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Students get the Washington experience

Posted on 09.25.2013

This semester marks the inaugural session of the University of Indianapolis Lugar Academy Washington Semester program. Students get the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., for an internship tailored to their field of interest and a class taught by Lugar Academy Senior Lecturer and Distinguished Professor and Department Chair at the Russian President Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Samuel Potolicchio.

Eight of the UIndy Lugar Academy students stand alongside their professor, Samuel Potolicchio, in front of The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Photo contributed by Ben Keller

Eight of the UIndy Lugar Academy students stand alongside their professor, Samuel Potolicchio, in front of The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Photo contributed by Ben Keller

Currently 10 students from a variety of majors in the program. Nine of the 10 students are current UIndy students or recent graduates, and the other is a recent graduate from Purdue.  The current students have internships with state and local politicians such as Sen.  Joe Donnelly, D-IN and Rep. Todd Young, R-IN as well as The German Marshall Fund and The Lugar Center.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States is a non-partisan, public policy and grant-making institute that strengthens transatlantic cooperation,  according to gmfus.org.
The Lugar Center is a nonprofit organization devoted to creating “a new platform for an informed debate’”on issues that Senator Lugar has worked on during his career, according to thelugarcenter.org.
The students have not been at their internships for very long, yet they already have gained memorable experiences. Both junior history major Lea Johnson and sophomore environmental science and sustainability major Gwen DeBaun are interning at The Lugar Center. Both have been researching topics for the Lugar Center’s database. Johnson has been compiling research on food price volatility and also has done research for Sen. Lugar on Montengro’s NATO membership bidding process.
DeBaun has been doing a lot of research on climate change and green issues. She sees this as an opportunity to advance her knowledge outside of the normal classroom setting.
“I’m really lucky because the Lugar Center deals with a lot of the topics that not only interest me, but also deal with my major of study,” DeBaun said. “So as I research, I am not only learning new information, I am also learning things that apply to my field.”
Junior history and political science major Ben Keller has been able to sit in on briefings and meetings to take notes for his boss, Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN). Keller said that this experience is allowing him to get a better glimpse of the day’s important issues of the day and the nuts and bolts of the Senatorial process.
“So far my favorite part has to be going to briefings and hearing from different organizations and Senators on issues that truly matter to the people of Indiana,” Keller said. “Last week I went to a briefing on conservative values like the pro-life movement and religious freedom in the military. It was something that really got me more interested in politics and the machine behind the Senate.”
Senior psychology major Rebekah Proctor, who interns with Young, from Indiana’s 9th District, said that one interesting thing Capitol Hill interns get to do is give building tours.  In addition ,she has been researching issues for Young, helping out with the “media aspect” of the position.
Sophomore international relations and German major Kyle Williams said he has truly enjoyed his internship with Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana’s 5th district.  In addition to the normal busy work that all interns experience, Williams has been able to attend hearings and briefings on issues that concern Hoosiers. He said that he envisions doing this kind of work as a future career.
“I love the internship. My staff is wonderful, and the only thing I’m missing is a paycheck,” Williams said. “I could do this the rest of my life, if only I was paid.”
Keller said that being in D.C. right now is like getting a snap-shot of history and the interns get an insider’s look at the process. He thinks that this opportunity is something all students should consider.
“Being in the atmosphere of the Syria crisis and debt ceiling debate, as well as the budget battle is something that cannot be substituted. This experience is giving me a chance to see the process behind the longest-lasting Constitutional government,” Keller said. “I am truly grateful that this program came about while I was attending the University of Indianapolis. No matter what your major is, this internship program will be informational as well as enriching.”
In addition to their internships, the students are taking a class two nights of the week at The Lugar Center with Potolicchio.
Potolicchio said that he hopes to incorporate the students practical experiences from their internships into his graduate-level look at the American political system. In addition, he wants students to leave his class and the experience as better critical thinkers.
Williams said that Potolicchio’s class is a great opportunity that is enriching him both academically and personally.
“By far my favorite experience is having class with Samuel Potolicchio twice a week. He is a wonderful teacher who is never boring. He is a little difficult, yet he is always there for you when help is needed,” Williams said. “I am very excited to see what type of person I will become after taking his class for the semester. He teaches leaders around the world. It is a great opportunity to have him as a teacher for a whole semester.”
Students not only have the seminar with Potolicchio, but they also have a weekly class with former Sen. Richard Lugar himself.
UIndy President Robert Manuel said that, like other Indianapolis mayors and politicians, Lugar has had a relationship with UIndy for years. Between his time as Mayor of Indianapolis and his first term as senator, he taught State and Local Government as an adjunct professor. Manuel said that legend has it Lugar actually watched the 1976 Senate race election returns in the basement of the university president’s home.
Executive Director of the Lugar Academy and Special Assistant to the President Lara Mann said that the Lugar Academy students and students on campus at UIndy will get some opportunities to be exposed to Lugar’s political wisdom.
“Part of what we are doing is working together to create this Lugar Academy but he is also a professor here again. He came in last February, and taught the nuclear nonproliferation part of a class,” Mann said. “What we are trying to get him to to do is share his expertise with students. It is such a great opportunity to hear from someone with such a unique background.”
According to Mann, Lugar does something that few other Washington insiders of his caliber would: He actually cares for his interns and takes an active role in their success.
“I know that Sen.Lugar does keep information on all of his interns  so if they do call him in the future for a reference or a helpful hint, he will be there for them,” Mann said. “The great thing about Sen. Lugar and the way he has always viewed interns is that he is there [for them]. That is one of the main parts of his job, to help them. I think he viewed it as serving them, the future leaders.”
Mann has had conversations with students who are interested in the program for future semesters, and she said that a lot students want to apply to the academy but share a common concern about cost. Mann wants to reassure students that the Washington semester program costs roughly the same as attending UIndy. All financial aid that students get for UIndy applies for this program.
As a bonus, Mann said that for qualified students, there is even a chance for a $3,000 scholarship to help mitigate extra expenses that living in D.C. may incur.
Students live in Washington Intern Student Housing. Mann said that this was chosen because it is safe, proximal to the internship sites and has a good reputation. Students have apartments that are more expensive than UIndy housing but have multiple amenities, including some resident trip opportunities.
In addition to WISH programming, Mann said that a UIndy staffer is at The Lugar Academy to orient the students to the program and plan Washington excursions, to enrich their D.C. experience beyond the classroom and internship.
Mann said that UIndy and The Lugar Academy is working to widen their marketing net to attarct students from beyond UIndy. In addition she said that UIndy would like to grow the program by five to 10 new students semesterly.
In its current state, Potolicchio said the program is the total package: from the handpicked internships to the classroom experience which is among the best available.
“This is as good of a program that you can possibly offer. They get to have the classroom experience, [and] internships that are lined up by the university and Lugar Center,” Potolicchio said. “And then have the opportunity to have a class taught by Senator Lugar himself, is an opportunity that no other university can offer. These students have a once in a lifetime opportunity not just to get to know Washington, D.C. but to learn from some of the top minds in the world.”

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