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Students, faculty discuss experiences in Washington Program

For those looking to gain internship experience while studying off-campus, the Notre Dame Washington Program poses an exciting and unique opportunity. Open to sophomores and juniors, the program boasts alumni who have gone on to work with The Washington Post, CNN, Facebook and in Congress. 

Students spend at least three days a week at their internships and take elective classes in the evenings, ranging from art history to legislative politics.

Every Thursday, students gather with the director of the program, Professor Thomas Kellenberg, who leads the seminar on “Introduction to Public Policy” and “Public Policy Visits,” where topics of discussion include democracy, rights and cost-benefit analysis. 

Within this seminar and other classes, students have the opportunity to speak with a variety of experts and high-ranking government officials about their discussion topics.

Sophomore Fionn Barr found the talk by Paul Lewis, former department of defense special envoy for Guantanamo closure, particularly interesting.

“He was the head of closing down Guantanamo Bay,” Barr said. “He talked about immigration and the problems they faced in trying to find a viable and humanitarian solution to deal with the prisoners in the camp.” 

Highlighting the importance of students’ exposure to these speakers and their various careers, Claudia Francis, the program’s associate director, said, “Being able to connect the classroom to the real world afterward is helpful for them to figure out the next step in their path forward.” 

This sentiment holds true for Barr.

“I think one of the best things this program has done for me is help discern what my future career path will be,” he said. “The guest speakers have had a huge impact on that, especially when considering postgraduate degrees.” 

When considering the impacts of the internships, Francis added, “The networking component is really beneficial for our students to help them understand the policy landscape in D.C. and what types of positions appeal to them.” 

Sophomore architecture student Myldred Hernandez-Gonzalez has her sights set on working in housing in the future, and through interning with the Neighborhood Development Company, a for-profit, mission-driven real estate developer that creates affordable housing units in the D.C. area, she has been able to envision this plan becoming a reality. 

“I never thought I could work for a for-profit company,” she said. “So it’s been really interesting to work in that space and look at how companies can be mission-driven and still make a profit.” 

Another unique aspect of the program is its inclusion of human rights clinics such as its Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act Clinic and United Nations Special Procedures/Periodic Review Clinics, where students get to take part in hands-on, human rights advocacy work.

“I know of only one other university in the country that offers undergraduates the opportunity to do human rights work,” Kellenberg said. 

The deadline to apply for next year’s program is Nov. 27. 

“We are looking for students who are going to represent the University well and work well with each other,” Francis said. “Students who are going to have a really impactful time in D.C. and that participating in the Washington Program is going to propel them further in their career and their personal career discernment.” 

Barr said the experience has been eye-opening and rewarding.

“I think that anyone can benefit no matter what major you are,” he said.

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