Where We Started, Where We Are Going
October 5, 2021
At the New Hampshire Institute of Politics (NHIOP), political history is made every day in a place that once started as a humble dream by people passionate about civic education. By opening the floor for relevant and important issues, the Institute became New Hampshire’s home for politics. The Institute is a place where political and community leaders, prominent journalists, scholars, authors, and presidential candidates gather to engage with New Hampshire residents, the Saint Anselm College community, and beyond. The retail politics style of campaigning, where candidates interact and talk directly to voters, takes place throughout the year at the Institute. Guests step inside, welcomed with true Benedictine hospitality in pursuit of accomplishing something special: to educate, engage, and empower citizens of all ages. Here’s a look at how one building sparked an idea for what the New Hampshire Institute of Politics is today—a place for the community to come together, discuss, and engage with each other, our nation, and beyond.
In the 1990s, Professors Dale Kuehne and Paul Manuel of the Saint Anselm College Politics Department alongside Anne Botteri of Public Relations created a proposal that would transition the property into an institute of politics. With Ms. Botteri working development, Professor Manuel working as the department chair and on administration, and Professor Kuehne utilizing the professor/educator approach, the proposal was crafted to improve teaching, grow the politics department, and advance the College. It was the founders’ hope that the Institute would be a place of connection and education between politicians and students, while remaining true to the essence of Saint Anselm College’s values. In a recent interview with the Institute’s curatorial team, Professor Manuel emphasized that the founders spent time ensuring that the Institute would be an extension of the college and its Benedictine values. He explained, “We talked about national exposure and how we could keep the Institute ‘Anselmian’ in character. We considered how we would use the Benedictine value of welcoming the stranger by welcoming citizens who want to be part of the civil conversation.”
The building officially opened in 2001 and developed into a political hub of civic engagement, especially for the young adults attending the college. Kevin B. Harrington was actively involved in the development of a civic engagement program that would engage young people in the practice of good citizenship as an active part of the Institute. It then named one of its flagship student programs in honor of Mr. Harrington. Manuel further explained, “Having a civics education means you understand your role as an American and can live a meaningful life while helping others.” The Institute has been grounded in these pillars of civics, American democracy, and citizenship for the common good.
What once was the U.S. Army Reserve training center became the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. The property has proven its involvement in the essential American pillars of freedom and democracy by acting as a catalyst for civic engagement activities that take place in its halls and expands into the hearts of those who visit it. When asked what it has been like to witness the growth of the Institute and student involvement in recent years, Manuel said, “It’s humbling to see how overwhelming the success is. It had been a simple dream. Now the Institute offers opportunities to help students pursue their interests and have great experiences and opportunities. The project of the Institute took on a life of its own because it was a good idea.”
“We wanted to make sure the space made sense for its purposes and to be respectful of the role of people in relation to the space,” said Manuel. To tie the building back to the monastery’s Abbey Church interior, slate floors, Italian wall tile, and mahogany paneling were added. The warm red-orange tiles were made in Italy, harkening back to Saint Anselm who was born in Aosta, Italy. The building’s color scheme was modeled after the monastic Abbey Church on the upper end of Saint Anselm College. The facility is regularly used by community organizations such as the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, AARP New Hampshire, American Legion, political groups, and high schools. What was once a building with bullet holes in the wall has transformed into an honored institution where history is made every day through meaningful interactions between civic leaders and the public.
From the very start of the Institute’s founding, it was clear that civic engagement was at the heart of its mission. In a 2001 news article by Michael Cousineau of the Union Leader, Professor Kuehne said, “One of our primary goals is to re-engage young people into civic life. Every study will tell you 18-24 -year-olds are at record lows in engagement in public life, except one. Young people are very involved in volunteerism.” Throughout the years, the Institute has certainly remained faithful to this mission: to educate, engage, empower citizens. From the prestigious Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassador Program to the iconic Politics & Eggs series, the dedicated and passionate individuals of the Institute continue to create opportunities for civic engagement. When asked to recall a significant event that he witnessed in the building’s lifetime, Kuehne said, “Al Sharpton came to speak and that was a big deal in the 2004 cycle. The place was packed, and it was an electric event, having a prominent black minister and politician was a great opportunity.”
The Institute has become a must-stop on the campaign trail for all major contenders of the White House. Opportunities for students and the public to participate in American history as its happening has been made possible through the vision, leadership, and support of many. Whether behind the scenes, in the archives, or under the spotlight asking a question at a townhall event, students will continue to make their home at the beloved Institute, caring for its people and its purpose.
On Sept. 7, 2021, the anniversary of the Institute’s founding, Executive Director Neil Levesque stated, “Thousands of students who have come through this Institute, along with thousands of New Hampshire and national figures, have been enriched by the civic engagement, free speech, discussion and debate that takes place every day in this facility.”
We would like to extend a huge thank you to Professor Manuel for interviewing with us, his research help, and his continued support for the Institute. His support and assistance was essential to this article.
We would also like to thank the Union Leader staff for sharing archived articles about NHIOP with us.
Thank you to Mr. Keith Chevalier for further help from the archives.
Thank you to Sam Inman, ‘11 for his work on the history of the building, as well as Joe Walker ’23 and Ryan Melley, ‘21 from Professor Beth Salerno’s Public History class for their work on the history of the building and the interview with Professor Dale Kuehne.
Cousineau, Michael. “New Hampshire Union Leader / New Hampshire Sunday News (Manchester, NH) (Published as New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, NH) December 7, 2001