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August Common Ground E-Newsletter

9 August 2013

Project Vote Smart Summer Olympics

It’s that time of year again! The snow has melted, the sun is out, and it can only mean one thing…the Project Vote Smart Summer Olympics have arrived. Each year, the best athletes from across the country (Project Vote Smart staff and interns) come together to test their strength, speed, and smarts here on the Great Divide Ranch. This year, competition got heated as the Trustbusters and Fat Cats battled head to head for the title.

Spirit Week started off strong on Monday with Hometown Day, where each player represented either their town, state, or even country! Cassandra, an intern from Brussels, won by showing her Belgian pride. As the week rolled on, the Montana office was bustling with spirit as we saw Romans, hippies, and Mad Men alike! For the final day of Spirit Week, the Fat Cats and Trustbusters donned their best team costumes and made a final effort to show their pride. While Trustbusters were looking very ‘average Joe’ that day, Fat Cats wore their finest and made it rain big bucks in the back office.

Thursday night, the Olympians engaged in friendly competition as they played a long, rainy game of Capture the Flag across the ranch property. The games began Friday after a powerful speech from staffer and judge Nick during the Opening Ceremony, starting with a humorous bout of Bird on a Perch (human Musical Chairs). After, interns were not only tested on their strength but also their smarts in trivia with categories such as Montana, Pop Politics, and Lodge Life.

Once the Montana rain calmed down, the Fat Cats and Trustbusters put on their swim trunks and headed to the pond for a game of Greasy Watermelon. The Fat Cats' agility was no match for the strength of the Trustbusters as intern Rhema took home the win.

Next was the Relay, starting with the Human Knot competition. Taking a swift lead, Trustbusters headed for the dock to begin the Canoe Race as other teammates left for the Scavenger Hunt. The Fat Cats' speed wasn't enough to catch up as the Trustbusters successfully completed the final leg of the Relay, and took the games!

Intern Spotlight: James Watt
At Project Vote Smart, interns alike get the opportunity to learn a number of skills over their 10 weeks at the Great Divide Ranch. After 5 weeks, interns are given the chance to dive into the expansive Vote Smart database using Structured Query Language (SQL). SQL is a computer programming language used for managing databases found in organizations from Amazon to the CIA. We use this language to sift through our database and extract data in order to find patterns and other interesting information related to our data.

This past week, our intern James Watt began researching the breakdown of completed levels of education in Congress; anywhere from high school diplomas to PhDs. His research brought some surprising results. While most congressmen earned Juris Doctorate degrees, James found 19 doctors (and even 1 dentist!) through his research. Also, he found 18 House members without any college degree.

“I was first interested to see if it was still possible just to have a bachelors in Congress,” said James, “even though your degree doesn’t decide everything” he conceded. Through his research, he found that many of the officials without a degree had great success in other forms, such as successful small businesses or enlistment in the military.

In the future, James is interested in conducting a number of research studies using SQL with other databases. First, he would like to find out the breakdown of major religions in Congress, as well as research the number of times Egypt was discussed on the Congressional floor before and after the Arab Spring, as well as before and after the most recent coup.

James feels that SQL has been an extremely useful skill so far and that the tool will serve him well beyond the Great Divide Ranch. “It’s a great skill to know for any job you go into; every business you go to has some sort of database.”

James is a senior at Illinois State University majoring in Political Science with an emphasis in Middle Eastern Politics and an East Asian Studies minor. This past year he lived abroad in Taiwan, studying Mandarin and Taiwanese political science. In his spare time he enjoys traveling on a small budget. In the future he hopes to return to Taiwan, either to start a business or to receive his masters degree.

To learn how you can join our 10-week internship program at Project Vote Smart, visit

Mike's Recipe Corner

Our chef, Mike Soszynski, is a pretty important guy here at the ranch! With around 40 interns, 20 staff, and 15 or so members we have visiting us every summer, the “food front” could easily become a bone of contention, but for the past two summers, Mike has kept us all happily fed and watered, so we thought we'd share one of his delicious recipes with you...

1 cup cookie crumbs
3 Tbl white sugar
1/4 cup butter
10 oz raspberries
2 Tbl white sugar
2 t cornstarch
1/2 cup water
2 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 cup half-and-half cream
24 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup white sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix cookie crumbs, 3 T sugar, & melted butter  

Press crust mixture into lined cupcake tins
In a saucepan boil raspberries, 2 T sugar, cornstarch, and water
Preheat oven to 325
Melt white chocolate chips with half-and-half
In a large bowl mix cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar till smooth
Beat in eggs one at a time
Blend in vanilla & white chocolate
Pour butter into cupcake tin

Drizzle raspberry sauce on each cheesecake
Bake for 1 hour

Chill for 8 hours
Serve with leftover raspberry sauce


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Related tags: blog, e-newsletter, interns, Montana, staff-members

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