Undergrads experience life on Capitol Hill with new D.C. program

| News Editor

Junior Ashli Hessel poses in front of the Capitol. Hessel is one of six undergraduates in the Washington University Semester in D.C. Program. The unique learning experience consists of an internship, a core class, a colloquium class and field trips designed to immerse students in the DC culture. Courtesy of Ashli Hessel

Junior Ashli Hessel poses in front of the Capitol. Hessel is one of six undergraduates in the Washington University Semester in D.C. Program. The unique learning experience consists of an internship, a core class, a colloquium class and field trips designed to immerse students in the DC culture.

Washington University students have taken the nation’s capital by storm as part of a new University program.

The Semester in D.C. Program was introduced this fall to undergraduates, building upon the successful Administrative and Congressional Law Clinic, which has offered third-year law students the opportunity to work for a member of Congress since 1977.

Currently, 11 law students and six undergraduates are spending the semester in D.C. Twenty law students and about eight undergraduates will participate in the program this spring, and there will also be a summer program.

“This experience has given me a different perspective on politics because instead of reading about policy-making in textbooks, we see it happen in the House and Senate chambers and in our offices,” said junior Ashli Hessel, a program participant.

The new undergraduate program centers on a four day per week, six credit internship, a colloquium class, and a three credit elective course taught at the University of California Washington Center (UCDC).

Core classes are taught by the UCDC faculty, which features professors from the University of Michgan, University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley and UC Merced.

The program is designed to immerse students in the D.C. culture and offers smaller seminar classes for a unique learning experience.

When the program was announced, the University emphasized the importance of integrating the program’s environment into its learning experience, and according to students, that goal has been met.

“I would say the best part of the program is just the city itself,” Hessel said. “You’re in the midst of Embassy Row, so it’s definitely vibrant and there’s a lot to do.”

The program has coordinated explorations of the D.C. area through field trips to hockey games, the theater and local museums.

“They definitely do try to make the city a resource for us,” Hessel said.

The mix of undergraduate and law students has been beneficial. All of the students take the core class together, which is taught by Professor Steven Jackson, the director of Washington University Programs in D.C.

“It’s been terrific,” Jackson said.

Since both law students and undergraduate students have different backgrounds, they add to different parts of the class, increasing the collective knowledge.

“There are times when we’re talking about legal issues and the law students bring to bear what they know, and there are times we’re talking about political science,” Jackson said.

Hessel, who is pre-law, has enjoyed having classes with the law students.

“It’s been helpful to hear the law students’ perspectives on law school and the admissions process,” Hessel said.

Jackson said that the one difficulty the program’s students face is balancing internships and class work.

“I think everyone’s found it demanding, and they’re all in it together,” Jackson said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of time.”

To make the class a little easier for students, Jackson decided to make the core class more flexible.

“I’ve used my flexibility in managing the core class to sometimes make it a little lighter when it was heavy in other things…and I think we’ve gotten pretty close to the right balance,” Jackson said.

As part of the program, the students write a 30-page research paper on a part of legislation relating to their internships.

“This has helped me discover resources to use for legislative research and become more familiar with the policy-making process,” Hessel said. “Because I work in a congressional office, I have access to reading rooms in the Library of Congress, so that’s been a useful perk.”

Overall, Hessel is pleased with her choice to participate.

“Because I’m a political science major, the reason I really wanted to come to D.C. was to learn about the political process first-hand and it does come alive here,” Hessel said.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe