The inaugural class of students from the Lugar Academy Washington Semester program is back in Indiana. The students completed an immersive semester session in Washington that came with an internship, a twice-weekly class and a weekly talk with former Senator Richard Lugar.
According to Executive Director of the Lugar Academy and Special Assistant to the President Lara Mann, some of the students are now representing the program as student ambassadors to draw in prospective students.
Several students recently represented the program at the Professional Edge Center’s Career and Community Engagement Fair. Mann said that the students will go to other events off campus to recruit, schedules permitting. There also will be a table set up in the Schwitzer Student Center every Wednesday to answer questions about the program. In addition, the students will be able to follow up and answer questions based on their own experiences.
“I am a good person to provide details about how to apply and that kind of stuff,” Mann said. “But it is so much better when you are hearing it from a person who has actually been there.”
Mann said that even though there are only three students currently in D.C., she has talked with several students and has high hopes that the next class will be larger. Mann said that she has been in contact with a more diverse population of students, even some students at Ningbo Institute of Technology, a UIndy accredited partnership site in China.
“We are still going to focus on UIndy students, but it has been our plan all along to get the word out to universities, really, anywhere,” Mann said.
Sophomore environmental science and sustainability major Gwen Debaun interned at the Lugar Center doing research that pertained to her majors. She was able to attend talks from big name research institutes such as the Cato Institute, Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Heritage Foundation. She enjoyed going to free think-tank lectures, as well as seeing the monuments on the National Mall, especially at night. Debaun said that her experience also allowed her to find a new direction for her career from making connections with environmentalists at the church she attended in D.C.
Debaun said that some valuable lessons she learned from her experience were the importance of networking and taking chances.
“You really need to take those chances to talk to people, even if they are someone that is higher up than you,” she said. “Just talk to them, because you never know when you will get that other chance.”
Junior history major Lea Johnson thought her internship was not directly tailored to her major, but she was able to experience history through activities such as going to the famous museums in D.C. As a Lugar Center intern, she was able to get access to aspects of D.C that a typical college student normally would not.
Junior history and political science major Ben Keller did some clerical work, such as answering phones and letters to keep in contact with constituents of Sen. Dan Coats, R-IN, but Keller also participated in the Washington tradition known as “the running of the interns.” Keller described having to run out of the office building, down four floors and across the street to the Capitol and up three more to the Senate floor, all on a very short deadline.
“It’s like an adrenaline rush. Both times, I was sitting at the front desk, and the Chief of Staff came in and said, ‘I need an intern now…” Keller said. “[He said] ‘You have to take this to the Senate floor, and you have to be there in five minutes.’”
Keller also said that the program provided invaluable experiences for him as a political science major and as an American.
“Experiencing how our government works is important as a citizen. There is only so much a textbook can do. You get so much more than sitting in a classroom being lectured to for an hour and half,” Keller said. “Actually, going there and experiencing this firsthand was life-changing.”
Many of the students mentioned that Lugar provided a worldly perspective on events that they were witnessing firsthand in the trenches at the Capitol. Lugar provided the insider’s perspective from outside of his old role as a senator.
Keller said that Lugar was able to offer insight into the issues happening on Capitol Hill in a way that no one still serving could provide about the nuts, bolts and psychology of the situation.
“We could ask him things that I would never want to ask Sen. Coats,” Keller said. “We asked him stuff about how Washington works.”
As a student who does not study politics, Debaun said that Mann and Director of the Lugar Academy Connor Burns, who helps coordinate with students while they are in D.C., both do a good job of helping to place students in areas where they can be passionate about their work and gain knowledge within their field.
“Because it’s D.C., people think that they have to be political science, international relations or history majors,” Debaun said. “I don’t think it has to be that [way]. I’m an environmental science and sustainability major, and I was completely able to focus on that.”
Johnson said that fear of leaving Indiana should not stop students from taking advantage of this opportunity. Johnson, like the other former interns, encouraged students to swallow that fear and go.
“The uncertainty of the situation faded away once I got there. Especially because I did have people that I went to school with once I got there,” Johnson said. “It was like a little piece of Indiana, especially if you work at the Lugar Center.”