Experiential learning: ASU students get jumpstart in Washington, D.C.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Capital Scholars Program gives students an opportunity to work, live in nation's capital
Alexandria Maese grew up knowing firsthand how international affairs hit home.
“My dad is a U.S. Army veteran, and so part of the direction I’ve taken has been to try to understand that perspective,” Maese said. “My mom came from Mexico as a student and has always emphasized the importance of school especially, because not everyone has the opportunity — I really took all of that to heart.”
Maese turned that knowledge into action at Arizona State University, declaring a political science major in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Politics and Global Studies, along with minors in Italian and military leadership. Outside the classroom, she interned at the Arizona Democratic Party and volunteered with community service and advocacy projects in the Valley.
By her junior year, she wanted to see how the topics she’d studied played out in real time on Capitol Hill. Scholarship support from The College helped her spend two months in Washington, D.C., as part of the Capital Scholars Program, where she interned with lobbying and consulting firm the Madison Group.
“D.C. was an amazing stepping stone because it made me realize that I wanted to go back to the capital, but not right away,” said Maese, who graduated in May. “Some of the best advice I received was to start by focusing on how I can impact Arizona.”
Finding common ground between local and global issues is no easy feat, but Maese said her experience allowed her to do just that. She spent her senior year as a research intern at Global Ties Arizona, the state wing of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor and Leadership Program.
Experience as a hiring prerequisite
A 2017 study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found some 65% of employers consider field experience when hiring fresh graduates.
The preference is already understood by students — at ASU, almost 50% of undergraduates complete at least one internship before graduating.
Carol McNamara, associate director for public programs at The College’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, said opportunities in the nation’s capital serve as vital platforms for those with public service aspirations.
“There is nothing quite like spending a semester on Capitol Hill for understanding and appreciating the structure of American government, and means by which Americans govern ourselves,” said McNamara, also a senior lecturer at the school. “Students have the opportunity to make themselves a part of that process by engaging with political leaders, their staff and their constituents.”
Funding the future
But living and working in Washington, D.C., comes with its own set of hurdles. Student ambitions can be stymied by the financial strain of balancing a cross-country move with the demanding, and often low-paid, intern schedule. At The College, scholarship funds play a key role in filling the void.
That was the case for Nikki Hinshaw, who studies political science and communication through the School of Politics and Global Studies and Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. Like Maese, funds from The College supported her internship with the Washington, D.C.-based McCain Institute Policy Design Studio in 2018.
Hinshaw spent the semester engulfed in foreign policy courses and international seminars through the program, all while completing an internship at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs.
“Without scholarships, I would not have been able to engage in these unpaid and often costly opportunities,” she said. “I hope that (with the experiences), I’m able to make a bigger impact on my community and give back to others someday as well.”
Matthew Jernstedt, a first-generation student who transferred from Phoenix College, used the McCain Institute Policy Design Studio internship to advance his foreign diplomacy aspirations. With the help of a recommendation letter from lifetime U.S. diplomat and current McCain Institute Senior Director Michael Polt, Jernstedt received the Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship this year.
“I want to use my fellowship to advocate for the representation of first-generation and community college students in foreign policy,” said Jernstedt, who studies political science at The College’s School of Politics and Global Studies. “With great privilege, comes the responsibility to reach out and speak out on behalf of those who are underrepresented and may doubt whether competitive fellowships are even within their reach.”
Some 25 students from the School of Politics and Global Studies engage in internships through the McCain Institute and the Capital Scholars Program yearly. But students from other majors also find opportunities there.
Kristy Dohnel, a history major in The College’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, became one of just two national recipients of the Dorothy Andrews Kabis Memorial Internship last month.
The opportunity, which honors former National Federation of Republican Women president Dorothy Andrews Kabis, sends recipients to the organization’s Washington, D.C., headquarters for a summer.
“The internship is vastly unique, covers my living costs, travel expenses and gives weekly stipends — an opportunity that is almost unheard of,” Dohnel said. “Learning how to deal with the hustle and bustle of D.C. is a skill that not many people have, and I am especially excited to hone many new skills.”
Experiences in Washington, D.C., are essential building blocks for students across The College and at ASU at large. Learn more about how you can help sustain opportunities for years to come.