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.


Rep. Brendan Boyle, ’99, discusses career, current legislative efforts

On Friday morning, Rep. Brendan Boyle, ‘99, spoke to a group of students about his career path, pursuing opportunities in politics and current legislative priorities. 

Boyle, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania’s second district serving his fourth term, is an alumnus of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Program in Public Service and the inaugural semester in the Washington program.

Friday, he opened with brief introductory remarks and then fielded questions from students invited from various majors, minors and political clubs.

Ricardo Ramirez, director of the Hesburgh Program and an associate professor of political science and Latino studies, introduced Boyle. 

“Congressman Boyle has served as a champion for the working and middle-class families, particularly on issues related to social and economic justice. He, himself, is the first in his family to attend college, and he’s the son of a janitor and a school crossing guard,” Ramirez said.

In his introductory remarks, Boyle discussed his work across policy issues in the House of Representatives, identifying himself as a “generalist.”

“On any given day, I could be voting on energy policy, and then, next, voting on tax policy, and then voting on NATO, and then next voting on a welfare issue and next voting on a defense issue,” he said. 

Boyle, who serves on the influential Ways and Means Committee, recounted key experiences as a lawmaker.

Boyle was in Brussels days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, to which he’s a delegate.

“At our opening dinner, the vast majority of parliamentarians from the UK, France, Germany … did not believe there would be a war and did not believe there would be an invasion,” he recalled.

He tied the issue to political practice, saying he’s been especially active on the issue because of a large Ukrainian presence in his district in and around Philadelphia. 

Boyle said that this combination of constituent services and policy encapsulates the job of a congressman.

“There’s in the district and there’s in the Capitol. The time that I’m back home is not time off … So in some ways, it’s almost a hybrid of two different positions combined into one,” he said.

Many of the students identified themselves as residents of a particular representative’s district. Boyle interjected when a senior from Sarasota, Florida, mentioned he was from Republican representative Vern Buchanan’s district.

“I’m friendly with Vern, too. That should reassure people that people on both sides of the aisle actually are much more friendly with one another than cable TV would have you believe,” he said.

In response to a question about America’s role on the global stage, Boyle emphasized two priorities after reflecting on the Arab Spring and other events from the past twenty years.

“Two goals immediately come to mind, and they’re sometimes in conflict. One would be to promote democracy and human rights as much as we can around the world. And then the second is stability,” he said. “We can not retreat from the world.”

He also talked about recent legislative action. Boyle, who made history as the first House member to cast a proxy vote on behalf of a colleague amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, discussed being in committee hearings and voting during a trip to Notre Dame a year ago.

“In this very building a few floors up while my wife and daughter were enjoying campus all that Friday, I was up there casting votes and participating in hearings. So literally at Notre Dame, congressional votes have been cast, and I was casting my votes for our amendments, defeating the other side’s amendments for the Build Back Better Act, which ultimately did pass out of the Ways and Means Committee,” Boyle recalled.

He discussed the upcoming midterms and said that while “bread and butter issues” and contrasting the Republicans’ agenda with that of the Democrats under Biden, maintaining a big tent party is key.

“You have to tailor it to your district. The message I would have in northeast Philadelphia would be different than I would have in suburban Philadelphia,” he said.

Boyle also discussed moments when he had to make tough decisions in politics. Sitting on the foreign affairs committee, he opposed the Iran Nuclear Deal and remained steadfast despite pleas to support it from powerful places.

“President Obama lobbied me on Air Force One. Fortunately, it turns out the flight from D.C. to Philadelphia is a very short flight,” he said. “And I was never invited back.”

Throughout his remarks, Boyle emphasized the importance of getting involved in politics. He pointed out that people in high positions of power within congressional offices are often young and can make a significant impact.

“If you walk around Capitol Hill and you walk into congressional offices, you see just how young the individuals are who have a great deal of responsibility,” he said. “And I can tell you from the perspective of wanting to hire good people, we’re constantly looking, and the best thing you can do is be the person who, on a campaign, shows up, volunteers for things, is on time and has a great attitude.”

Contact Isa Sheikh at