Washington Studies Program gives inside look at Capitol Hill politics
April 4, 2014 | Ian Richardson
It was only her second day in Washington, and senior Whitey Samaan was already sitting inside the White House complex.
Samaan and her fellow Washington Studies Program students met with the special assistant to the president in the Truman Room to discuss their roles and how the government forms partnerships with community-based organizations.
The team also got a sneak peak of the new “My Brother’s Keeper” program that President Barack Obama would be releasing the next day. It was a moment she’ll never forget.
“According to Dr. (Bryan) Sanders, meetings at the White House don’t just happen,” Samaan says. “Without a doubt, this was the coolest experience.”
Each spring, the Washington Studies Program gives students like Samaan a taste of what it’s like to have a career in the capital city. A two-week trip, the program involves a week of sightseeing, briefings and private meetings with politicians and organizations followed by a week-long internship where students shadow government workers. Evangel students who take the class GOVT 492 are eligible to apply for the trip.
“The main purpose of the Washington Studies Program is to give students a behind-the-scenes view of Washington,” Dr. Bryan Sanders, Social Sciences Department chairperson, says. “It exposes the students to life on Capitol Hill to help them to determine if that is an environment they would want to work in.”
Sanders, who has been leading the program for 20 years now, says that through this program, several students receive job offers. Some of the past Washington Studies participants work in Washington today because of this trip.
Sophomore Hannah Beers is already scheduled to go back to Washington for an internship in May. Beers, who interned with Rep. Jason Smith from Missouri’s Eighth District, says that along with helping her set up an internship, the trip helped her gain new perspective on the inner workings of the city where she eventually wants to work and live.
“I see politics and government with a completely new set of eyes,” Beers says. “It’s like a whole new world has opened up to me. The government isn’t one giant thing. It’s a huge group of people working together to make this country the best it can be. It’s not just the news you hear on your television.”
This year’s trip left on February 25 and returned March 8. The team began the week by visiting monuments, museums and government buildings such as the Smithsonian, the State Department and the Pentagon. For Samaan, the most memorable part of the opening week came on the first night as she saw the Capitol Building lit up at night.
“At night, all lit up, it almost looks magical,” she says. “I will never forget it.”
Throughout the week, the team also met with representatives of the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate and organizations like World Vision, the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council.
When the second week began, the students went to work. Some interned with Congressional representatives, while others interned with organizations like the Family Research Council, a conservative research institute that focuses on religious liberty, traditional family values and the right to life.
“I was assigned to projects pertaining to same-sex marriage laws and health policies,” Samaan says. “It was an eye-opening experience to be behind the scenes observing, and taking part in, how a ‘think tank’ operates on a daily basis.”
“Our unique Washington Studies Program allows students from across campus to intern in the office of a congressman, senator or other government office for a week to see what life is like in Washington, D.C.”
— Dr. Bryan Sanders
Samaan says her experience with the organization helped her realize where she would like to work in Washington.
“I thought I would love to work for a research institute, away from all the frenzy and chaos on Capitol Hill. However, while at the Family Research Council, I couldn’t stop thinking about Capitol Hill. All I wanted to do was be there, in the middle of all the heated debates and discussions.”
Senior Paul Bayer spent his internship working with Senator Tom Coburn. He said this trip met both his goals, which were to see what life in Washington was like and to make connections with government workers.
“I was ‘thrown into the fire’ as my office put it,” Bayer says. “I was able to get a great feel for the work environment in D.C. is like and made some great connections with the staffers.”
For each of the students on the trip, the Washington Studies Program has left a lasting impression, making some of them hungry to return. And the only regret lies with Beers.
“I saw (2012 vice presidential candidate) Paul Ryan twice,” she says. “Twice! In the same exact location. And I didn’t get a photo. What was I thinking?”