University Life Helps Fund ‘The Patriot Express’

Posted: August 25, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Nick Walker

It all started with an online video contest from Project Breakout to find America’s next political pundit.

“It’s kind of like American Idol, but with less fanfare,” says Rob Raffety, Mason adjunct professor and one of two winners nationwide.

Project Breakout created a competition for aspiring pundits, lasting 10 weeks and judged by both online voters and panel of judges. Each contestant sent in a video, and if they received enough votes, they submitted another video for the second and final round.

“I’ve been doing video as such for a number of years,” says Raffety, who teaches political science. “Plus, I got all of my friends to vote for me online.”

In the second round, Raffety secured more than 20,000 votes.

The prize was a trip to either the Democratic or Republican convention. “The other winner is originally from Denver, so I’m going to Minnesota,” Raffety says.

Project Breakout will pay for his hotel and flight, and provide a small cash prize. But Rafferty has bigger plans.

With the help of a grant from University Life, he will take a five-day road trip, which he’s dubbed “The Patriot Express,” on the way to Minnesota. Joining him will be Mason undergraduate Aaron Webb; the two plan to document the trip in a variety of ways.

Patriot Express
Image design by Mason student Elizabeth Biondi

“We’ll be blogging, providing commentary, sending out podcasts and vodcasts, and spending as much time as possible interacting with others,” Raffety says.

“We want to raise the awareness of students in this election. If students have questions for politicians, they can use me as a vehicle for becoming more involved.”

“Rob and I met at Arlington Independent Media,” says Webb, who studies government and international politics but has never taken a course with Raffety. “Rob is a professional writer, and I’m more into the A/V club, broadcasting and working behind a camera. Together, we’re a great team.”

“We’re going to go through some battleground states, visit a few colleges, and just have fun with it,” says Webb.

Alissa Karton, assistant to the vice president of University Life, explains that the grant was provided as part of the university’s promotion of civic involvement.

“We’re especially interested in collaborating between programs and integrating university themes and events throughout the year. It’s super relevant to cover conventions during the whole Mason Votes campaign.”

University Life has provided grants to faculty and staff projects involving students for close to a decade. In the past year, the program expanded to provide nearly $100,000 in grants to 45 projects.

“Having the Mason connection allows me to approach other universities and a variety of other locations with some academic legitimacy,” Raffety says.

“I’m really excited to partner with Rob and University Life,” Webb says. “Students are a critical block, often underrepresented, and we’ll use humor and serious reporting to get young people to vote.”

“What’s crucial to me is embracing new media and ways of reaching students, especially in ways that are entertaining and interactive. Students will be able to post comments to our web site, and if there’s a lot of thought on an issue, we can go in that direction,” Webb says.

The Patriot Express leaves on Wednesday, Aug. 27.

Readers can track their progress at

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