Every semester thousands of young people flock to the nation’s capital to get in on the political action. They come, as University of Texas senior Geoff Barry called it, “to the pulse of lawmaking.”
By Memorial Day weekend a new set will pack their cars and head for Washington, D.C. As the new interns arrive, some of those who have spent the spring semester here will be heading back home. Among them will be four from the University of Texas: junior Veronica Lew, junior Carl Holshouser, senior Hamid Kadiwala and senior Barry.
The four students are part of a group of 16 UT students enrolled in the Archer Center, the UT system’s own Washington semester program. Through the Archer Center, the students work full time at their internships and take night classes twice a week. “The internship is vital … by living, working and learning in our nation’s capital, they are getting practical, hands-on experience that simply can’t be gained from a textbook or a classroom,” said Jennifer Sarver, director of the Archer Center.
The practical, hands-on experience of the internship is what drew the students to the program. “It’s an opportunity to engage the Washington community without a set back in your academic house,” Holshouser said.
The UT students are getting working political experience and knowledge all over the city. Holshouser, a government major at UT-Austin, interns for Texas Rep. Lamar Smith (R); fellow UT-Austin student Lew, a government and economics major, is interning at the White House office of intergovernmental affairs. Barry, a government and politics major, is at the United Nations Information Centre, and Kadiwala, like Barry a UT-Dallas student majoring in political science, is interning at the Arab American Institute.
The lives of the UT students in Washington are different from many of their Washington counterparts. They work 40-plus hours at their internships and have to take night classes twice a week to fulfill their academic requirements. The Tuesday and Wednesday night communication and government classes are designed to complement the students’ internships and explain how things at their internships come about.
The Archer Center students don’t only learn together, but play together. All 16 of them share a house, leased by Washington Intern Student Housing to UT. It has four stories, including a basement, five showers, eight bedrooms, two kitchens and two living rooms. The house came fully furnished with amenities such as a television, phone and free Internet access so students didn’t feel the need to pack up their lives in Texas and bring them to Washington.
A large group of people living in the house is a good thing, said Lew. “It’s fun because if someone wants to do something there is always someone willing to go with you.” Because everyone interns at different places throughout the city, the housemates get a sense of how various Washington institutions work through conversations with each other.
It’s tempting to call this a “Real World” house; however, in this Washington Semester house, the realness of people hasn’t caused any reality TV-like drama. “The honeymoon period is over and no one is getting on each other’s nerve. We haven’t had any major confrontation,” Kadiwala said.
Without drama to make their stay in D.C. exciting, the UT students have taken in all that D.C. offers outside the house. The students volunteered at the inaugural Black Tie and Boots Ball and have attended television taping, hearings, talks and lecture series, said Holshouser.
At the end of the spring semester the four UT students are all planning to go back to Texas, and with the exception of Kadiwala —who’s going to medical school — the remaining three plan to come back to Washington some day. They all agree that in the world of politics people must pay their dues, and they are all willing to go back home and get more experiences before coming back to Washington. Barry, for instance, hopes to travel to Africa and work with children there.
As their four-month stay in Washington comes to an end, Kadiwala said the experience has been “better than going through the routine of taking classes, and it was a unique opportunity to participate in an experience that will make me well-rounded.”