Macrae Hammond ’14 (M.S. ’15)
Macrae Hammond ’14 (M.S. ’15)

It takes a small army of volunteers to host the Vice Presidential Debate – about 1,000 in total, including almost 700 students. The general of that army: a hyper-organized font of Lancer pride and bottomless energy named Macrae Hammond ’14 (M.S. ’15).

Hammond was spending her year after graduation working in the president’s office as a presidential fellow – a position created just a few years ago in large part to serve as a bridge between the president’s office and students. When Longwood landed the debate, President Reveley tapped Hammond to join the group of veteran Longwood faculty and staff leading the key preparation teams, putting her in charge of organizing the volunteers.

“She’s done an amazing job,” said Chief of Staff Justin Pope. “What she’s pulled off over this past year requires a level of organization and diplomatic skill that would challenge the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. I’ve told her that if she ever decides to apply to Harvard Business School, I will hand deliver my recommendation letter.”

Amidst the busy flow of last-minute preparations, Hammond answered a few questions about the Longwood volunteer operation as it shifts into full gear for next Tuesday night.

So how did you end up overseeing the entire volunteer operation for the debate?

When I graduated from Longwood, I was given the opportunity to work in the President’s Office for a year. My role as presidential fellow let me learn the ins and outs of an executive office while also providing the student voice to key decision makers. I never dreamed we would end up hosting a debate. Longwood decided early on we wanted to do more than any other past host site in terms of individually matching volunteers with placements that would be meaningful to them, and it made sense for me to lead that effort.  Not only had I managed student teams in jobs past, but I was also still connected to students.

More than 1,000 people signed up to volunteer, and you’ve found assignments for most of them? Can you give us some sense of what those people are doing, and the army of volunteers that make the debate run?

Everyone who signed up to volunteer was asked to assist in some way. We have over 700 people volunteering on campus during the span of what we are calling “debate week.” They will be working with broadcasting crews, ushering guests into the Debate Hall, and helping with all of the debate-related events Longwood is hosting. About 300 alumni also volunteered, Most of them are serving by hosting watch parties in their home communities – engaging friends in civil discourse while sharing their love of their alma mater.  

Most debate sites have just assigned student volunteers randomly, but you undertook a systematic effort to match volunteers to personal and professional interests? How did you do that?

We collected information from volunteers about their academic and professional interests. Then we gathered a team of 10 staff members from offices all across campus – people who really work closely with students -- in hopes that at least one would have had interactions with every student who volunteered. And actually – it worked! It took us 13 hours and a lot of snacks, but we knew 95 percent of the students who had volunteered. We took time for each one to think about their career path, interests and strengths in order to best place each and every volunteer in a meaningful position. It was a very Longwood way to do it, and I’m really proud of how it’s turned out.

What will volunteers get out of this experience?

Volunteers will get an inside look at everything that goes into a national debate – from media operations, to Debate Hall staging to voter engagement. I think it’s something they’ll never forget. It will also be a really eye-catching line on their resumes. Telling a prospective employer you were a part of this won’t guarantee you a job, but I can almost guarantee it will start a conversation during a job interview, and then you’ll have an in.

What’s been the most memorable part of this experience for you?

I don’t know if there’s been one particular moment but I will never forget all the calls, emails and campus interactions where students have stopped me to say that they are so excited to volunteer and that they are honored to have been selected for their specific placements.

How are you going to celebrate when it’s all over?

With a cruise to the Bahamas - and perhaps a bottle or two of the new commemorative Longwood “Grain of Truth” debate beer. My involvement in this year’s election isn’t stopping at the debate, though. I also have a ticket to one of the Inaugural Balls!

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