Cultivating leaders Denise Baer, left, and Marie Henehan are the director and campus director, respectively, of the Illinois in Washington program, an internship and experiential learning initiative that places Illinois students in Washington, D.C.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
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Although the next U.S. presidential election is 19 months away, for Illinois student Kevin Fanning it’s an exciting time to be in Washington, D.C., working for one of the presidential frontrunners, Sen. Barack Obama.
Fanning, 20, a junior majoring in political science, is one of six UI students living and working in the nation’s capital this semester through the Illinois in Washington program, an experiential learning and internship initiative launched last fall.
IIW students work as interns three or four days each week with organizations and leaders who affect national policy and live among senators and representatives in a historic row house on Capitol Hill. Fanning works four days a week in Obama’s office, answering phones, drafting responses to constituents’ letters and working with Daniel Sepulveda, one of Obama’s staff assistants, on campaign finance reform issues.
Fanning, who describes himself as a “big political junkie” and hails from Palestine, Ill., applied to work in Obama’s office, in part, because of their mutual connection to Illinois. “I’ve always admired him, since his initial run for the Senate,” Fanning said. “I’ve been following his campaign pretty closely, and … I saw the potential for his presidential bid.”
Although Fanning had considered applying for an internship through The Washington Center Internships and Academic Seminars, an internship program run by a nonprofit organization, he chose the new IIW program because its rigorous academics appealed to him.
Marie Henehan, departmental director of internships for the political science department and campus director of IIW, acknowledges that the program is challenging, and at first the students felt overwhelmed by trying to balance a near-full-time job with two academic courses. “The interns learn to manage their time and they come back better students,” Henehan said. “They’re better at analyzing things, and they’re more motivated.”
To be eligible for the program, students must have a GPA of 2.50 or better and must have completed the introductory course in U.S. government and politics. The program is open to students of any major who have completed 45 credits – including graduate students – but preference is given to students who have demonstrated their potential for growth in leadership and academics as well as their ability to juggle multiple tasks. The internships are tailored to students’ individual interests.
The six students in the program, who arrived in Washington, D.C., in January and will return to the Urbana campus April 28, will earn six credits for their internships by preparing portfolios about their work experiences and keeping journals.
Denise Baer, the director of IIW who is based in Bethesda, Md., supervises the internships and teaches the two academic courses the students are taking in Washington, D.C., this semester: a course about public policy and a course that familiarizes students with the various leadership communities in the nation’s capital. IIW students, who are considered in residence at Urbana, also can take courses online or through Illinois at The Phillips, a joint initiative of the School of Art and Design at the Urbana campus and The Phillips Collection’s Center for the Study of Modern Art in Washington, D.C.
During their free time, the students toured both houses of Congress, the White House and historic sites such as Gettysburg, Pa., and Monticello, President Thomas Jefferson’s home, near Charlottesville, Va.
Under development is a mentoring program that will pair IIW students with Illinois alumni through the Illinois Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. Craig Burkhardt, an Illinois alumnus and former chief counsel for the Bureau of Industry and Security in the U.S. Department of Commerce, and his wife, Barbara, will host a reception to help launch the program.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” Baer said about IIW. “They not only gain skills and make contacts, they have the opportunity to learn and link their learning to the real world. It broadens their perspectives in a real way.”
“It’s been a really great experience,” said Fanning, a fellow in the UI’s Civic Leadership Program who plans to earn a master’s degree through the leadership program before attending law school, and hopes to enter politics one day. “It’s been an immersion in real-world politics here on the Hill. My overall goal was to experience the political process firsthand. I also got to see Sen. Obama operate on a day-to-day basis.”
The program, which is part of Chancellor Richard Herman’s strategic plan for the Urbana campus, was developed based upon a proposal co-written by Peter Nardulli, former head of the department of political science, a professor of law and of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Governance.
For more information about the internships, visit www.pol.uiuc.edu/Internships.htm or contact the Illinois in Washington Program Office, 361 Lincoln Hall, at 244-1824.
Would you like to teach in D.C.?
Faculty members in all academic areas are being sought to teach courses in Washington, D.C., for the IIW program and to explore with IIW students the public policy aspects of the instructors’ professional foci. Faculty members also have the option of teaching courses in their fields to a group of students from their department in Washington, D.C., giving them opportunities to explore the city for a few weeks or a semester at a time, while IIW provides the infrastructure.