Addie Jenne, a junior from the village of Philadelphia in northern New York, has known since grade school that she wants a career in elective politics. So when she heard about the University's new Washington Semester Program, she saw it as a perfect opportunity to learn firsthand what life in the nation's capital would be like. It turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of her undergraduate career at the University.
"It was as if it (Washington) was a fishbowl," she said. "I liked watching and hearing what went on and seeing the key players - the senators, the congressmen and the president. Being that close was awesome. But the best part was that I was one of the participants."
Jenne, a 20-year-old political science major, was one of eight undergraduates chosen last year for the University's inaugural Washington Semester Program, which includes not only an internship in a government office, but also a research paper which grows out of the internship and reflects each student's special interest in a topic. Political Science Professor Michael Malbin, who originated and teaches the course, spent 17 years in Washington working in the executive and legislative branches and as a reporter and think-tank scholar before returning to academia. Twelve students are participating in the program this spring.
|Washington Semester students (from left) Nyree Ryder, John Viggiano, Addie Jenne, Ulla Kjarval, Chris Winfield, Nick Wikowski, Michael Schmidt (partly hidden), Eric Tyrer, and Malbin with New York Rep. Michael McNulty.|
Washington Semester students (from left) Nyree Ryder, John Viggiano, Addie Jenne, Ulla Kjarval, Chris Winfield, Nick Wikowski, Michael Schmidt (partly hidden), Eric Tyrer, and Malbin with New York Rep. Michael McNulty.
In addition to their three-day-a-week internships and papers, Malbin took the students to oral arguments at the Supreme Court and hearings in the House and Senate. They met with congressmen, visited the Federal Election Commission and the Pentagon, talked with an on-camera reporter at CNN News and met with the staff of the Congressional Research Service. Malbin also arranged research privileges for his Albany students at the Library of Congress.
Malbin views the Washington Semester as a bridge between the classroom and the everyday world of politics and government. For that reason, he explained, the research paper is a centerpiece of the program.
"My goal is for our students to see the ways in which people in government are putting their skills to work in an intense, nonacademic environment," Malbin said. "I want to teach them how to define a topic, use the Library of Congress, write a first draft, and then revise it. I want them to care about a subject, so they should pick their office and paper assignment to fit together. I want them to understand that this is the kind of work people in government are doing every day. Ideally, I want to create a complete and integrated experience."
And while the students are at it, Malbin adds, he wants them to learn job skills, experience a great city and just have fun.
For her paper, Jenne examined the trend over the last 20 years of "frontloading"-scheduling presidential primaries earlier in the primary season in an effort to achieve a greater impact. Her conclusion: as a result of frontloading, candidates need to be better organized sooner than ever. "Candidates are now constantly campaigning, touring, doing book deals because they need more money upfront. It's had a profound effect on campaign strategies," she said.
Jenne, who was assigned to the office of the chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore, worked primarily for Albany graduate Michael Burton, Ph.D.'95, a special assistant to Gore's chief of staff and now a political science professor at Ohio University. Jenne researched events, wrote letters, made phone calls, photocopied documents, circulated information and sorted mail.
|Addie Jenne, far right, interned for Vice President Al Gore during her Washington Semester internship.|
Two other Washington Semester students, John Viggiano of New City, B.A.'98, and Ulla Kjarval, from Delhi, interned in the office of Republican Congressman Benjamin Gilman of New York, who is chairman of the House International Relations Committee. Nyree Ryder, a double major in political science and English, worked in the office of Republican Congressman Sherwood Boehlert of New York. Other students were placed with Senate committees, interest groups and executive branch agencies. Viggiano, who was already interested in disarmament and foreign relations, was asked to compile briefing books and prepare material on NATO expansion. He eventually wrote his paper on U.S.-Russian cooperative nuclear disarmament programs. "The whole government system in Washington seems much more approachable to me now," said Kjarval, a 20-year-old junior who plans a career as a historian. "Not only did I live in Washington, but I was a Washingtonian."