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Students Learn Intricacies of the Presidency by Role-playing White House Staffers

*Note: Dr. Carlos Figueroa is a faculty member at UTB and a TFA member. *


BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – APRIL 20, 2011 – Students in Professor Carlos Figueroa’s government class at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College have been learning about the world’s most powerful position this semester by engaging in role playing.

Figueroa, an assistant professor in the Department of Government, teaches “The Presidency” class with a method he feels allows students to delve into and better understand the inner-workings of the office of the President of the United States.

“This is a semester-long exercise that allows students to shift the focus that we generally give to the presidency,” said Figueroa. “As a rule, we personalize the office of the president, letting it become synonymous with one individual. In this class the students begin to look at the presidency as an institution that is shaped by systemic and historical factors.”

In groups of six, the students formed White House teams consisting of President, Chief of Staff, Press Secretary, Senior Domestic Advisor and Senior International Advisor. The specific presidency that each group represents is determined by randomly pulling names out of a hat.

The Presidents being studied are Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Humberto Sanchez, a junior history major from Brownsville, plays the role of press secretary in the Wilson administration.

“We always talk about public figures, but this class gives us an idea of the function of it all,” said Sanchez. “We are learning what goes on inside the executive office.”

On Mondays, Figueroa presents his students with a contemporary hot-button topic for them to research during the week. Topics covered thus far include stem cell research, abortion and same-sex marriage.

Rene Hernandez, a junior government major from Brownsville, portrays the role of senior advisor for foreign affairs in the Eisenhower administration.

“The goal for each team is to match these current policy issues with our President's social, political and other views and voting patterns to determine how that President would stand on that particular issue,” said Hernandez.

Debates on these topics take place in the Friday class with students dressed appropriately in business attire. Although some of the White House roles are behind the scenes, those students are equally involved in preparing for the “press conference.”

The two speaking roles are the press secretary, who explains policy regarding the current issue to the “press,” before introducing the President who defends his policy.

Figueroa said for a team to be successful they must learn to anticipate the other side’s position or any possible objections to their claims.

“I find students enjoy the challenge,” said Figueroa. “They appreciate the freedom to use their imaginations, explore new ways of thinking, and engage each other on otherwise tough issues, in a ‘safe’ classroom setting.”

Figueroa keeps a running tally on the performances of the White House groups.

The two high-scoring teams will meet for a final debate on a yet-to-be-announced national or international policy issue from 12–12:50 p.m. on Monday, May 9.

The venue will be the Third Floor Conference Room of the Science and Engineering Technology Building. The debate is open to the public.

For more information and to obtain visitors’ parking passes, contact Dr. Carlos Figueroa at 956-882-8883 or carlos.figueroa@utb.edu.

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