43 years of high-impact practices
March 25, 2022
By Greg Skoog ’89
“He understood the benefits of that before it was cool. And we were doing it before it became recognized as being absolutely the pinnacle of what it means to be a liberal arts college.”
The speaker there is Claire Haeg, professor of political science at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.
The he is Bob Weber ’64, professor emeritus of political science at CSB and SJU, who passed away on March 10, 2022.
And that? That is the Washington, D.C. Summer Study Program that Weber originated 43 years ago – which is still providing powerful opportunities to Johnnies and Bennies today.
The program is available to students from any major and provides a residential internship experience in the area of the nation’s capital. Many students choose to work with a Senate or House office or with nonprofits, lobbyists and government relations firms.
- Economics majors can intern with the World Bank, IMF or government agencies like the Federal Communications Commission.
- Peace studies majors have worked for human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations in international development.
- Environmental studies majors can work for the EPA or environmental policy organizations.
- Natural science majors can work for health policy groups and fine arts and humanities majors have interned with organizations such as the Smithsonian and the National Endowment for the Arts.
- Accounting majors have worked on projects like global public records research and investigative due diligence.
- Global business leadership majors might find themselves with national small-business advocacy organizations.
- Theology majors have interned with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. And others might consider internships in journalism, or anywhere within the federal government.
There are literally thousands of internships in Washington, D.C. They are competitive, but part of what makes this program special is the support students receive throughout the process. Haeg points to a recent program review of the Political Science Department.
“The program reviewer said, ‘I don’t know of any program or any department that puts as much time, energy and care into making results like this happen.’”
The program began pretty simply in 1979. Weber would advise interested students on where they might apply. However, just as importantly, he arranged housing and spent the summer in Washington to support and troubleshoot for students in the program.
Professor Emerita Kay Wolsborn took over as director of the D.C. Summer Study program around 2000. This was roughly the same time she was serving as director of the nearly $900,000 Extending the Classroom Walls grant from the Bush Foundation that she had worked to secure along with the late Tom Creed, CSB+SJU professor of psychology.
That grant ramped up the institutional passion at CSB and SJU for experiential learning.
“It was a reversal of what I understood the job of teaching to be, actually,” Wolsborn recalled. “I thought, you do lectures, you ask for exams and research papers maybe … but students are passive receptacles; they sit there, take notes and regurgitate on command. A focus on what students are actually learning was a whole different way of thinking.”
In response, the D.C. Summer Study program made changes. The range of places students would apply was broadened. Students received help writing resumes and cover letters and being systematic about what those included.
Students were coached on professional behavior, attire and using public transportation. Program directors began visiting each internship site and speaking with site supervisors once or twice during the summer – and then following up with those site supervisors at the end of the summer.
Students now analyze their experiences and write a final report, demonstrating what they have learned. Those reports are then available to subsequent internship applicants. The program has become a more holistic learning and living community as well as a professional development experience.
“Our students – especially those interning in Congress – find themselves working alongside students from Ivy League schools with impressive-sounding credentials and backgrounds,” Wolsborn said. “It can be intimidating. But our students are much better prepared.”
Today, that preparation and the role of the program director make CSB and SJU students much more attractive to internship supervisors.
“They like us because they know us,” Haeg said. “And they know our students will be well-prepared. The program housing turns out to be a big deal. A lot of the time, internship sites don’t want to offer a job to a student who doesn’t have guaranteed housing. With our students, they know this person is doing it for credits. They know the student will turn up for work every day. They know the student has a director who will help keep them on task. As a result, we get some very good placements.”
In addition to the internships themselves, students participating in the program generally meet and interact with Minnesota Senators and Representatives, as well as get access to the advantages of the CSB and SJU alum network.
“We’ve had wonderful access,” Haeg confirmed. “(General) Paul Nakasone (SJU ’86, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command and Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Service) has arranged a tour of the Pentagon for us. Of course, when Denis (McDonough ’92, Secretary of Veterans Affairs and former White House Chief of Staff) was in the White House, we had West Wing meetings.”
Data show that the benefits of the program live on for participants. Their worlds – and confidence of their place in the world – open up for them. Roughly one-quarter to one-third of program alums return to Washington to begin their careers after graduation.
The program is also an important tool for CSB and SJU in the increasingly competitive field of recruiting new students.
“It’s one of the experiential learning options we highlight when presenting to prospective students and their families,” said Associate Director of Admission Tony Amelse. “It’s an impressive example of the access our students have to internships in the ‘heart of the action.’ It’s also a showcase of the amazing alumnae and alumni network we have in the D.C. area.”
One of the most significant challenges facing the program is finding ways to make it accessible for all students. No matter how often organizers meet and strategize and reformat, the cost of spending a summer in Washington is just high. Plus, there’s an opportunity cost for students engaging in summer programs like this, since they might otherwise spend their summers earning and saving money.
Summer Leadership Fellowship programs like the John Brandl Scholars, Marie & Robert Jackson Fellows, Global Health Fellows and the Fleischhacker Center for Ethical Leadership in Action provide stipends for deserving students. But even that is sometimes a stretch. (And there are always other deserving students waiting for a chance.)
If you’re interested in helping by offering a gift in support of today’s Bennies and Johnnies, simply visit givecsb.com or givesju.com and make a gift toward the D.C. Summer Study Program.