For the first time in its four-year history, the Washington, D.C. Program has garnered interest from students of every major, according to Richard West, the director of the program.
“People look at the Castle, or they assume they should go do the L.A Program because it applies to their major,” said West, a communication studies professor. “But Washington offers something different. There’s a lot of indirect learning.”
The D.C. Program started in the fall of 2009, growing from an initial group of three students to the 20 who participated last fall. Each semester, Emerson students join a group of 400 students from other universities and live six blocks away from the Capitol, according to West. David Griffin, the director of international studies and external programs, explained the intercollegiate system.
“The program works with the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars,” Griffin said. “It involves an eight-credit internship, as well as Emerson classes that are taught by alumni in the D.C. area, and a seminar hosted by the Washington Center. Students also must complete a civic engagement project.”
This year, however, marked a milestone for the program.
“We have had questions come from majors from every department on campus,” West said. “Many have come asking about interning with a specific group. If a student suggests an organization, we will work to help secure an internship opportunity.”
Previous attendees have worked in a variety of settings, including CNN, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and the Office of the First Lady, according to West.
Although the D.C. Program was originally focused on politics, it has since expanded, according to West. He said that Emerson has the second-largest contingency at the Washington Center, behind Wake Forest University.
“D.C is home to the most powerful decision makers in the world,” West said. “There are opportunities for everyone, even if you aren’t interested in politics. Politics are important to the area, but they do not define it.”
However, not all students who have spent a semester in the nation’s capital think its purpose is as broad as West described.
“When I heard about the D.C. program, it was pitched to me as an LA program for political communication kids,” said Hena Rizvi, a senior political communication major, who spent last fall in D.C. “That’s how I heard it, but from going there, there’s definitely media options, but the curriculum is definitely political-based.”
Rizvi said the few students in her group who were not political communication majors grew frustrated with the political focus of the program’s courses
“I’m not very politically active, but I know enough to get by,” Rizvi said. “But if you don’t have a political mindset, you’re going to get a little lost.”
Melyssa Cantor, who attended the program this past fall as well, had a similar opinion regarding the political influence.
“As someone who doesn’t have a strong interest in politics, I wasn’t satisfied with the speaker series,” Cantor said. “The Emerson class that we had to take was focused on political and communication theory, which a lot of my friends interested in political sciences said felt equivalent to a sophomore-level class. I felt like I was putting my journalism major on hold for a semester. If I hadn’t loved my internship as much as I did, I don’t think I would have enjoyed the experience as much.”
Although the program primarily attracts those interested in politics, both Griffin and West said they feel that the program is beneficial
to students in any major.
“The internships are available,” Griffin said. “For example, if someone interested in visual and media arts wanted to apply, they could intern with a theater.”
Rizvi said while she learned valuable lessons from her semester away from Boston, she said she thinks the program might not be at the point to accommodate the all majors Emerson offers, especially for students who are not politically active.
“D.C. is so politically and communications based,” said Rizvi, who noted that most of her peers in the program were political communication majors, with one or two journalism students.
“I see where journalism fits in, and you can obviously be a film student and go anywhere, but you would have to do a lot more personally for your education for the things you’d want to learn,” she said. “You definitely would have to explore your own options and kind of learn that stuff on your own.”
Evan Sporer, Beacon Staff, contributed to this report.