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Program brings students to Washington, D.C., for global experiences

November 19, 2007

by Kristin Czubkowski, UW-Madison Communications

Published in Wisconsin Week.

The phrase “once a Badger, always a Badger” often applies to alumni’s continued support of University of Wisconsin-Madison athletics after graduation, but in the case of at least one academic program, the Washington, D.C., Undergraduate Semester in International Affairs in the Division of International Studies, it has meant much more.

“I would like to say it was because we realized here on campus the real need for this program, but it was really because a group of alumni in Washington who worked in international affairs came to us,” says Cynthia Williams, director of external relations for the Division of International Studies. UW-Madison alumni in Washington, D.C., have been involved in the program, now in its third year, from the start, bringing the idea to UW-Madison and ensuring its continued success.

One of these founding alumni was Tony Carroll, currently counsel for Washington consulting firm Manchester Trade, who earned his master’s degree at UW-Madison. Carroll, along with International Studies Dean Gilles Bousquet, UW Regent and former ambassador Tom Loftus and U.S. ambassador John Lange, was involved in early discussions about the program, which brings UW-Madison students to Washington, D.C., for internships during the fall semester of their junior or senior years.

“It was a really an outgrowth of a discussion that I had with Bousquet at the embassy of France the day we invaded Iraq,” Carroll says. “We decided that we needed to create more of a linkage here in Washington for the university and its undergraduate international studies students.” Several months later, in fall 2004, Carroll, Bousquet and Loftus were heavily involved in planning the program when they enlisted the help of Leon Weintraub, a UW-Madison alumnus and State Department foreign service officer for nearly 30 years who had recently retired. Weintraub, now an adjunct professor at George Washington University, helped design the curriculum of the program and quickly became one its primary advisers.

Weintraub says he was immediately interested in the program for its ability to relate theory to practice in international studies.

“It’s not just sitting in an office doing interesting stuff,” he says. “As we said to some of our interns, in Madison you can study international affairs very, very well, but in Washington, you can live it.”

Carroll describes the format of the program as “three-legged stool,” with the internship itself forming the base for students.

“The core is the internship experience itself, and that’s the job that they will be doing for the minimum of 20 and frankly, usually much more than 20 hours per week, and that is an internationally focused, meaningful professional opportunity,” he says.

Students’ internship experiences have ranged from working with nonprofits and nongovernment organizations such as the United Nations Foundation and Amnesty International, to government communications agencies such as the Voice of America, and even to private sector companies, Williams says. The program is also unique in that it offers students six credits for participating, which counts as full-time for that semester.

To enter the program, students submit their application to a faculty committee, which interviews finalists before making its final decision. The first class in 2005 had five participants, there were eight in 2006, and there are 10 in 2007. As many as 30 to 35 people have applied for spots in the program, Williams says, keeping the program competitive and ensuring the high quality of its applicants.

Daniel Aronson, an international studies major currently interning in the program at the Sullivan Foundation, says the six credits the program offers students is helpful, even if it means taking a few extra credits in other semesters to graduate on time.

“It was a risk to come here. If I didn’t go out, I’d have a little more comfortable time graduating in May, but I felt that this experience was a very worthwhile experience,” he says.

A big part of that experience comprises the other three “legs” of the semester, Carroll says, which include biweekly speakers, often UW-Madison alumni, who work in the field of international studies; half-day and full-day trips to international organizations such as the State Department, United Nations organizations and even private-sector companies; and the students’ own trips to international affairs symposia, panels and other events throughout the city.

In addition to the information offered at these events, many of these experiences, Weintraub says, give the students the opportunity to network with those working in international issues in Washington.

“We want to get them over any additional shyness or hesitancy about making themselves known because a lot of people at these things are pretty high-powered people,” he says.

Making these contacts as an undergraduate can help those in the program who graduate and want to return to D.C., he says. Scott Muir, a 2005 participant in the program who interned at Voice for America, returned to Washington in 2006 after graduation to work for a strategic communications group.

“The reason I moved back to D.C. was because of the internship. I was familiar with the city, I knew that there were a lot of job opportunities for young people like ourselves that have a bachelor’s, and I had made so many friends out here,” he says. At least two others from the initial class of five are in Washington currently, he says.

While Muir and Aronson are both international studies majors, Williams emphasizes that the program is open to all academic majors. The application gives students the opportunity to talk about their international background, from language skills to international family experiences to coursework at UW-Madison.

“I really feel that all students need to have an international background in today’s world,” she says. “It’s important for those students to have a variety of options and to be able to come from different majors.”

Students interested in applying to or learning more about the program can attend an information session at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 15, in Room 260 of Bascom Hall.

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