by Sharyn Kopf — Marketing
February 9, 2010
Twelve Cedarville University students arrived in Washington, D.C., last September, anticipating a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: A chance to find out more about how our government works and, for a few months anyway, to become a part of it.
When Cedarville decided to add the D.C. Semester to its curriculum, the main reason was to impact political culture. For the inaugural event, five men and seven women joined Dr. Mark Caleb Smith, assistant professor of political science, in the nation’s capital to spend four months learning the ins and outs of the U.S. government.
For their first week, Smith took the students on an academic and cultural tour of D.C. They visited numerous organizations and interest groups like Concerned Women for America and Family Research Council. They also explored the city, seeing many of the monuments and historic sites that reflect America’s heritage. For some of the students, this was their first time in D.C.
After that, the pattern of the semester unfolded. The students went to work at their internship four days a week, with Mondays free for other activities like visiting area organizations for briefings, tours, etc. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they attended classes. Combining work with school wasn’t easy, but the students handled the full semester well.
The timing was ideal. Students actually working on Capitol Hill entered an intense and provocative governmental atmosphere — and some were able to witness historic events, such as health care debates and the Tea Party protest in September. “The political climate was energetic, to say the least,” Smith said. “They were able to observe democracy firsthand.”
Student internships ran the gamut — from handling mail for members of Congress to being named director of marketing for a police chiefs’ conference. In fact, the latter was part of the internship Kayla Butz ’10 held with the International Association of Chiefs of Police training division. Her job involved gathering curriculum for classes and working with instructors. Besides the experiences she had, she also benefitted from the valuable connections made.
“It’s all about who you know, especially in federal law enforcement,” said Kayla, a criminal justice major. “Your resumé can go to the top of the pile if someone turns it in for you. I had two good leads for after I graduate in May. They said, ‘Hey, give us your resumé, and we’ll start networking for you.’”
This kind of invaluable experience, not to mention an inside track toward a post-graduate career, is exactly what Cedarville had in mind in developing the D.C. Semester. And having implemented a similar program while a professor at Calvin College, Smith knew what to expect and was able to avoid potential pitfalls.
Grant Bacon ’10, a history and political science major with a double major in public administration, also saw the benefits of a semester on Capitol Hill. “A lot of organizations are looking for previous D.C. experience,” he said, “and if that’s lacking it’s even harder to get into this already competitive environment. That first experience is really hard to come by.”
Grant spent his internship at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a pretty good fit seeing as he one day plans to run for office. Fellow student Ben Shorey ’10 also had an ideal internship when he was placed at the Department of Homeland Security. Though he enjoyed working in the banking and finance division, Ben’s ultimate goal is criminal investigation. Like Grant, he appreciated the direct connection between his internship and his career plans.
Still, Smith hopes the program will do an even better job of linking internship to job in the semesters to come. His next highest goal is to continue to expose more and more D.C. people to Cedarville University. “We want to go to groups and organizations that have never heard of us and interact with them,” he said. “Not only will we be a benefit to them, but they’ll also come to appreciate us.”
With the success of the first D.C. Semester, Cedarville students and faculty are already looking forward to the next one this fall. Professor of International Studies Dr. Frank Jenista ’68 will lead this class through another exciting semester. Jenista’s qualifications include 25 years as a U.S. diplomat.
To learn more about how you can be a part of the next D.C. Semester, visit us online at www.cedarville.edu/dcsemester.