The fifth year of the Duke in DC domestic study away program brings with it a renewed focus on bipartisanship and bridging the political divide.
The undergraduate program began in 2013 under the direction of Kristin Goss, associate professor of public policy and political science. It has a pre-professional tilt, connecting classroom study to experiential learning oriented around policy innovation and public leadership.
The 14 students participating this semester will be tasked with thinking about ways to lessen polarization and will present their ideas to a member of Congress, Goss said.
Alec Lintz, a sophomore public policy student, said while he has witnessed the partisan divide deepen across America, he does not sense that split among his classmates.
“Being in this program, in an environment where we’re able to speak our minds, but in a way that’s done so respectfully, has been such a refreshing opportunity for us to learn from each other,” he said. “Being able to be around peers where we can freely speak about our ideas, in a place that is so quickly changing right now, has been incredibly valuable.”
The structure of the Sanford School of Public Policy program has remained largely unchanged throughout its five years, Goss said, although it boasts two new faculty members this year.
Brian Hook was Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations and Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration. His course, “The UN Security Council and World Peace: Hope or Fantasy?” examines the council’s history of authorizing war, denying the use of force, or working to avoid war through diplomacy.
Natalie Goldring, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, is also new to the Duke in DC faculty. She is teaching a Politics and Policy practicum designed to help students develop policy expertise and professional skills relating to their Washington internship.
All students in the program take a set of four classes while also participating in a 28-hour- per-week internship at a government office, nonprofit, or company working on public policy issues.
This semester, students are working in the legislative and executive branches of government, as well as with interest groups, policy analysis groups, and think tanks.
Lintz is assisting with constituent service in the office of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Lintz, who is from Cleveland, met Portman before starting his internship. He and his roommate skipped Duke’s Last Day of Classes celebration to attend a constituent coffee meeting with the senator.
“Sanford encouraged us all to apply to 15 places, and I applied to one because this is the one that I really wanted to do,” Lintz said. “With the new administration and the new Congress starting, there’s clearly so much going on, and I’ve actually been very surprised by how much I’ve been able to learn from the constituents I’ve spoken with and the letters I’ve read.”
Goss said being in the midst of a presidential transition makes the program particularly appealing this spring. One of her courses focuses on the first 100 days of a presidency.
“It’s definitely a nontraditional presidential transition, so it’s a particularly exciting time to be in Washington,” she said. “Things are very unpredictable, and that makes things very exciting and interesting.”
Goss said she has clear criteria for what would make the Duke in DC program a success.
“This program will be a success if the students coming out of it have greater interest, not less interest, in running for public office,” she said. “I hope they come out of it seeing public service as something both noble and urgent for the younger generation to consider.”
For Lintz, the program has already met its goal.
“Without question, this program will impact my future,” he said. “The millennials, the people who are on college campuses right now, really have the potential to re-orient ourselves in how we consider politics.”