Paul Gross ’20 and Michael Michaelson ’20 were eating in the dining hall last fall when the idea for the Yale Politics Initiative came to them. Noticing the lack of activities on campus focused on political practice as opposed to public policy, the Grace Hopper College sophomores envisioned a nonpartisan organization in which students interested in politics could learn from experts and each other.

Sponsored by both the Department of Political Science and the Block and Strickler funds, the Initiative’s first project, titled “Off the Record,” is a perfect example of that vision. The program consists of a series of master classes, set to begin this semester, in which experts in political practice will share their experiences and knowledge with a small group of students.

“We were inspired by the master class format from music, in which an instructor listens to a student and then critiques her work,” Gross and Michaelson said in a joint email to the News. “We like that deep engagement between instructor and student.”

The chosen instructors come from a wide variety of backgrounds and include Joel Benenson, a pollster and consultant for former President Barack Obama; Frank Luntz, a political consultant renowned for creating Republican talking points; Patti Solis Doyle, a senior advisor and aide for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign; Jeff Roe, a Republican political consultant; and Tony Podesta, a political lobbyist.

Each instructor will teach a noncredit class of about 20-25 students. While students are welcome to apply and enroll in each of the five classes, Gross and Michaelson said, each class will have a different application and evaluation.

“Our goals are to create intimate, informal settings that facilitate candid conversation between the guests and students,” Gross and Michaelson explained. “We want to leave participants with new, tangible skills and a deeper understanding of the speaker’s area of expertise.”

Although these objectives are specific to “Off the Record,” the student organizers hope that the Yale Politics Initiative expands beyond the master class series. While they have a few ideas — such as hosting a fall symposium on specific political practices — both Gross and Michaelson are keen to cater to students’ needs.

“We’re really excited to get input from the Yale community — both students and professors — to figure out how we want to grow the program,” the organizers said.

Students interested in the master class experience highlighted the series’ focus on small-group learning as one of its most attractive selling points.

“I’m interested because I think the experience is unique,” Anne Northrup ’21 said. “There probably won’t be too many opportunities in my life to ask questions of policy advisors.”

Aakshi Chaba |

Correction, Jan. 22: The original version of this article said that organizers of the program hoped that students would only enroll in one class, while in reality, they hope students apply to and enroll in as many of the 5 classes as they wish.