The Washington Program: Not Just For Gov Nerds

By: Laura Sucheski | Feb 04, 2010 | 495 Views Opinion |

I just got back from my semester in DC on CMC’s Washington Program, and man, it’s good to be back in the Golden State (no de-icing, tastier fruits/veggies all-around). But I’m a little sad.   I never thought I would ever find somewhere in the world that would rival my love for CMC, but I did.  Now I’m trying to fill that empty space in my heart that was once reserved for the Metro schedule, my “official” Capitol building ID card, and/or powersuits.

I got to look up at this every day-- the dome of the Capital building.

If you don’t know much about the program, here are the basics:  you work for 40+ hours a week at an internship of your choice.   You also take two seminar classes in the evenings once a week, usually on a Monday and a Thursday (no TNC, sorry). You write a semester-long research paper with minimal guidance on any topic under your major-related sun.[1] The internship, two classes, and paper total to a full semester course load.

I don’t think I need to tell government majors why they should do DC.  You applied to CMC because there was a Washington Program.  You’ve known you’ve wanted to work on the Hill/State Department/Human Rights Watch since your eighth grade field trip.  You read Politico Click religiously and you don’t plan on making a huge mistake. Seriously, this is your paradise.  You will love it.  Start working on your application NOW.

However, if the idea of casually bumping into John Boehner/Steny Hoyer doesn’t make you pee your pants, never fear.  I highly encourage non-majors to apply for the DC program.  Let’s face it.  Government spending amounts to +40% of GDP.   This means the government can wreak some serious havoc in your future career field, but you’re going to be a much more attractive job candidate once you understand how that works.

Sam Bastien, CMC ’11, is an economics-accounting major with a financial economics sequence.   After CMC, she hopes to work in finance, not government.  Attracted to the opportunity for work experience, she decided spend the fall 2009 semester on the Washington Program.

Most of her fellow bankers-to-be told her she was crazy.  “Some of the other economics majors questioned my rationale for going,” she told the Forum, “After all, I would fall behind in my finance classes.”

She got an internship at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where she was the only undergraduate intern.  “After the financial crisis, you have to realize that the federal government can make a huge impact in the world of finance if it chooses to do so.”  Her job focused on regulatory financial policy analysis and she was tasked with research projects on hedge fund legislation.  She attended House Financial Services Committee hearings and witnessed the “intense” testimony of Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner on financial services reform and TARP.

Abby Woodruff, also CMC ’11, is a dual psychology-government major.  In DC, she worked at the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, affiliated with the American Psychological Association.  DC may not be a natural choice for psychology majors, but Abby believes they should consider it, “If you want your research to affect change, you need to go out there and learn how change is actually made.”  Congress votes on bills with major social implications on a daily basis.  In order to create the best policy possible, committee members consider expert testimony from psychologists.  But after her time in DC, Abby noticed some of the shortcomings of the system, “There is a great deal of psychological research out there, but most of it isn’t being used. Lawmakers love to hear about the relevant research, but there aren’t a lot of people devoted to bringing it to policymakers in ways they can use it.”  For future psychologists, this step can be the key to helping people on a large scale.  It’s one thing to put your research in an academic journal to further future research, but it’s a whole different contribution to bring your research to policymakers and influence the way government affects our lives.

Any downsides?  Although Gov 20 is the only prerequisite, in reality Professors Spalding and Haskell teach the classes assuming you know more than “the basics.”  Since most of the program participants are government or international relations majors, they’re usually right.  But the limited class selection has discouraged some from applying in the past, and proved challenging to non-majors who choose to go in spite of this fact.

Looking back?  In the long run, missing out on a few finance classes was worth the valuable work experience.  Employers have rewarded Sam for her interesting, if unusual, choice.  Sam recently received a coveted summer job offer in Sales and Trading at RBC in New York, “My internship at the SEC and my research on hedge funds came up a lot in the interview.”


[1] And, get credit in your non-government major if you can con a professor at CMC into reading it for you!

About the Author

Laura Sucheski is the Forum's Managing Editor of News and Opinion, and a senior Government major who enjoys philosophy and California politics. She grew up near Sacramento in a town famous only for its local population of feral chickens.

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  1. Nathan Bengtsson February 6, 2010 at 12:26 am -

    As another DC alum, Laura is absolutely right. Even as an IR major, my time in Washington was probably even more valuable than the time I spent in Argentina. And just as the alums she was talking about managed to continue the tracks they began in DC, I was able to parlay my experience there into two campaign jobs over the next two years. Sophomores and Juniors – DO IT.

  2. Nathan Bengtsson February 5, 2010 at 4:26 pm -

    As another DC alum, Laura is absolutely right. Even as an IR major, my time in Washington was probably even more valuable than the time I spent in Argentina. And just as the alums she was talking about managed to continue the tracks they began in DC, I was able to parlay my experience there into two campaign jobs over the next two years. Sophomores and Juniors – DO IT.

  3. Opportunity Cost February 6, 2010 at 9:03 am -

    Why not do DC in the summer, when the city is overrun with eager interns and the parties that go along with them? And use your semester away from CMC somewhere actually away — that is, abroad?

    • Kimberly M. February 6, 2010 at 10:07 pm -

      Because the city is overrun with these kinds of interns (http://dcinterns.blogspot.com/) and you can do more significant work when Congress is in session and not on summer recess.

      Unless you need to take an intensive language program it is much better to take advantage of the Kravis Grants and go abroad in the summer.

    • Rebuttal February 8, 2010 at 7:03 pm -

      Your name is pretty ironic, since the opportunity cost of being in DC is much better during the academic year. Competition for the best internships is lower, and if you’re smart about scheduling, you don’t fall behind in your studies.

  4. Opportunity Cost February 6, 2010 at 1:03 am -

    Why not do DC in the summer, when the city is overrun with eager interns and the parties that go along with them? And use your semester away from CMC somewhere actually away — that is, abroad?

    • Kimberly M. February 6, 2010 at 2:07 pm -

      Because the city is overrun with these kinds of interns (http://dcinterns.blogspot.com/) and you can do more significant work when Congress is in session and not on summer recess.

      Unless you need to take an intensive language program it is much better to take advantage of the Kravis Grants and go abroad in the summer.

    • Rebuttal February 8, 2010 at 11:03 am -

      Your name is pretty ironic, since the opportunity cost of being in DC is much better during the academic year. Competition for the best internships is lower, and if you’re smart about scheduling, you don’t fall behind in your studies.

  5. John McDowell February 7, 2010 at 1:40 am -

    Probably the best thing about the Washington Semester is the chance to interact with CMC alumni. There are a lot in DC who would be glad to meet with you and help out in any way they can. Students have to be a bit assertive and creative, but there are a lot of opportunities for networking with people who will naturally want to help.

  6. John McDowell February 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm -

    Probably the best thing about the Washington Semester is the chance to interact with CMC alumni. There are a lot in DC who would be glad to meet with you and help out in any way they can. Students have to be a bit assertive and creative, but there are a lot of opportunities for networking with people who will naturally want to help.