Washington Semester Program: An Opportunity for Any Major
Three CMU students share their experiences in Washington D.C. from fall 2022
By Marissa Pekular
Carnegie Mellon University offers a valuable and unique experience for its undergraduate students through the Washington Semester Program (WSP). Unlike other study abroad programs or off-campus learning opportunities, the WSP allows students of any major or anticipated career path to live, learn and intern in the nation’s capital.
Selected students are encouraged to seek an array of diverse internship positions whether it be on Capitol Hill, at a think tank or in one of the Smithsonian buildings. Because Washington D.C. is one of the leading cities in innovation, research and politics, students have the opportunity to expand their interests and capitalize on potential career paths that they may not have previously considered.
Keilani Barba, a junior studying international relations and politics as well as professional writing, interned for the Executive Office of the President. Barba explained that any student would benefit from the WSP.
“The program offers such meaningful experiences in all aspects,” said Barba. “There really is an internship for everyone, regardless of your major.”
During her internship, Barba helped conduct interviews with intern candidates, assisted leadership they planned future White House events and analyzed data to improve the business processes of the different EOP components.
Fellow WSP intern Jo-Michelle Huczko worked for the National Journal, where they learned more about their career interests.
“I had the chance to learn about all of these different opportunities I could do with my degree,” said Huczko, a junior majoring in ethics, history and public policy. “I learned I really loved working for the newspaper.”
During the height of the 2022 midterm election, Huczko received a special assignment. They began researching different candidates, rigorously fact-checking their profiles for publication in the National Journal to increase voter awareness.
“There are so many opportunities in D.C. There’s also a lot of diversity within the types of jobs you can get,” said Huczko. “Anybody can do this program and find an internship they are excited about.”
In conjunction with their internship, students are enrolled in relevant courses that they attend after leaving work. These courses are specific to the program, covering topics such as race and politics, public policy and political research.
Logan Saito, a junior majoring in statistics and policy and management, worked as a speechwriting intern in the White House Internship Program. He explained that this program was initially intimidating for a student outside political science such as himself. The policy and management major does not contain a large policy component despite its name. Not having a background in public policy, he knew the coursework associated with the program would be challenging.
“I like to see diversity in the program. Giving people of all backgrounds some education and experience regarding public policy is important,” Saito said. “I would recommend this program to anyone who is interested in public policy or who wants to be more educated in this subject.”
During his internship, Saito helped in the writing process, developing remarks for President Biden, drafting initial direct-to-camera scripts for international trade and state legislator and intern greeting events. In addition to this responsibility, he was also tasked with a semester-long project in which he conducted a statistical analysis of the president’s speeches.
As a whole, Saito said his internship was the most rewarding, important experience he has had, and the WSP classes helped him to be a more well-rounded student and worker.
“Giving people this opportunity, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to be in the room where real work happens, to build a network, is life changing,” said Saito. “The program has been an amazing gift that I intend to use it to the fullest extent.”
Barba and Huczko are on track to graduate in the spring of 2024. Barba plans to pursue a graduate degree in public policy. Huczko is considering law school. Logan will graduate in the spring of 2023 and plans to move back to D.C. to work as a speechwriter.
Through the Washington Semester Program students can also explore the city’s unique museums, monuments, architecture and scenic nature. The university offers many free outings such as kayaking, ghost tours, professional sports games and more.