Students visit GW for a semester

Sophomore Allie Etter was sitting in one of her classes at the University of Memphis when a poster that read, “Change the Face of Politics,” caught her eye. Etter, a history major, looked at the advertisement for GW’s Semester in Washington program and decided to go for it.

“I thought it was shot in the dark, but I applied anyway,” she said.

Etter is one of about 55 students from universities across the country who are spending the semester at GW, studying and interning in the city.

The Semester in Washington program began as a summer program in 1995 and has since expanded into a year-round program. This year, GW is hosting students in the fall, spring and summer, but next year will only have spring and summer sessions.

Most participants are juniors and seniors from schools in the U.S., but some of last semester’s participants were from Germany and Australia. This semester’s students arrived on campus Jan. 15 and most are housed together in City Hall.

Program costs are nearly identical to those in GW’s regular undergraduate programs, with tuition for two classes and housing for spring 2005 totaling almost $10,000.

Semester in Washington Director Gregory Lebel, who is also a professor in the Graduate School of Political Management, said the program emphasizes applied politics.

“Our program focuses on the academic aspect. It is not a traditional internship program,” he said.

Students are required to take two courses and have the option of taking more.

Lebel teaches one of the required courses, Electoral and Legislative Processes, which focuses on the history of political management and contemporary politics. An outside professional teaches the other required course, Practicum in Political Management, where students participate in a political campaign simulation. The instructor changes each semester.

The program also helps students find an internship with a database of more than 500 options.

Junior Collin Scheuler, a political science major at the University of Michigan, interned at MSNBC when he participated in the program last fall.

“I thought about going abroad, but thought this would be something I’d be interested in,” Scheuler said. “My advisor told me about GW and American University’s programs, and then I did my own research.”

American, Georgetown and Howard universities have similar programs that allow students from other schools to spend a semester in D.C.

Students also participate in weekly networking events with what the program Web site calls “Washington insiders.”

Students have met Supreme Court justices and attended White House briefings in the past.

Program participant Lindsay Shore, a junior at the University of Richmond, said she originally wanted to attend a university in D.C.

“This is giving me a taste of what I was missing,” Shore said.

Some students who participated in the program return to D.C. to attend graduate school and some have even transferred to GW, Lebel said.

“I’m thinking of going to law or graduate school,” Scheuler said. “I will definitely look at schools in D.C. … I would love to get back there.”

Junior Amanda Houle of Columbia University participated in the program last fall and interned at Youth ’04, setting up chapters all over the country to help inform students about the election.

“I fell in love with the idea of studying in D.C. during the election,” Houle said.

She said she would consider coming back to D.C. in the future to work.

“I think the most important part of this is that it’s one thing to study politics in New York City, or Georgia or Iowa, but it’s another to understand the business of politics, and what it is exactly that politicians do,” she said. “You can’t figure that out sitting in a classroom.”

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