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D.C. program jump-starts careers

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, November 3, 2005

While many undergraduates opt to spend a semester in a foreign country, Saint Mary’s political science majors have the option of studying “abroad” in one of the world’s most politically-charged cities right here at home – Washington D.C.

The Saint Mary’s College Washington Semester Program provides students the chance to gain valuable work experience and establish a professional network, all while working toward a degree in political science.

Begun in the early 1970s, the program is run by American University and is comprised of two main parts – an internship and a seminar series.

Through their internships, students have the opportunity to work at a multitude of institutions and organizations including ABC News, the Pentagon and Congressional offices.

Senior Therese Beaulieu worked in the Department of Commerce’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs during her semester in Washington. There in the midst of the Bush-Kerry presidential campaign in the fall of 2004, she had a front row seat to one of the most exciting functions of American politics.

“Through [my internship], I was able to learn about other things going on in D.C. and follow up on a lot of important issues from my job,” Beaulieu said.

Senior Sarah Staley worked for Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) while in the capitol. She was responsible for working on grants, answering constituent phone calls and occasionally giving tours of the Capitol building. She once attended a foreign policy meeting at which former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made a presentation.

“I would go to meetings or hearings and report back to a legislative aide in the office,” Staley said. “[My duties] pretty much changed everyday.”

The seminar series component of the program requires participants to attend seminars relating to their internships three days per week at American University. The seminars are not a lecture in the traditional sense, according to political science chair Sean Savage, because field trips and guest speakers from almost every political affiliation and career in the American political system are a major part of the seminar series.

“We had a class in a senator’s office,” Beaulieu said.

Senior Jenny Mayer was a part of the Washington Semester’s Law Enforcement program, one of several different tracks of study participants can select. Because of this, she would take many field trips for her seminar.

“We would actually go to the FBI and learn about it, instead of just reading a book,” Mayer said.

For the women involved, the Washington Semester Program is not just an amazing opportunity to work in the heart of the American political system, but it gives students the chance to start creating one’s own professional network.

Staley went back to Washington over fall break to visit her old office. She said that one woman in her office told her “if I was looking for a job to come find her right away.”

“We’ve had a number of students who ended up getting paying jobs in Washington because of the connections they made through the program,” Savage said.

The Saint Mary’s D.C. Alumnae Club welcomed the participants to the area and created connections for high-profile events for the young women, Beaulieu said.

“Saint Mary’s is definitely known in Washington, D.C.,” Beaulieu said.

The semester in Washington, D.C. requires sacrifice and sometimes additional work on the part of students.

For Mayer, the experience of working in the Pentagon meant she had to add a political science major, and she now takes 21 credit hours every semester. Despite the sacrifices she had to make, Mayer strongly encourages others to participate in the Washington Semester.

“I want to work in the government someday, and what better place in world is there to start than in Washington, D.C.?” Beaulieu said.