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Monday, September 25, 2023


CNN selects 48 student volunteers out of pool of 554

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Student volunteers were given jobs all around campus from being production to being stand ins for the presidential candidates. | Glissette Santana/The Cougar

While the GOP debate will bring presidential candidates — and national recognition — to the University, it is also offering a rare opportunity for students to work side-by-side with one of the largest news organizations in the country.

CNN offered UH students a chance to apply to work as volunteers during its stay on campus.

Students were notified of the opportunity by email on Feb. 18, and Student Government Association Chief of Staff Adrian Castillo said they saw hundreds of applicants in a short time.

“I believe the final number was 554 students that applied,” Castillo said. “We sent the email out on Thursday around two o’clock, and it closed Friday at 5 p.m., so that’s 550-something people in a matter of 27 hours.”

While they were tasked with interviewing and vetting the applicants in a short window of time, SGA maintained a focus on students’ time when planning the interviewing process.

“Recognizing that we are students first, interviews were done on a walk-in basis, allowing students the opportunity to be interviewed at their convenience,” SGA Director of Public Relations Christian Ohuabunwa said.

While it focused on catering to students, SGA also wanted to ensure that the applicants it referred to CNN were the best.

“We had a set of four questions so we could gauge their involvement on campus, leadership experience and to get to know why these students are wanting to (get involved with) the debate,” Castillo said. “A lot of how we selected the candidates was their leadership on campus or even off campus, and then what they were hoping to get from this debate as far as professional growth.”

The high level of interest from students created problems all their own for the executive staff of SGA.

“The total count was 239 students, and the interviews started as soon as the email went out and the applications went live,” Castillo said. “The interviews were mainly on Friday and Monday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

Of those 239 interviewees, SGA recommended 121 candidates to CNN for an available 75 spots.

In the end, CNN selected 48 candidates from the pool that was once 554 students strong.

Public relations senior Rupal Mehta was one of those chosen students, and she sees her selection as a pay-off she’s been working toward for a long time.

“I was pretty proud because all my hard work and experience from the past years had finally paid off,” Mehta said.

Mehta was accepted to work in her field of PR as well as doing general runner duties and said she thinks her prior experience helped push her forward.

“I’ve been interning in PR since my sophomore year, so I’ve had over two years of experience in the industry,” Mehta said. “I guess they saw that and thought I’d be a good candidate.”

Mehta said she sees working with an organization like CNN as an opportunity for professional growth.

“I’m graduating in May, so finding a post-grad position is really important to me, and I’m hoping that maybe volunteering here would help me network and build connections,” Mehta said. “Getting experience with such a big media outlet would be really good exposure and experience for me.”

While there’s been contention among students about hosting the debate, with some saying that it doesn’t necessarily help students, Mehta said she doesn’t see it that way.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Mehta said. “It’s a couple days out of the semester that it’s going to be a little harder for students to figure their way around campus, but I think the exposure we get outweighs the negatives.”

Mehta said she sees the debate as a chance to display UH and the caliber of its students prominently.

“I hope to represent it in the most professional and best way possible just by working my hardest,” Mehta said. “Showing them how hard working and how awesome our students are at the University.”

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