‘Erskine in D.C.’ offers political science majors an on-site experience

Posted on August 9, 2012

Posing in front of the Capitol Building are, from left, Carly McCalla, Mandy Brandon, Morgan Allison, Sarah Money, Corey Deaton, Michael Assey, Ford Blanchard, Katie Busbee, Daniel Prohaska, Allie Shea, Jana Dixon, Cate Cardinale

Fast-paced excitement and an immersion approach characterized the “Erskine in D.C.” experience for a dozen Erskine College political science majors this summer. Accompanied by Grady Patterson Professor of Politics Dr. Ashley Woodiwiss, the students spent June 3-14 in Washington, D.C., for a two-course program inaugurated this year.

In the first of the two courses, “Campaign 2012,” the students broke into  groups to study two of the most competitive House races and two of the most competitive Senate races. For the second course, “Washington Workshop,” students “conducted more than 30 meetings with members of the D.C. political community,” Woodiwiss said.

During their time in Washington, students met with members of the South Carolina Congressional delegation; attended an on-site meeting with a member of the White House staff; spent time with journalists, bloggers, lobbyists and members of think tanks; met the political chief of the British Embassy; met two reporters covering Washington, one from Lebanon and one from Portugal; were introduced to Erskine alumni living and working in the area; and met with liberal and conservative activists.

“In sum, they received a full and deep immersion into the breadth and depth of the political culture of our nation’s capital,” Woodiwiss said. “The success of the 2012 program ensures that another will run in the summer of 2014!”

Two weeks of active learning in Washington, D.C., really paid off for rising junior Carly McCalla of Greenwood, S.C. She said she believes she learned more in those two weeks than she might have done during four months in the classroom.

Students enjoy a meal at the National Press Club.

The experience “brought to life concepts that I had previously just read about in textbooks,” McCalla said.

Cate Cardinale of Rock Hill, S.C., also a rising junior, said she has visited Washington several times, “but I had never seen the city the way I experienced it on the ‘Erskine in D.C.’ trip.”

“By far the most exciting element of the program was getting to meet all of the successful leaders who were able to make it in Washington,” McCalla said. “It showed me that there are so many different opportunities in the city other than just ‘on the Hill.’”

As she completed her work for the two courses, McCalla said, she was able to see “more than any textbook could describe—the fast-paced life of the city, the lobbyists crowding into the office of Congressmen, and the passion and stories of the people we visited.”

The group’s meeting with David Agnew, a 1988 Erskine College graduate who serves as director of intergovernmental affairs, in the West Wing of the White House, made an impression on Cardinale. Being able to talk with someone who is close to the President “gave us a unique perspective on the office of the President,” she said.

Cardinale also spoke about meeting New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who spoke at an Erskine College convocation in the spring. “He talked with us about his work and really took time to answer our questions,” she said.

As much as Cardinale and McCalla enjoyed the excitement of their time in Washington, both fought fatigue during the two weeks.

From left, Cate Cardinale, Katie Busbee, Carly McCalla and Mandy Brandon

“We were constantly moving from session to session—nonstop all-day action,” said Cardinale, whose campus commitments include playing for the Women’s Soccer Team as well as serving as a junior marshal, vice chair of Erskine’s South Carolina Student Legislature delegation, class treasurer, and vice chair of Judicial Council.

McCalla, a double major in biology and political science who is chair of Erskine’s South Carolina Student Legislature Delegation and also a junior marshal, admitted that for her, “Probably the most challenging aspect was just being able to stay awake. I never wanted to go to sleep because I didn’t want to miss out on anything happening in the big city.”

Morgan Allison, a rising senior from Piedmont, S.C., and the politics editor for the Erskine Mirror, is an SGA senator and member of Erskine’s THRIVE committee. She remarked on the contrast between the area she has known as home and the nation’s capital city.

“The atmosphere was so much different from the life most of us are used to living in rural areas,” she said. “There was so much diversity in the city and always something to do, something to learn.”

Rising junior Daniel Prohaska of Moncks Corner, who is completing a minor in philosophy as well as a minor in non-Western studies in addition to his political science major, said the students averaged five meetings a day, and it wasn’t simply a matter of showing up and sitting.

The Erskine group gathers with Sen. Jim DeMint in his office.

“For each meeting, we had to research who we were meeting with to ensure that we maximized our time with everyone,” he said. “Staying on top of that and making sure we got where we needed to go on time was a big challenge in a city like Washington, D.C., but one that made the trip even more rewarding.”

Prohaska, a Student Life Assistant, parliamentarian for both SGA and the Euphemian Literary Society, and South Carolina Student Legislature Speaker Pro Tempore Whip, knows something about hectic schedules. He believes the fast-paced Erskine in D.C. schedule served a good purpose, helping to bridge “the big gap between academic theory that we see in the classroom at Erskine and the reality of the business and political world.”

When they had time to sleep, students retreated to their quarters in the Dellenback Center, part of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) complex in Washington. “It also houses the American Studies Program to which Erskine has sent students for years,” Woodiwiss said.

As they moved through each day’s round of activities, learning how things work in Washington, the political science majors kept their career aspirations in mind.

Cardinale hopes to go to law school and would like to be a judge one day. “This trip helped me make many connections for when I plan to return next summer and intern,” she said.

“Before I went to D.C., I wasn’t sure how I would secure an internship in the nation’s capital,” she added. “But now I’m confident that I made enough connections to provide me with a variety of options for internships next summer.”

With just another year at Erskine, Allison said her Erskine in D.C. experience “helped me to see, more realistically, the option and opportunity for a career and life in Washington, something that seemed much more like a dream before the trip.”

Prohaska said the students saw “examples of what we could actually be doing five or ten years from now.”

Erskine students who participated in “Erskine in D.C.,” in addition to Allison, Cardinale, McCalla and Prohaska, included Michael Assey, Ford Blanchard, Mandy Brandon, Katie Busbee, Cory Deaton, Jana Dixon, Sarah Money, and Allie Shea.