By Hannah Buoye
Washington, DC has horrendous traffic, great public transportation, free museums, a monument for everything American, and anything you could ever want or ask for in terms of academic experience and internship opportunities. Home to the nation’s Capitol buildings, rich in history and ultimately considered a “southern city,” it is drastically different from the laid-back, small beach town UC Santa Cruz students live in. People often ask, “Why would you ever want to leave California?” Its idyllic shores and temperate climate are only part of its appeal. But for the curious and adventuresome UC students, there is an opportunity to test the waters of our nation’s capital, make valuable connections, and experience life on the other side of our country.
The University of California’s DC exchange program (UCDC) brings students from all UC campuses together to live at the UC Washington Center, providing a small part of California amidst the international hub of the nation’s capital. Students typically go in their third or fourth year, and there is no restriction on which majors can apply. UCSC alone sends 22 students each quarter.
Offered through the history department at UCSC, the UCDC program requires its participants to find an internship in an area of personal interest, in addition to two classes offered through the UCDC center. UCSC students earn 15 credits during the quarter-long program by participating in an internship 24-30 hours a week, writing a research paper and taking an elective course taught by a visiting faculty member from one of the UC campuses.
An alternative education program, UCDC allows students to receive UC instruction in addition to earning practical professional experience and skills with an internship, explained Mark Cioc, campus director of the UCDC program.
“[You] get an in-depth look at how Washington politics work and make connections that lead to jobs,” Cioc said.
Cady Shadwick, a fourth-year psychology major currently participating in UCDC, explained her reasons for spending the fall quarter out of state.
“Sometimes a college campus provides a welcomed change of pace from the life you’re used to at home, other times it leaves you wondering what else is out there,” Shadwick said. “I was ready for a change of pace, and I wanted to put the skills and resources I’ve learned in school to test in a setting where I could gain experiential learning.”
Theresa Pena, politics and sociology double major, said her reasons for going abroad were for the “experience of living somewhere other than California, working a job and being a part of this city and all it has to offer. It’ll look great on my resume too, so that’s an added bonus.”
The internships available in DC are numerous and appealing to a variety of majors. Past students have had internships with organizations varying from CNN to Amnesty International, Brock said. For art history and theater arts majors, there are such organizations as the Smithsonian and prestigious locales like the Kennedy Center and Folgers’ Shakespeare Library. There are think-tanks, such as Heritage and Brookings for the more policy- and research-oriented students. Not to mention the proximity of Capitol Hill and the numerous congressional representatives.
Finding the right internship, however, can often be an overwhelming and difficult endeavor.
“The task of finding an internship that is right for you can be a bit more daunting than one might expect,” Shadwick said. “I figured I’d spend 15 minutes on the Internet and have everything all lined up in no time. The reality is that there are a million internships out there and it can be hard to gauge what your job description will actually entail.”
Brock works with students to help them find internships that are tailored to their interests, and reviews their applications to ensure completeness. For UCSC students, according to Brock, the most popular internships have been with advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations.
“Name the interest, and that advocacy group exists in DC,” Brock said.
While common stereotypes of boring internships might have pro-active, socially minded Slugs cringing at the thought of filing and Xeroxing, smaller advocacy groups offer opportunities that go beyond mere office work.
Shadwick, who interns at Metro TeenAIDS, helps the nonprofit organization with its campaign to bring HIV awareness to DC public high schools through educational resources and on-site HIV testing. Working with the public policy manager, Shadwick is analyzing data and creating a comprehensive report on effective ways to bring routine HIV testing to youth in DC schools and the juvenile justice system.
“I knew that I wanted to find an internship that would complement my interests â€¦ I didn’t want to push papers on Capitol Hill,” Shadwick said. “I’m currently answering your questions from underneath a pile of work; I seem to have gotten what I asked for.”
Pena is interning with the National Education Association (NEA), a professional organization that represents the interests of those employed by the public education system. Pena’s interest in the educational system sprang from an internship last summer with Representative Sam Farr (Dâ€“Santa Cruz) and a personal connection: her mother is a teacher. With Brock’s help, Pena was able to find an internship that focused on the political side of the education system. Working on a variety of projects in various departments from government and media relations to education programs and policies, for Pena the internship is more than just research projects and copying.
“It’s really interesting, learning how to network in a large organization like [the NEA], and many of the people working there have lots of valuable connections,” Pena said. “Half the learning experience isn’t even specific to educational politics for me, it’s learning how to make connections and network in an environment like that.”
For her project, Pena is planning on exploring the role of the NEA in public education systems and how its 3.2 million-plus members influence the government’s decisions. More broadly, Pena would like to look at the public education system as a social welfare program and how it has reacted to legislative programs, like No Child Left Behind, which seems to threaten and undermine the system’s social benefits.
When students are not participating in their internships, they are attending classes at the Washington Center. Visiting faculty oversee progress, offer guidance, and review the research papers students are required to write in conjunction with their internships. These papers are comparable to the work done when writing a senior thesis, and students meet once a week with their faculty advisor and a TA.
The paper, according to James Gill, professor of earth sciences and UCSC visiting professor for Spring ’07, “allows for broader thinking in terms of the internship, adding an element of the analytical to the work the students do for the other four days of the week.”
The primary academic activity, aside from the paper, is one elective that can be taken from any professor from any UC campus. These electives cover a wide range of topics that focus on some aspect of DC, be it political, social, scientific, cultural or economic.
The majority of UCDC participants are political and social science majors, according to the Center’s Annual Report, with biological sciences majors consisting of only two percent of participants; math and physical sciences, a mere one percent. Cioc encourages more science majors to apply to the program, but due to the rigid course plans of many of the physical science majors, it is difficult for students to find a quarter to spare. Gill explained that many science students don’t have the basic foundation and scientific background to benefit from an internship in their field of study. They would have to, according to Gill, do UCDC in addition to their majors rather than part of its course content. A science student could, Gill pointed out, use the program to fulfill their comprehensive study requirements, using the internship as a research opportunity.
“There are a lot of internships in DC that offer research opportunities at professional organizations and labs â€¦ such as the Smithsonian,” Gill said. “Many groups don’t know about UCDC and would like to have people from the West Coast.”
*The DC experience*
The Washington Center is located on Rhode Island Avenue between 16th and 17th Streets, one circle over from one of DC’s large cultural hubs, Dupont Circle. With easy access to public transportation, the center is only a 15-minute walk from the White House and a quick bus ride away from Georgetown, the haven of diplomatic and affluent DC society and the center of its collegiate community. With the high cost of living and the difficulty of finding housing, the Washington Center is placed in a central location that affords students an opportunity to be in the midst of the city without having to deal with high rents and landlords, Brock said. While students are encouraged to discover DC on their own, the center offers trips to places such historical landmarks as Gettysburg and Monticello, as well as providing a lecture series with local professors and political figures.
For students participating in the program, Gill observed that “being on the East Coast, living in a city and surrounded by the nation’s capital, is often a huge shock.”
“I guess a way to describe it is it’s much more formal, both in architecture and dress,” Pena said, recounting her first impressions of the city. “People seem to be in more of a rush than in California too. But so far everyone who I’ve run into has been really nice and helpful. Another interesting thing is everyone you meet here is from somewhere else, whether it’s another state or another country.”
Shadwick, also new to DC, was shocked at the capital’s demographics.
“I’d never been to DC before and the first thing that struck me was how racially segregated the neighborhoods of DC are,” Shadwick said. “DC attracts countless people for political and work-related opportunities, yet a large percentage of the city’s permanent residents are low-income, disenfranchised, and dealing with different social realities than the people in suits who go to work on Capitol Hill.”
Essentially a southern city, DC has an interesting and complex cultural history in addition to its bustling centers of government and commerce. A strange conglomeration of history, culture and politics, our nation’s capital is made up of more than meets the eye. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, in 2006 those identifying themselves as white where 34.5 percent of the city’s populations, with a majority of 55.4 percent identifying themselves as black. DC is also notorious for its poverty, second only to Mississippi: its poverty rate was at 19.6 percent in 2006, way above the national average of 13.3 percent.
*The Learning Experience*
The program’s focus on experiential learning allows students to not only take classes in the somewhat foreign environment of the East Coast, gain professional experience through internships, and discover a whole new city; it also provides students an opportunity to grow, learn, and discover a little bit more about themselves.
“I’ve only been here a couple of weeks and this program has already turned my life on its head,” Shadwick said. “I really thought I knew exactly â€¦ what I wanted to do with my life, but working here at Metro TeenAIDS has inspired me to want to do more. By the end of this 10-week program I’ll have a better idea of what I should really be doing after I graduate, I will have helped start the national conversation on routine HIV testing for youth, and I will have made amazing contacts that I can utilize as resources down the line.”