayoral candidates and Baylor alumni Monty Bruell ’79 and Tim Kelly ’85 being interviewed by Fatima Sohani ’22 and Nick Bajestani ’22 and Maddie Kim ’22 respectively. When it comes to breaking down the interviewing process, Kim explains that “as with any interview, it is important to be informed prior to the meeting. I interviewed mayoral candidate Tim Kelly, so I made sure to go onto his website beforehand and research his stances on issues he feels are most important for Chattanooga. In doing so, I was able to gain perspective regarding who he is as a candidate and what he wishes to accomplish if he were to be elected mayor.” Kim further described the process, commenting, “using my research, I composed a few questions to ask Mr. Kelly, and we met up a few days later to record for the podcast. Jenny Liu ’22 assisted with recording audio during the interview, and with the help of (Baylor instructor) Mike Kelly, the podcast episode should be ready to go in the near future.” Kim then remarked that “this interviewing process definitely opened [her] eyes to another side of public office,” continuing by reflecting on her role as an intern for a political campaign this past election season. “I worked on a political campaign for a candidate running for State Senate earlier this year, and one of my roles as an intern had been to answer questions other people had regarding the candidate’s stances on issues. Never before have I been the one to ask the questions, but I enjoyed the experience immensely.”

Melton ended by expressing her hope is that this project and that the overall Harris-Stanford program helps students realize their personal potential and "their responsibility to give back to their community however they best see fit, whether it be in their own family, business, boardroom, or City Hall.”

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