Five years ago, with the incredible help and support of President Mark D. Gearan and Director of Career Services Brandi Ferrara, Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman and Associate Professor of Political Science DeWayne Lucas were able to create a two-day intensive program designed to introduce students to the world of politics. The trip to the nation’s capital allows students to see the numerous opportunities available in D.C. and to form connections with alums working in the area. This year’s trip, held during winter break, included lectures, a young alum panel, and site visits featuring 14 prominent HWS graduates.
Alums included: Patrick Byrne ’02, COO, Edgeworth Economics; William Cox ’06, a member of government programs at Lockheed Martin MS2; Peyton Craighill ’94, polling unit, Washington Post; Libby Foley ’10, government affairs intern, Alaska Wilderness League; the Honorable Ludwig Gaines ’88, from the law firm Rich Rosenthal Brincefield Manitta Dzubin & Kroeger, LLP; Rachel Henderson ’06, account supervisor, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide; Stuart Hillenbrand ’04, uniformed division officer, U.S. Secret Service; Austin Kana ’09, junior analyst, New West Technologies, LLC; Alex Kaplan ’01, vice president, Swiss Reinsurance; Matt Milner ’99, founder, Edgeworth Economics; Karin Moore ’89, vice president and co-general counsel for Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America; Hadley Sosnoff ’06, former legislative director, Rep. Walt Minnick; Joshua Strenger ’09, associate consultant, Touchstone Consulting Group; and Lauren Zeitler ’09, project director, WWP Strategies.
“It is really the alums who make the program,” says Deutchman. “A lot of students don’t realize how wonderful and helpful our alums are. Out of 100 graduates, 99 will do all that they can to help – they just can’t seem to do enough!”
For the 15 students on the trip, the encounters were transformative. “Alums gave us unprecedented access and insights into what work – and life – are like on the Hill,” says Kees Nordin ’13, an English and political science double major. “The trip was also crucial because it took the discussion of post-graduate work away from the abstract.”
Lucas agrees and also believes that networking is a large part of the trip. “The students always receive helpful advice,” says Lucas. “Alums talk about their own experiences, and that helps ease the transition process for students later on.”
“This program has opened the door to many internships,” adds Deutchman. “That has everything to do with the alums who have stayed connected to HWS.”
Of course, meeting with former students is not only a highlight for current students, but for the professors as well. “I like seeing what they are doing,” says Lucas. “It’s wonderful to see how they have developed since graduation, as well as the differences and similarities between what we teach and what they end up doing.”
Not only does the trip connect students with alums, but it presents a variety of jobs that students may not have considered. “When you are 20 or 21, you don’t really have an idea how many jobs are out there,” says Deutchman. “I think that there is a stereotype that students with degrees in political science go straight to law school, and that’s just not true.”
With speakers ranging from political consultants to members of the U.S. Secret Service, students were exposed to the multitude of careers available in D.C. “It was very beneficial to talk to so many people in different fields,” says Mary Posman ’12, a double major in history and public policy. “I think that the most important aspect of the trip is the opportunity to make personal contact – to really talk to people and get an idea of what their careers are like. The trip not only shows you new opportunities, but provides the connections necessary to make those opportunities become a reality.”
Many speakers stressed the importance of taking advantage of all that HWS has to offer. “The concept and application of interdisciplinary education, which is at the heart of HWS, is something that was brought up several times,” says Syed Zaidi ’12, a double major in international relations and public policy. “Many speakers stressed that students should do as much as they can to become well-rounded.”
The world of political science and public policy is full of opportunities, says Deutchman. “A liberal arts education helps one to obtain a basic skill set. People switch careers all the time, so having those skills is really necessary.”
However, the skill that alums cited as most essential to master is that of writing. “Writing is the big issue,” says Deutchman. “It is one of the single most important skills to have. On the Hill, no one is supervising your writing, so if you are writing a letter for a Congressman to sign, for example, it has to be perfect.”
Lucas notes, “In college, students write 12-page research papers. However, when they get to Washington, they have to condense that research into a one page document. The writing process and clear communication are extremely important.”
For some, the Day on the Hill experience meant seeing the capital in a whole new light. “This was a whirlwind exposure to something real, and it showed me what working on the Hill can actually mean: interning, lobbying, working in a think tank, working for a trade association, and a million more options,” says Mary Wraight ’13, a history and public policy double major.
Lucas believes that seeing the young alums in particular is beneficial, helping current students realize that many staffers in D.C. are not that much older than they are. “They share their experiences, and can talk about how they survived in that year or two following graduation and how their expectations have changed.”
Andrew Donovan ’12, a history and political science double major, came to the realization that within just a few years, he and his classmates could be working for a legislator or a government agency. “The very people who were speaking and presenting to us, sat in our seats as students very recently – that means that we’re not too far behind what they’re doing now.”
For the full 2011 itinerary, visit http://www.hws.edu/academics/polisci/DoH_itinerary2011.aspx.