This spring, the Washington Semester Program will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. To celebrate, Holy Cross will be hosting two events to commemorate the tremendous success of the program and its contributors from over the years. The first event will take place on April 12th in Washington, DC. Former Director of Speechwriting for Barack Obama and Holy Cross and Washington Semester alumni, Jon Favreau, will be giving the keynote speech. John Connelly, President of the National Fisheries Institute, will also be speaking about the NFI’s long relationship with Holy Cross students as the program hopes to continue building relationships with alumni and their agencies. A second event will take place on May 6th at Holy Cross for program alumni, faculty advisors and other contributors from around New England to celebrate. A panel of alumni will speak on their experiences with the program and contributions it made to their personal and professional lives. Additionally, the panel will feature experienced faculty advisors, highlighting the importance of the thesis component of the program. Finally, this event will celebrate the next recipient of the Vannicelli Washington Semester Away Program Award, recognizing the most outstanding thesis from each semester. The recipient will have the opportunity to share their findings and their presentation will spotlight the research component of the program. Both events will end with a reception and opportunity for people to mix and mingle.
The highly selective Washington Semester Program provides students opportunities for intellectual, personal, and professional growth. Fifty years ago, Professor David O’Brien was approached by a student interested in doing a directed study program in politics or public policy. Professor O’Brien coordinated with the student and his roommate to live in Washington, D.C. for a semester and intern for Representative Michael Harrington of Massachusetts. As time went on, interest continued to rise and within a few years the program was sending about five students to D.C. each semester. Current director Gary DeAngelis was hired thirty-four years ago to lead the then called Office of Special and Office of Experimental Studies. He organized marketing campaigns and altered the program’s structures and requirements to encourage more students to apply. The Washington Semester Program was eventually incorporated into the J.D. Power Center, dedicated to providing Holy Cross students with opportunities to explore experiential learning. Although it has evolved with time, the program’s emphasis on the seminar, theses, and internship as a way of providing a holistic experience has remained the same.
Throughout its history, the Washington Semester Program has continued to expand its rigorous standards and opportunities for students. Over the past few decades, the thesis and research components of the program have become more formalized, resembling its structure today. Holy Cross students work with a thesis advisor throughout the semester, helping the student develop their ideas and conduct their research. The growing rigor of the program has made it increasingly more competitive, attracting some of Holy Cross’ most outstanding and dedicated students. A final aspect of the program that has grown greatly over the years is the relationship between the program and various agencies in the Washington, D.C. area. The work done by Holy Cross students at their internship sites leaves a lasting impression on their supervisors and agencies. Each new class of students receives access to an extensive network of alumni and partners that are accessible and excited to work with them on sharing experiences and securing an internship. Throughout the program’s history, program participants have created a legacy that encourages numerous agencies to reach out to pursue Holy Cross students each year. Professor DeAngelis also travels each semester to Washington, D.C. to meet with students and their internship supervisors. Agencies see the commitment of Holy Cross to the Washington Semester Program but this also ensures that students are receiving a good experience and performing substantive work.
Today, the Washington Semester Program has over one thousand Holy Cross alumni and continues to evolve and grow. A distinctive strength of the Washington Semester Program is that it is interdisciplinary, drawing students from all majors and academic backgrounds. During the semester, the students take a seminar in public policy, taught by a long list of dedicated professors and currently by Professor Chris Murray. Because each student has a unique academic background the seminar calls on each person to expand on their perspectives and experiences at their internship, living out public policy in real time. As the three core components of the program, the seminar, thesis and internship have continued to evolve and integrate together, the program also now offers an exciting lineup of guests and speakers each semester. Students are exposed to a variety of experiences and professions while having the opportunity to network, ask questions, and discuss pressing issues with the speakers.
From its humble origins, the Washington Semester Program has achieved great success and features an impressive list of alumni. The program’s competitiveness and rigor has been mirrored by its participants, shining at their respective agencies and producing high quality research relating to their experiences in Washington, D.C. The prosperity of the program has continuously been supported by the commitment of alumni, thesis advisors, and agency partners and their contributions to the Washington Semester Program will be celebrated this spring.
Applications for next academic year’s Washington Semester Program (Fall 2022 and Spring 2023) will open on Friday, February 11th and close on Monday, February 21st. All interested students are encouraged to apply and to reach out to Professor DeAngelis and the J.D. Power Center with any questions!