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Trump inauguration caps weeks of Washington D.C. immersion for Elon students

The Winter Term course offering through the Study USA program at Elon focuses on getting a firsthand look at the political process and learning from a broad range of professionals working in the nation's capital. 

For nearly two weeks, 30 Elon students have been learning the ins and outs of the nation's capital through a new Study USA course offering focused on the inner workings of Washington D.C. that's new to Elon this year. They've heard from high-level public servants from across the federal government, gained insights from lobbyists working the halls of the U.S. Capitol Building and tapped into rich and expanding cultural offerings throughout Washington D.C.

Members of the "Experience D.C." class posing with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican. 

And to cap that experience, they'll gather with hundreds of thousands around the U.S. Capitol and on the National Mall to watch Donald Trump be ushered in as the country's new president. It's a historic moment as the United States government transitions from one leader to the next following an often contentious election season, and rounds out a broad and insightful course for students who have gained a firsthand look at the political process. 

"For people who want to come to D.C. to learn about the institutions and the organizations and the agencies, and more important the professionals who man them, this has been an incredible experience," said Betty Morgan, associate professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science and Policy Studies, who has been leading the course with the assitance of Joel Shelton, assistant professor of political science, and John Strange, lecturer in political science. "We have Elon alums here and they are doing astonishing work. They are everywhere you can possibly imagine."

The Washington D.C. Winter Term course is just one of the short-term offerings available through Elon's Study USA program. Mark Dalhouse, director of Study USA, said that the program seeks to offer courses at U.S. destinations that have a focus on "contemporary topics and issues in American life." 

On Friday, the group has tickets for the Union Square section by the U.S. Capitol reflecting pool on the eastern end of the National Mall, with plans calling for the group to participate in other Inauguration Day festivities including taking in the parade and other events. Friday's opportunity to view in person the transfer of power from one president to the next is but one aspect of this Winter Term course, which as an annual offering from Elon's Study USA program will provide students with a variety of interests insights into what makes Washington D.C. tick. 

Elon students in the Cash Room at the U.S. Department of the Treasury with Gerald Cohen, the deputy assistant secretary for macroeconomic analysis. 

‚ÄčThe group from Elon has been spending its days in the classroom hearing from experts in their fields such as Frank Fahrenkopf, a former head of the Republican National Committee, who since 1987 has co-chaired the Committee on Presidential Debates; and Don Ritchie, U.S. Senate historian emeritus. They've been able to pick the brains of journalists such as Steve Roberts, who has long written about Washington politics, and Shane Harris of The Daily Beast, who covers intelligence and national security. 

Morgan Bodenarain '18 said the wealth of experiences the speakers have shared has been invaluable, as have been their insights into what lies ahead as the country goes through a presidential transition. During last Winter Term, Bodenarain was also immersed in politics and government through "The Trail Starts Here: The Iowa Caucuses," a Study USA Winter Term course taught by Associate Professor of Communications Rich Landesberg and Dalhouse that focused on interviewing candidates and interviewing voters. She said a second Winter Term, particularly one that ends with a presidential inauguration, offers a good bookend to that experience.

"It's incredible when you're able to meet people who have had such significant roles in shaping government and policy," Bodenarain said. 

Hearing from public servants who aren't political appointees and will continue on in their roles despite the change in administrations has been important, Morgan said. Despite the fact much of the focus since the election has been on changes that are coming, it's reassuring to experience those parts of the federal government that continue often uninterrupted by political changes at the top. 

"As we suspected and we talked about before we left Elon, what you have in every branch of government and agency are career folks who are committed to serving the public," Morgan said. 

The hope is that students participating in the course, regardless of whether they are majoring in political science, business, music or education, as a large number of this group are, draw from this experience a deeper knowledge of professional opportunities there might be after graduation, Morgan said. 

That's been the case for Ben Maloney '18, a Teaching Fellow who is joined by 18 other fellows on the trip. While his focus during his studies at Elon has been largely on a role he might play in the classroom, the course has offered him the opportunity to look at education from a broader policy perspective. Experiences such as meeting with a lobbyist for the National Alliance for Charter Schools resonated with Maloney. 

"We have so many questions about what's going on with charter schools, particularly because the new presidential administration has some strong interest in charter schools," Maloney said. "It was really interesting to be able to talk through these issues. For me personally, it's opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn't know before."

Owen Covington,
1/19/2017 10:45 AM