If you could walk into the office of Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, and ask him any question about foreign policy, what would it be?
Fourteen Carnegie Mellon grad students in the Heinz College's new Washington D.C-based public policy and management program (MSPPM) recently pondered this very question. A course taught by Kiron Skinner landed them a face-to-face interview with one of the most influential policymakers in U.S. history.
Skinner developed the graduate seminar class — called the Policy Analysis Capstone — to give students a unique understanding of how theory intersects with policy practice through personal meetings with key figures shaping foreign, domestic and economic policy.
These one-of-a-kind opportunities to meet, learn from and make lasting contacts with some of the brightest policy minds in Washington, D.C., is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the new program — and what has made it such a hit with the inaugural class.
"I thought we would just be learning in the classroom and gaining experience working in some organizations," said Zafar Imran (HNZ '09) "But the instructors are so well connected in the D.C. network, and the exposure [to top level policy makers] has been phenomenal. I never imagined that I would get to meet with these giants in their fields and discuss policy with them."
Complementing the Capstone course is "D.C. Discussions," a lecture series that brings students and Carnegie Mellon faculty together with well-known community and public service leaders to discuss some of the latest social and political concerns. In November, the series will host Dick Thornburgh, former two-time governor of Pennsylvania, attorney general of the United States and once the highest-ranking Americans at the United Nations.
The fact that such a young program is able to attract the likes of Kissinger and Thornburgh reflects just how connected the MSPPM faculty members are in Washington — a network that extends beyond the household names to include those working behind the scenes in the policy arena.
For example, George Krumbhaar, who teaches a federal budget policy course in D.C., tapped Michael Stevens of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to give students an insider's perspective on how politicians really divvy up funds. Stevens even arranged for students to sit in the subcommittee room where appropriations decisions are made.
"I think that was one of our best learning experiences," said Lourdes Laguna (HNZ '09). "It contextualized all that we had learned throughout the class [in that one meeting]."
As the MSPPM program grows over the coming years, so will the Heinz College's rolodex of contacts in Washington — which will soon include all 14 members of the inaugural class, who are set to graduate in May 2009. New students to the program should expect to find even more opportunities to meet policymakers making a difference inside the beltway.