Different majors intern and tour popular sites while studying during D.C. Semester
by Keegan D’Alfonso
During the fall 2016 semester, 15 Cedarville students studied in the heart of our nation, Washington D.C. The D.C. Semester provided these students with a unique opportunity to learn how our nation’s government operates and to form connections with policy makers and government officials.
The D.C. Semester was set up as a 16-credit hour semester, including individual 10-credit hour D.C. internships. The remaining six credit hours were from two evening classes taught by Dr. Marc Clauson on Tuesday and Thursday nights: Faith and Public Policy and Faith and Public Life. This setup allowed the Cedarville students to get hands on experience in a field they were interested in pursuing while learning to apply Christian values as they engage in government and with the public.
Every Monday students got a break from internships and classes and went on Cedarville-sponsored trips to experience more of the Capital and the surrounding area, which the students said was both educational and fun.
Jana Minich, a political science major, said the purpose of the semester was to create a bridge between the things they are learning in class and real-world experience.
“There are just so many subtle intricacies of the different professions we are looking into that just can’t be learned in a classroom,” Minich said. “To have that real-world experience is invaluable for being ready to engage in our world after graduation.”
Minich and other students said the semester also allowed them to build a network of connections in the D.C. area, which is important for potentially obtaining a job after graduation.
“That for me is the main purpose of the D.C. Semester,” said Unix Diza, a social studies education major. “The internship, the ability to get a hands-on experience on the job training sort of allows you to get started on your Washington D.C. network.”
The semester also taught the students life skills and gave them a perspective on the working world outside of the classroom. Diza said the semester was a nice buffer for him to relax and focus on what life after college would look like. This included getting used to basic things like going grocery shopping and preparing meals; responsibilities Diza didn’t need to worry about in Cedarville.
“There’s all those little things that you take for granted at Cedarville that I really walked away with and was like wow, there’s a lot that I don’t know,” Diza said. “But after my time in D.C. I have much to learn still, but I think I can take care of myself.”
Victoria Stearns, an applied communication and political science double major, said the semester was an opportunity to experience the real world and be treated like an adult.
Not only did the semester teach the students more about how to survive on their own and work in the professional world, it also taught some of them how to better share their faith.
“Most people believe that in conservatism, which is kind of where I lean, that most everyone is going to be a Bible-believing Christian,” Stearns said. “That is completely not true.”
Stearns interned in the Strategic Marketing Creative Office of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. She said this was the first time she had worked with people with conservative ideologies that were not Christian.
“It was a complete throw for me,” Stearns said. “One of the things I learned is how to share my faith in a work setting.”
While some of the students took internships that allowed them get experience in what they want to do when they graduate, Stearns chose an internship that she had no experience in to broaden her skill set.
“I did graphic design and publishing, and I had never done anything like that before,” Stearns said. “So, I picked up the entire Adobe Creative suite: Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Bridge. I had to learn all of those in the first week.”
Minich, who interned at Alliance Defending Freedom doing legal work, chose her internship based on her interest. Even so, she expanded her skill set and learned new things, including using legal databases for research.
“I was able to do tons and tons of research on different cases there, I just dove really deep,” Minich said. “There is a just a vast ocean of case law to dig through. That was exciting.”
Stanley Schwartz, a history and economics double major, worked as an intern at the Atlas Network, a free-market think tank that networks with organizations all over the world.
“As a history major there are about three ways you can go: museum, academia or think tank,” Schwartz said. “I interned at a museum over the summer so I thought I ought to give this think tank thing a try. So, I interned at a think tank that had a lot of connections with a lot of other think tanks and really I saw how think tanks work, what their policy staff does, and how research there works. So, that’s what I was looking to get out of it.”
Despite being in Washington D.C. during a historic election year, many of the students said they were surprised at how calm people were.
“A lot of what I saw in D.C. was people that didn’t really care much about the election because they’ve been there done that,” Schwartz said. “A lot of these people are the experts so they know they will be hired by whoever comes around, and if not they will be hired by the opposition.”
Minich agreed with Schwartz and said that in some sense it was like being in the eye of the storm, where everything was happening around them in the battleground states, but no one was really campaigning there.
“I think there was like one protest,” she said. “At one point there were people out on the mall by the Washington Monument with a giant golden dragon, and tents, and one of them had an igloo, and there was a teepee. But I don’t really know if that was a protest or just some really weird hippies.”
Stearns said she was impressed with how the election did not seem to have a major impact on the people she was working with, despite how it could affect everything they were working toward.
“Everybody went home from work that [election] night, got up and came right back and did the exact same thing they did the day before,” Stearns said. “It was so different for me to be able to see that.”
She said even though it looked like a big deal on the media, the people she was working with knew what they stood for and the election did not change that.
All the students enjoyed the opportunity they had to live in D.C. and took time to explore the area. Many felt awestruck by what they could experience.
“The places you see in pictures is literally where we were every night. It was just the coolest experience,” Stearns said. “You can go sit and eat lunch on the Supreme Court steps. That’s cool.”
If dining outside the highest court of the land feels too supercilious, there were many other places in D.C. that students chose to eat. Minich said her favorite spot was Astro’s Doughnuts & Fried Chicken.
“The fried chicken is on point and the doughnuts are on point,” Minich said. “You really can’t ask for anything more.”
Of course, there was more to do than just eat. The students also took the time to go sightseeing and enjoy city life.
“You can literally live in D.C. for 10 years and not do it all,” Minich said.
All the students said they felt like they learned a lot from their experience and would encourage others to go on a semester to D.C. or elsewhere.
“I would encourage anybody on campus, if it’s something they want to do or are interested in, to consider heavily either studying domestically in a different location or studying abroad,” Diza said. “I learned a lot.”
Keegan D’Alfonso is a sophomore journalism major and the off-campus news editor for Cedars. He was a sergeant in the Marines and enjoys learning about and experiencing other cultures.