The 2016 Republican National Convention is one of the most eagerly anticipated events in U.S. political history, and when it unfolds later this month a college student from Mount Airy will be in the thick of things.
“I’m going to be right there on the front lines,” Ashley Martin said of her upcoming role at the GOP convention, to be held in Cleveland from July 18-21. She was among many students at her school who applied for a $5,000 scholarship for the Republican National Convention Academic Seminar, to attend the event on an all-expenses-paid basis, and just one of two to be chosen.
Martin, 21, a rising senior at UNC Charlotte, will be part of a group of collegians from around the nation handling a variety of tasks there as needed by the hosting Republican National Committee. This might include checking in delegates, to running errands on the convention floor.
“Just whatever comes up,” added Martin, who had to pass a background check by the U.S. Secret Service in order to obtain credentials for the convention. This will allow her up-close access to the goings-on as the Republican Party officially taps its 2016 presidential nominee.
And while she’ll be helping to make the process run smoothly, Martin also will be learning about and gaining experience in one of her favorite subjects — politics and government.
While she is majoring in business marketing, Martin is minoring in political science. And her presence at the GOP convention won’t be her first foray into governmental affairs, due to having served as an intern last summer in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Representative Mark Walker (R-NC).
Martin also has interned for Gov. Pat McCrory in Charlotte and served in various student government capacities at UNC Charlotte, including a present term as senior class vice president for the 2017 graduating class and earlier as sophomore class president.
“My student government experience encouraged me to pursue a career in politics and government,” she explained.
Martin hopes all this, including attending the Republican National Convention and learning about the nomination process, will lay the groundwork for a future career in politics in some capacity.
“I’ve just been very interested (in that field) in the last two years, especially after working with congressman Walker last summer,” said the student, whose role at the event in Cleveland will fulfill a key political goal.
“I wanted to see how the conventions work.”
Many local ties
Ashley Martin grew up in Mount Airy and began her education here, including attending Millennium Charter Academy in kindergarten through eighth grade. Before entering the ninth grade, she became a resident of Clemmons, moving in with her dad, Jeff Martin, and later graduated from West Forsyth High School.
Her mom, Julie Pendleton, lives in Mount Airy, along with grandparents and other relatives — “most of my family,” Martin related.
“My little brother (Jared Pendleton) just graduated from Mount Airy High School,” she said.
“I’ve always called Mount Airy my home.”
Martin’s opportunity to attend the Republican National Convention was hatched last December when she learned about the availability of the scholarship through an organization called the Washington Center. Two students from UNC-Charlotte ultimately were chosen to attend both the GOP and Democratic conventions as part of a program that will last two weeks altogether.
“When they sent us our acceptance letters, they told us that it was very competitive,” Martin said of the application process for the scholarship.
She planned to ride up to Ohio on Saturday and start the educational program Monday, which will lead in to the convention a week later. In all, about 120 students from around the country will be involved, who’ll be housed at Baldwin Wallace University in the Cleveland area during the two-week program.
Martin’s decision to seek the scholarship for the GOP convention reflects her political philosophy. “I’m definitely more on the conservative side of things, both socially and economically,” she said, adding that both her parents share that sentiment and this helped shape her own ideologies.
For months, there has been talk of delegate uprisings to wrest the GOP presidential nomination from Donald Trump, the controversial New York businessman who surpassed a field of about 20 other candidates during the primary season.
Plus with emotions running high in the country, including violence breaking out at candidate rallies, there is concern about possible disruptions of the Cleveland convention reminiscent of the turbulent Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.
Martin, however, is confident that the convention will be orderly.
“I’m not really worried,” she said of potential dangers, explaining that she and other students will be securely inside the convention hall while everything is taking place. “I do expect there to be some protesters outside, but we’ve been assured we’re going to remain safe.”
Yet the convention promises to offer some degree of intensity. “I do think it is going to be interesting,” Martin said.
She likes Trump’s stance on “quite a few issues,” while being troubled by his style at times.
“I’m not a fan of his personality and how he goes about talking about his issues.”
However, she believes it is essential that the Republicans fully support their nominee “if we want to win.”
Ashley Martin’s own political ambitions could be aided by contacts made during the convention, valuable stepping-stones for such a career. But she is unclear what direction this might take.
“I don’t necessarily want to run for office,” said Martin, who wouldn’t mind being a staff member for congressional representatives or pursuing some other behind-the-scenes career in Washington or Raleigh. “There are so many roles you could play.”
For right now, though, Martin is just looking forward to what she calls the “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to attend a historic convention.
“It’s a big deal and I’m really excited about it,” the student said.
“I believe this scholarship opportunity will bring insight, knowledge and skills that are unmatchable elsewhere.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.