Associate Professor Kate Weaver traveled to Washington, D.C. this summer to instruct a course in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs’ new Washington Program. In this Q-and-A, Weaver describes how living, working and learning in Washington, D.C. is providing LBJ School students with valuable experience and connections in the nation’s policy nerve center. The new program will include graduate coursework, internships, career fairs and alumni events.
What topics did you cover in your course and what were the benefits of teaching the course in the nation’s capital?
The course was titled “Crisis and Change in International Organizations” and it empirically focused on the challenges currently facing the United Nations, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. D.C. is the natural place to teach this course. The World Bank and IMF are literally right across the street from our classroom, which gave us great opportunities for site visits and interaction with staff within the organizations. The U.N. is headquartered in New York, but has a strong D.C. presence. We were able to draw in fantastic speakers who worked directly with the U.N. on peacekeeping, refugee assistance and U.N. reform. Most importantly, being in D.C. allowed us to interact directly with experts who could provide varying perspectives on the issues we were studying — often off the record and with great candor.
What is the importance of a program in Washington, D.C. for a school like the LBJ School of Public Affairs?
Washington, D.C. is the hub of national and global policy making. There are constant opportunities to meet and interact with people who make, implement, critique and re-make policy. It is incredibly easy, once on the ground in D.C., to get looped in to conversations with policy experts and practitioners. And in D.C., who you know is nearly as important as what you know. Networking — and putting a face to a name — is critical to getting policy careers started.
Many of your students also interned while taking your course, maximizing their time in D.C. Some also blogged on our Thinkers and Doers summer internship blog. What have your students been saying about their experiences participating in the D.C. program?
I think the students have had a fabulous experience living and working in D.C. I think they are amazed at how D.C. actually starts to feel like a small town, where everyone knows each other and where things you once thought happened far away actually happen right down the street. The second week of the program, the IMF chose its new Managing Director, Christine Lagarde — the first woman to ever head the IMF. This all happened literally one block from where many of our students were interning at Development Gateway, and several saw Christine Lagarde as she came out to the front of the IMF for the media blitz. One of our students even spotted President Obama having ice cream with his daughters in Georgetown.
The program also made learning come alive for the students. For example, we held one of our classes in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings room in the Dirksen Building on Capital Hill. We met with the senior aide to Senator Dick Lugar (R-Indiana), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee (FRC), about U.S. perspectives on reforming the United Nations. We had just read the transcripts of the FRC’s hearing on the future of the U.N. The aide, who had over a decade’s experience working on the committee as the lead U.N. expert, gave us one of the most animated accounts of how the hearings unfolded, what’s really going on in the room during these events, what the back story is on Congress-UN relations and what it all means for the future of U.S.-U.N. relations. He let the students pound him with questions for nearly two hours, and then insisted they all sit in the senators’ seats for a photo.
But if I had to pick what the students liked best, I would probably say the World Bank cafeteria. It really is the best place to eat in downtown D.C. and perhaps the only place where you can hear 20 different languages being spoken around you while you eat your choice of food from over 12 different ethic food booths.
This Q-and-A originally appeared on the LBJ School Web site.