This semester, a dozen Hobart and William Smith students are developing a working knowledge of their disciplines by participating in the Washington, D.C. Public Policy Program. Through a rigorous course load with HWS faculty and political experts, and internship placements that provide contact and discussion with governmental decision-makers and policy specialists, students are immersed in the environment of Washington politics.
Thus far during the biennial off-campus study program, students have met Janet Yellen, chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. They are exploring the confluence of public policy and presidential and congressional power under the instruction of Ted Van Der Meid, director of government relations at the Pew Charitable Trusts and Hastert’s former chief of staff.
“It’s a demanding program and our students rise to the occasion,” says Professor of Economics Alan Frishman, who is leading the D.C. semester trip for the third time. “Students take three classes and work Tuesday through Friday at their internships — some on the Hill, some with lobbying groups, think tanks and government agencies. They make lots of contacts, get a sense of what a full time job in D.C. is like, and have the chance to show that they’re hardworking. Over the years seniors have been hired, and even the juniors, who spend another year back at HWS, make useful contacts.”
“I had never been to Washington, D.C., even though I’ve always been interested in the political work that happens on a day-to-day basis,” says Gabrielle Hafalia ’16, an international relations major and a double minor in Middle Eastern studies and anthropology. “In this day and age, job placement and security seems to heavily rely upon networking, which is exactly what this program, along with our strong alumni community, provides us as current students. Being here in the D.C.-metro area merely expands that preexisting network.”
Hafalia is interning with the International Association of Immunization Managers (IAIM), a program with the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute, which aims “to reduce needless human suffering from vaccine-preventable and neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) by developing new vaccines, advocating for increased use of existing vaccines, and promoting expanded access to affordable medical treatments.”
“I will be travelling with the Secretariat (my team) to Istanbul, Turkey, for IAIM’s inaugural conference during the first week of March,” says Hafalia. She will assist in organizing and running the conference which will bring together roughly 150 immunization managers from all over the world. “This is especially exciting for me regarding immunization managers coming from the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, as I will have an opportunity to speak Arabic with those members. I spent my fall 2014 semester in Amman, Jordan — so my Arabic has dramatically improved.”
Connor Cough ’16, an economics major, first learned of the trip during his economic courses with Frishman and “was particularly drawn to the thought of living in a large city, being from a small town in central New York.”
Cough is currently interning with KaBOOM! — a national non-profit dedicated to ensuring that all children have a childhood filled with the balanced and active play needed to thrive — where Jen Leshnower ’00 is manager of client services community outreach.
“The work experience I knew I would gain down here was also appealing,” Cough says, “and this semester has been different than anything I have or could experience [on campus]. Essentially we can make this trip work for us — if we want to go and network hard we can do that, if we want to explore the city and try new things we can do that too. The options we have are what excites me. We are living in arguably the most powerful city in the world, on Capitol Hill. Not many people can say they experienced what we are experiencing right now.”
When Kevin Casey ’16 was considering off-campus study opportunities, the D.C. program stood out because of one element in particular: “Process…It does not matter how well you know something if you do not know how to put that knowledge to use. This program teaches the individual ‘process’ because of the primary focus on an internship.”
Working with TwinLogic Strategies, a lobbying firm that specializes in intellectual property law and patent licensing, Casey is discovering “the process of the office works: how to prepare a brief, how to treat clients, how to have a conversation with colleagues and how to work within a timeline.”
In their coursework, students are exploring fiscal and monetary policy, the current monetary role and actions of the FED, and how the administration and Congress affect the economy through government spending, taxes, the deficit and the debt. They are examining the basic theories of urbanization and applying them to the D.C.-metro area as a case study, including issues of education, crime, poverty, housing, urban finance, planning, and the special characteristics of Washington as the nation’s capital.
As part of their course with Van Der Meid, students had the opportunity for a two-hour roundtable discussion with Hastert, learning about his tenure as Speaker of the House. Later in the semester, the group will have a private tour of the House and Senate floors.
In addition to meeting Yellen when HWS presented her with the Elizabeth Blackwell Award in Washington this January, the HWS students enrolled in the program attended a meeting of the HWS Board of Trustees, where they discussed their internship experiences with board members and HWS President Mark D. Gearan.