Jumping into Politics

Students soak up politics, Washington, D.C. style

Imagine turning on C-SPAN and seeing … yourself! For some USD students during Intersession, this was a common occurrence over the course of two weeks.

Political Science professors Noelle Norton and Del Dickson took 20 political science and international relations students to Washington, D.C. in early January to learn from the inside out how the Beltway works.

The group studied alongside students and faculty from more than 20 other universities, including Suffolk University, Elon University, Miami-Dade College, Bradley University, Clark University and University of St. Thomas.

The first week of the seminar focused on Congress, and the swearing in of newly elected members to the House of Representatives. Students were treated to seminars from major players in politics throughout the week, including a lecture by James P. Manley, spokesman and senior advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Manley, a 20-year veteran of Capitol Hill, ran the war room for the majority leader for six years.

During his lecture, Manley shared with students the challenges and triumphs of the last Congress, including the passage of major health care legislation. He also discussed the challenges that the 111th Congress faces now that the House of Representatives is controlled by the Republican Party while Democrats have the majority in the Senate.

Throughout the talk, Manley took questions from the audience, including several from USD students. “I appreciated the chance to talk to the students, including those from USD,” said Manley, whose appearance was shown live on C-SPAN. “Everyone seemed excited to be in D.C., and their questions were very perceptive.”

Students also heard from various members of Congress and retired members, including Congressman Mike Pence, (R-IN), Congressman Mickey Edwards (Ret., R-OK), Congressman Bob Carr (Ret., D-MI), Congressman Ronald Sarasin (Ret., R-CT), a former United States Attorney, members of the media that cover Congress and a spokesman for Department of Homeland Security. The second week gave students a chance to delve into the role that the media plays in politics, and the culture of Capitol Hill. It also provided USD students an experience that many won’t soon forget. USD students were in Washington, D.C. when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, members of her staff, and constituents were shot in Tucson, Ariz.

Among many highlights of the trip were site visits to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Election Commission, the Columbian Embassy and C-SPAN’s headquarters. Peter Kiley, vice president of C-SPAN and a 1985 USD alumnus (pictured, left, at right, with students), took students on a private tour of C-SPAN. The tour included a trip to the archive room, the radio station, the Washington Journal set, the graphics studio and the interview room.  Students were able to view a live interview with David Brooks and Bill Kristol.

Sophomore Yajaira Hernandez Trejo had a chance meeting with her home state senator. “My most memorable experience was walking through the Senate building and as I was waiting for the elevator, I see someone with a Oregon Duck tie and I yell out, ‘Go Oregon Ducks!’ It was my senator — Senator Merkley, who I had just said that to. He smiled and introduced himself. Two days later, I was meeting and talking to him directly. Only in D.C. do these connections happen.”

Students were able to spend time on the sets —and with journalists — from Washington’s top news organizations. They met Brian Lamb, president and CEO of C-SPAN, Steve Scully of C-SPAN who hosts Washington Journal Live and is a mainstay in Washington politics, Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, Dana Bash and John King of CNN, and Juan Williams and Bret Baier of Fox News. Students also got to meet with Mike McCurry, former press secretary for former President Bill Clinton.

After two weeks of the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C., students and faculty headed back to San Diego.

Said Norton of the trip, which has been a staple of USD’s Intersession offerings, “Overall this was one of the best two weeks I have ever spent in Washington. The students were fascinated with everything about Washington D.C.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they all caught ‘Potomac Fever.’ It is a rare experience to see the seating of a new Congress, but it’s even more notable to be in D.C. for the turnover of congressional party leadership. We were able to have multiple passionate discussions about the nature of partisanship and national civility as we watched the events unfold in Tucson.”

— Melissa Wagoner

Photos courtesy of Del Dickson