While other UGA students have returned to the classroom for spring semester, senior William Rooks and juniors Amanda McLeod and Arthur Tripp Jr. are learning about American government first-hand in Washington, D.C. They are currently giving tours of the Capitol building, responding to constituents' letters and attending briefings as part of a group of 15 participants in UGA's recently-launched Washington Semester Program.
Under the auspices of UGA's Office of the Vice President for Instruction, the Washington Semester Program encompasses 12 credit hours of courses and 30-hour-per-week internships in congressional offices, think tanks and nonprofit organizations, and a range of cultural events and opportunities, including tours of the CIA and the Library of Congress.
For the inaugural semester, Susan Haire, associate professor of political science at UGA, is teaching in the program. Carey Clinton, a 2003 UGA graduate and returned Peace Corps Volunteer, serves as program assistant, the on-site liaison for the students.
"The students are off to a running start, already reporting that they are engaging in very substantive work," says program director Don De Maria. "I am grateful for the support of our alumni and friends in the nation's capital who have provided outstanding opportunities for our students."
Rooks, an English and geography double major, says that one of the highlights of his internship so far has been writing talking points for the speech Rep. Jack Kingston gave to the Children of Jerusalem for Israel's 60th anniversary. Rooks credits his previous experience, including interning in the district attorney's office in Athens and researching human rights issues under the guidance of UGA geography professor Andrew Herod, in preparing him to work in a public policy setting.
"Seeing the ‘other' in many settings opens one's mind to different perspectives," says Rooks, who would like to pursue a law career, specializing in human rights laws. "Keeping an open mind to foreign perspectives is crucial for any serious engagement with policy. The Washington Semester Program promises a unique opportunity to engage professionals in the political process in concert with other university students who share similar interests and goals as myself."
McLeod, who is working in the office of Sen. Johnny Isakson, has always been interested in government administration, especially when she participated in the American Legion Auxiliary's Georgia Girls State citizenship training program during high school. She says that experience, coupled with her current one, has solidified her decision to work on Capitol Hill after graduation and eventually for a lobbying firm.
"With the city containing so many diverse individuals, as well as vast amounts of history, it lends itself to being a fabulous learning environment," says McLeod, a marketing major. "I believe it's important for students to experience different methods of learning other than those that are a part of the traditional college experience."
Similarly, Tripp, a political science and international affairs double major, says that the Washington Semester Program is helping him familiarize himself with the political process so he can pursue a career in the field. Tripp aspires to serve in government-possibly as a future U.S. Secretary of State.
"Students should take advantage of this program because it is truly one of a kind," says Tripp, who is interning in the office of Rep. David Scott. "To receive many hours of class credit and first-hand experience simultaneously is very rare when relating to the political field."