The first week in Washington, D.C., for Arizona State University students participating in the Capital Scholars program feels like a whirlwind.
While dressed in business attire, students walk countless steps in the hot and humid summer weather touring various political offices, government buildings and historic sites. Students also get a chance to receive advice and network with government staff, ASU alumni and other professionals.
Matt Caruso is one of those ASU alumni who help Capital Scholars navigate our nation’s capital.
“It’s so worth it to me because the students want to learn,” Caruso said. “They want more out of D.C. and out of the program.”
In his mid-20s, Caruso moved from Connecticut to Arizona hoping to become the first member of his family to earn a degree. Upon finishing his associate degree at Paradise Valley Community College, Caruso chose to attend ASU next due to the quality of the professors in his major at the time — history. After taking summer and winter classes, Caruso turned his interests to political science, adding it as another major.
Once he graduated from ASU in 2006 with degrees in both political science and history, Caruso left for Washington, D.C., to intern with Common Cause while participating in the Capital Scholars program.
According to Caruso, the experience would ultimately change his life.
“The program and internship prepared me to learn that in D.C. versatility is an extremely valuable commodity that I have used in my professional career,” Caruso said.
The camaraderie between students was just as key to Caruso as the professional skills he gained. He has maintained friendships with his fellow Capital Scholars, as well as the faculty program director, Richard Herrera.
In 2014, Herrera asked Caruso and a few other past participants if they would come out and meet with the students at the annual welcome dinner for the program. Over time, Caruso’s role would evolve to become a resource for students interested in life in Washington, D.C.
Working in the nation’s capital as the manager of committees and educational programs with Intermodal Association of North America, Caruso has intimate knowledge of the city. He often takes students out to group dinners and various excursions. For this year’s group of Capital Scholars, Caruso took students to the Folger Theater and Library to see Shakespeare’s "Love’s Labor’s Lost" where an actor spoke with the students about the performance afterwards.
Beyond volunteering his time to help students integrate with Washington, D.C., Caruso shared that mentoring students gives him the opportunity to learn from the current generation of Sun Devils.
“The students will meet so many D.C. superstars,” Caruso said. “I like to be the person that scales it back as someone they can look up to but also someone that treats them as a peer.”
Each year, roughly 16 students participate in the Capital Scholars program with the School of Politics and Global Studies. Many of the internships that students get are unpaid, and the costs of the program prevent some of the most promising students from participating unless they receive financial assistance. Thanks to the help of donors, the school is able to offer scholarship opportunities specifically for deserving students participating in the program.
“If I had not received a scholarship, I do not think I could have participated in the program,” Caruso said. “An investment in the Capital Scholars program is an investment in the future of ASU students that are going to accomplish great things they had no idea they could.”
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