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ASU students discover career paths in nation’s capital


July 24, 2008
It started out as a summer internship program in Washington, D.C., to bring Arizona State University students from biology and political science together to learn about public policy, and to stay connected to alumni and Arizona’s congressional delegation. Ten years later, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences program – Capital Scholars – has built a reputation for mentoring future leaders and providing students an opportunity to learn about policymaking up close.

During those 10 years, more than 165 ASU students have spent their summers working in or visiting places in the center of Washington, D.C., action – places like Congress, the CIA and the U.S. Department of State.

Participants have gone on to work in Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, C-SPAN, Arizona executive agencies and law firms.

“The Capital Scholars program provides students with firsthand learning experiences that breathe life into their studies,” says Linda Lederman, dean of social sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Students selected to participate in the program bring to Washington, D.C., examples of the next generation interested and engaged in the political process; and Washington, D.C., provides them with the experience to provide the bridge between the theories they study and the actual practice of politics,” says Lederman.

The program started in 1998 and was jointly administered by ASU Regents' Professor Jane Maienschein and Ken Goldstein, previously a professor in political science. Maienschein was serving as science advisor for former Congressman Matt Salmon, which led to the program’s creation. Their goal was to get students from biology and political science to learn together about public policy.

“The program was started because we needed a presence in Washington, D.C.; for our students to learn and also to show alumni and the congressional delegation and their staff what we have to offer at ASU,” says Maienschein. “The program grew out of a two week seminar, where we took a dozen students to Washington, D.C. The program was a huge success, for the students and for showing that ASU has a policy presence.”

Today, at the start of their nine-week program, students participate in specially arranged activities their first week, including tours of Annapolis, the National Defense University and the CIA, while earning six credits toward their degree.

While visiting the CIA headquarters, students are taken through exercises like the president’s daily brief and learn what a policy analyst does.

“A few students have realized that this might be something they want to pursue in the future, when before, they wouldn’t have even thought of it as a possibility,” says Richard Herrera, director of the program and associate professor of political science.

At the National Defense University students work in policy teams to develop a plan for a fictitious national emergency. They present their plan to a panel of senior analysts and receive feedback.

“This is a really great exercise that shows students how to create policies that don’t have a lot of downsides and strengthens their presentation skills,” says Herrera. “All of these activities; and they haven’t even started their internship. These activities prepare students for their internships, but also gives them an added value to their time in Washington, D.C., which I think is very valuable to them.”

Up to 25 undergraduate and graduate students intern in public and private sectors, including the White House, offices of members of Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, Brookings Institution, National Defense University, Amtrak, FEMA and Triadvocates, a public affairs firm.

Depending upon their internship placement, Capital Scholars participants may attend legislative hearings, monitor legislation, conduct policy research, lobby members of Congress or write research analysis reports.

Kasey Stevens, an ASU junior majoring in political science with a minor in sociology, says the program’s outcomes have been amazing.

“The Capital Scholars program, above all, has provided me with the opportunity of a lifetime; to intern in our nation's capital and gain real life experience working in and around the center of our government,” says Stevens. “I think that internships are key to discovering your future goals, and the ability to intern in almost any area within the political process is a plus.

“My internship has definitely affected my career goals in that I could see myself heading a Public Action Committee or lobbying,” she says.

Chris Gast, a junior majoring in political science and communication, is learning about program management and funding for high risk research at his internship with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“I sent out more than 50 applications, but chose this one because it was the best designed internship I found. It is designed so I get an amazing experience. My internship includes field trips to transportation sites, special luncheons and a built in support system for interns,” says Gast.

Internships are not the only support system available to program participants. Capital Scholars works closely with the Capital Chapter of the ASU Alumni Association to coordinate educational and leisure activities with the students. Among the activities are an annual softball game between the students and alumni, small group dinners, and volunteering at D.C. Central Kitchen, a community kitchen that among its activities provides a culinary job training program for the homeless.

“Volunteering is a way for students to get involved with the community and not just be visitors, but also give back,” says Herrera. “Students are exposed to real world political networking through these activities. The importance of meeting people and staying in contact is a great way for students to create a mentor relationship with ASU alumni.”

Ryan Eddy was part of the first group of Capital Scholars. He graduated from ASU in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“The program allowed me to utilize skill sets I had gained in a number of my political science classes, particularly those in international relations, when I interned at the U.S. Department of State,” says Eddy, who now is a senior policy advisor to the director of Domestic Nuclear Detection Office in the Department of Homeland Security.

“Those skill sets included writing issue papers or understanding the political and economic issues of certain regions of the world,” he says.

Students participating in the Capital Scholars program receive scholarships to offset some of the travel costs and living expenses.

“To keep costs reasonable for students, scholarships have become a very important aid in this program,” says Herrera.

The Getsinger Family Scholarship supports the Capital Scholars program by providing one of the participants with a $1,000 scholarship. Carrie Getsinger was a 2006 participant in the program.

Herrera would like to have more students participate in the program, and a more diverse group with majors like engineering, business and the arts.

In 2004, an advisory board was created to help students obtain internships and raise funds for the program.

In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Capital Scholars program, ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is hosting a networking reception in Washington, D.C., at 6 p.m. July 24 at One Washington Circle Hotel.

Among the guests will be Arizona Congressman Harry Mitchell. Also attending are Alan Artibise, executive dean of the college, and representatives from the institutions and organizations that provide students with internships.

“My internship has opened an entirely different door for me. It has challenged me to do new things and step into a whole new level of learning,” says Gast. “I guess that’s what an internship is supposed to do. I’m unsure about where this is going to take me, but I’m actively involved in student leadership on campus, and I know I can use some of the tactics I’ve learned through the program.”

More information about the Capital Scholars program at www.asu.edu/clas/polisci/undergraduate/capital-scholars.html.