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ND Washington Program allows students to spend a semester in D.C.

| Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Many Notre Dame students choose to leave campus to study abroad at some point during their academic journey, typically in the fall and spring semesters or the summer months. However, Notre Dame also offers the opportunity to study and pursue an internship in Washington, D.C. during the fall or spring semesters through the University’s partnership with the University of California Washington Center (UCDC) consortium. The ND Washington Program accepts 16 students each semester and is open to students of all majors.

Claudia Francis, the program’s assistant director, said the program is not only for students who are interested in all things politics.

“It’s also great for students that might just have a passion or a cause that they want to act on and have some time doing that while building their resume,” Francis said. 

Junior Stephen Vukovits was in Washington, D.C. last spring, and said he chose the Washington Program because he wanted practical experience working in D.C. on policy issues. 

 “I particularly chose to do it sophomore year because I wanted to get the experience early on, so I could learn what kind of policy work I am interested in … which then allowed me to return in the summer with more knowledge and a more particular career path I would enjoy,” Vukovits said. 

Also in Washington, D.C. last spring was senior Kendrick Peterson, who said he wanted an experience that gave him skills he could use to enhance the activities he was already doing on campus.

“I decided when I was thinking about studying abroad or going somewhere that I would pick somewhere that gave me some type of foundational value,” Peterson said. 

Francis said all students participate in a three-credit internship while taking classes at UCDC, but there is one seminar class and a companion course to it solely for Notre Dame students studying in D.C. 

“All Notre Dame students take a course [on] foundations of public policy. It actually counts as a second philosophy course,” Francis said. “The companion class to that is another three credit called Public Policy Visits.” 

In the companion class, students visit a different organization throughout D.C. each week, often through an alum connection of the University, Francis said. 

The internship, public policy seminar and companion course serve as the three core components of the program. Students then choose two elective courses to take through the UCDC consortium with students from many different universities.

The internship is customizable for students. In the past, students have interned with politicians, media organizations, business hubs, museums and more, Francis said.

Francis said Washington, D.C. is often attractive to applicants interested in advocating for something they are passionate about.  

“Students can intern with a member of Congress, they can intern at an advocacy organization, an NGO. … They could work at a think tank, doing some research on areas that are [of] particular interest to them, either academically or personally,” Francis said.

Vukovits interned with the government relations at lobbying and law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. 

“The experience taught me about the intersection of business, politics and policy, and how all of the different interest groups work together to enact policy change,” Vukovits said. “It really exposed me to different avenues in how congressional committees work, how cooperation and bipartisanship can happen behind the scenes to sort of make the deals needed to pass laws.”

Peterson went a different route with the internship opportunity in Washington, D.C. 

“I worked at the Human Rights Campaign as a political organizer against hate legislation in Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi,” Peterson said. 

Both Peterson and Vukovits said they enjoyed studying and living in community with students from other universities. 

Vukovits said hearing what people liked and didn’t like about their work provided insight into what kinds of jobs he might enjoy in the future. 

“I really enjoyed learning from the other students in the program because everyone had such different internships that the whole program really exposed me to the different careers,” Vikovits said. “Having everyone share that feedback within class as well in our class discussions just made the discussion even richer.”

Peterson said he enjoyed connecting with students different than him. 

“Meeting people that were so radically different than me was amazing, and I found some of my greatest friends. We still have a texting group chat at this moment,” Peterson said. 

The student application deadline for fall 2020 and spring 2021 of the Washington Program is December 1.

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