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A passion for politics

The Washington Semester experience balances learning and friendship
By Lisa Maurer ('09)

Semester participants line up for a photo. Front row, l-r: Jamie Lockhart ('08), Lisa Maurer ('09), Shruti Chaganti ('10) and Julia Fisher ('08). Back row: Robbie Kirk ('08) and Michael Gruccio ('09).

Semester participants line up for a photo. Front row, l-r: Jamie Lockhart ('08), Lisa Maurer ('09), Shruti Chaganti ('10) and Julia Fisher ('08). Back row: Robbie Kirk ('08) and Michael Gruccio ('09)

From the second I began unloading my van on busy Connecticut Avenue, I knew my semester in Washington, D.C., would be unlike any other. Away from my friends and my comfortable niche at JMU, I excitedly settled in my new apartment, hungry for the hustle and bustle of the city and all that Washington Semester could offer. This program lets students intern while taking classes, and my Washington Semester provided me with some of the best job experience, friendships and career preparation that I know I will carry with me in my future endeavors.

The White House, Dalai Llama and more

Participants in the Washington Semester are required to find their own internship at the start of the semester. My peers in the fall 2007 program participated in a multitude of internships, ranging from placements in the White House to the Federal Communications Commission. I landed my favorite job to date, working as an intern at the Department of State. I worked in the senior coordinator's Office for International Women's Issues under the Global Department. I offered help on various projects in exchange for insight on the inner operations of the department. The Department of State staff arranged for interns to meet highly ranked public officials. A dream come true for any political guru, my internship allowed me to brush shoulders with officials like Sandra Day O'Connor, Karen Hughes, Condoleezza Rice and the Dalai Llama. To this day, I am still left feeling star struck, honored and grateful for my Washington Semester Experience.

At home in the nation's capital

In addition to a full-time internship, students are required to take two classes. One covers the media's role in politics, and another details Washington, D.C., culture and political opportunities. The classes were conveniently located in the basement of the Boston University Center, where students resided. After a long day of interning, I would muster up the energy to slink down the stairs. Thankfully, I discovered that classes were quite enjoyable. Political science professor David Jones, the Washington Semester director, taught student participants about the background of our nation's capital. Dr. Jones showed us the Library of Congress, the Capitol and the State Department. As a supplement to the program, Dr. Jones also offered optional outings to enrich our experience, including baseball games, theatrical shows, an opera, hiking in Rock Creek Park and frequent dinners to local restaurants. Thanks to Dr. Jones, I quickly became acclimated. No longer viewing myself as a tourist, I felt completely at home in our nation's capital.

Hanging at the Lincoln Memorial: Shannon Abbott ('09), Julia Fisher ('08), Lisa Maurer ('09), Michael Gruccio ('090 and Shruti Chaganti ('09).

Hanging at the Lincoln Memorial: Shannon Abbott ('09), Julia Fisher ('08), Lisa Maurer ('09), Michael Gruccio ('09) and Shruti Chaganti ('09)

Sharing the adventure

Washington Semester also provided me with some of my best JMU friendships. The program's housing, located in scenic Woodley Park, allows JMU students to live with each other. The diversity of students combined with unique internships created an opportunity to learn from the experiences of our peers. Students in the program all possessed different interests as any major can participate in the program. One thing we all had in common was our passion for politics. Most of the students' pursuit for a degree in political science allowed for the creation of an interesting social environment. We spent many nights huddled around the TV, watching presidential debates, or sneaking away to visit memorials. Many nights ended by viewing the Colbert Report.

Shruti Chaganti ('10) shared in my enjoyment of this adventure in Washington. Chaganti says, "Applying to the Washington Semester program was one of the best decisions I made. Academically, it helped guide me on my career path and gave me the opportunities to work closely with high-level individuals on a daily basis. More importantly, I made friendships that will last forever. If there is anyone that I know I will keep in touch with even as we grow further apart physically, it is the individuals who I shared my life with for a semester."

Overall, Washington Semester created the perfect balance between career advancement, learning and friendship. The program helped me fall in love with the city and fostered my desire to return one day as a professional.

If you are interested in the JMU Washington Semester, check it out at http://www.jmu.edu/polisci/washington.html.

About the Author:
Lisa Maurer ('09) of Warminster, Pa., is a legal assistant at Fisher & Zucker LLC. The political science major and political communications minor participated in the JMU Washington Semester in 2007. She also studied abroad in the JMU program in Florence, Italy, and volunteered for Relay for Life in 2007 and 2009.