By Sasha Nyary
Mount Holyoke College has been at the forefront of public policy and government education for over a century.
Notable alumnae include the first female Cabinet secretary and architect of the New Deal, Frances Perkins, class of 1902, and the first governor in her own right, Ella Grasso ’40. Nita M. Lowey ’59 currently serves as U.S. Representative from the 17th Congressional District. And professors as illustrious as Shirley Chisholm and W. Anthony Lake have shared their expertise and inspired legions of politically-aware students.
Institutionally, Mount Holyoke’s many advances include the 1949 founding of an internship program in Washington, D.C., overseen by Professor Victoria Schuck, that was the first of its kind and a model for other colleges and universities. The College’s Department of International Relations was among the earliest in the country. Established in 1999, the Harriet L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership guides students to careers in advocacy, government service and public policy through a variety of programs, workshops and lectures on campus and in cities including New York and Washington, D.C.
The MHC Semester in D.C., a new pilot program, is the latest continuation of that legacy. The offering gives students a close-up look at the American political process at the same time that they gain work experience — all for academic credit.
“This program both continues our tradition of educating the future leaders in public policy and advocacy and updates it, while preserving the distinctly integrative approach to learning that is the hallmark of a Mount Holyoke education,” said Jon Western, vice president for academic affairs, dean of faculty and the Carol Hoffmann Collins ’63 Professor of International Relations. “Our students will be able to combine scholarship with practical work experience and self reflection in a transformative way. This is a unique opportunity for them to effect the kind of positive change we need in these challenging times.”
“This program has unlimited potential to change how students think about government, their career paths and their lives,” Chen said. “It will help them link their own experience with the study of power, representation and agency. It will also give students a chance to take the lessons they have learned in the classroom and apply them in fresh and innovative ways. In the process, they will uncover abilities they did not realize they possessed.”
Students accepted to the program will live and attend class on the campus of the University of California Washington Center in Dupont Circle, which is in the heart of the nation’s capital. They will join similarly interested students from the universities of California, Notre Dame, Pennsylvania, Michigan and San Francisco.
The Mount Holyoke curriculum includes an independent study, which Chen will oversee. Also included are a research seminar and an elective course taught by University of California faculty and Washington area experts.
Students will identify their own internships, with guidance from Chen and Weissman Center staff. Recent participants in the University of California program have worked in congressional offices and the White House, with lobbyists, and in U.S. Cabinets, federal agencies, advocacy groups, think tanks, political news networks and nongovernmental organizations.
In addition to classes and internships, participants will be invited to talks by political and policy experts, such as members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and political reporters and columnists. Mount Holyoke alumnae are likely to be among those speakers, and connecting with alumnae in the region will be one of the program’s benefits, said Amy E. Martin, interim director of the Weissman Center.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity for our students to connect with one of the College’s great assets — our alumnae,” said Martin, who is also Professor of English on the Emma B. Kennedy Foundation. “They are trailblazers in their own right who are deeply loyal to our students and their alma mater. We’re excited and honored to be working with them.”
Rep. Lowey was among those graduates who spoke enthusiastically about the new program.
“My education at Mount Holyoke has shaped my ability to achieve so much and continues to inspire me and countless others in the endless effort to empower women and achieve the common good,” said Rep. Lowey. “With this new initiative, Mount Holyoke will impart to its students the gifts of learning, leadership, the drive for self-improvement and the drive for social progress — and to the larger world that they will inevitably shape for the better.”
Part of the program’s genesis lies with Schuck, a political science professor who taught American government, urban planning and public policy administration at the College for 35 years. Under her direction, the College’s original internship program in Washington, D.C., gave students with an opportunity to work in as assistants to members of Congress and administrators of federal agencies. Schuck was also instrumental in establishing a political studies center to help students become involved in local politics.
Among those she inspired were Sally Donner ’63 and Marcy Wilkov Waterman ’71, both of whom were Schuck student interns in Washington, D.C. The experience made them strong proponents of expanding College programming in the capital. They have partially funded the pilot MHC Semester in D.C. program and are supporting it in the form of a challenge grant.
“My experience in Washington as a student changed the trajectory of my life,” Donner said. “It’s incredibly exciting to be able to facilitate that for future generations of Mount Holyoke students.”
The MHC Semester in D.C. is open to students who will be first- or second-semester seniors in fall 2018 for the inaugural semester, and second-semester juniors or first-semester seniors at the start of the spring 2019 semester. Application information is now available and the deadline for the fall semester is Feb. 26.
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