Students have a front-row seat to history at the Stanford in Washington Program
Although Stanford students studying at the Bing Stanford in Washington Program have front-row seats to historic events, their most substantive lessons may come from interactions with the people who make the U.S. government work day to day.
The Bing Stanford in Washington (BSIW) Program, established in 1988, gives Stanford students the chance to study and do internships in the nation’s capital. Students live in the Bass Center on Connecticut Avenue as they pursue internships with government, non-government and cultural organizations and attend seminars taught by Stanford faculty and national policy experts.
Adrienne Jamieson, the MaryLou and George Boone Centennial Director of Stanford in Washington, is a political scientist who specializes in American national politics, public policy and the media. As head of the BSIW, she designs the curriculum, recruits faculty and arranges student internships.
Jamieson answers questions about what it’s like for Stanford students to be living and learning in Washington, D.C., during a time of heightened political contentiousness and the impeachment of a president.
What’s it like right now to be in Washington, D.C.?
There is a strange bifurcation here. There are people who are exclusively engaged in political battles and the impeachment. But, there are others who, even if they are working in federal agencies and reporting to political appointees, are putting their heads down and grinding out long-term policy work. Our students often serve as interns with them and learn what it takes to make policy, as well as to work for a government agency. They are often struck by how dedicated people hang in there across administrations and do their best to move policy forward. Whether working within or outside the government, our students develop an understanding of policymaking as a long-term conversation among many players – and an endeavor that can be particularly challenging and rewarding at the same time.
How have students in BSIW been able to take advantage of today’s historic events?
The students do internships in government agencies, on the Hill and in non-governmental entities, both for-profit and non-profit. They see what the long-term conversation about policy is really like and meet people who are trying to move things forward no matter what the constraints might be. For students, that can be heartening as well as informative as they come to understand how people work through roadblocks. The flip side is that our students are frustrated sometimes by bureaucracy or the amount of time it takes to get something done. They are also witnessing the dismantling of some federal agencies and find that frustrating. Our students are interning, for instance, in such departments as Education, Justice, State, Health and Human Services and Commerce.
We place students very carefully based on their specific interests and comfort level. On Capitol Hill, we have a student working right now in (U.S. Representative) Adam Schiff’s office. In the fall, a student worked for the minority staff of the House Oversight Committee and had a front-row seat to some of the fall’s most extraordinary hearings and events. Currently, there are students in (U.S.) Senator Dianne Feinstein’s, (U.S.) Senator Amy Klobuchar’s and U.S. Representative Ro Khanna’s offices.
Students who work on the Hill see how complicated Congress actually is as an institution, while being participant observers in the political process, which sometimes means taking phone calls from constituents, along with providing support for policy-making initiatives. Phone calls and meeting constituents are the price of admission. But, through this, students begin to develop a sense of what representation means. Who calls in and why? How do different Congressional offices collect and analyze the opinions of constituents? In what way does this play into decisions made by a member of Congress?
You also sponsor many speakers at the Bing Stanford in Washington Program.
A number of our recent speakers have been connected to the impeachment process. Adam Schiff was here, along with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. John Brennan, former head of the CIA, spoke, as did James Hohmann, the Washington Post reporter who is one of our former students at Stanford in Washington. Peter Baker of the New York Times and Susan Glasser of the New Yorker were here. We also heard from one of the attorneys for the Ukraine whistleblower.
What is the advantage for students of studying at the Bing Stanford in Washington Program?
It’s not possible to understand how Washington works, as a policy center, political hub, national capital or international community, without spending time here. It is challenging to teach how this complicated government works. I don’t think it is possible to understand the long-term conversation of policymaking without spending time here and understanding what people who participate in it genuinely do.
As a Stanford student, you have the added advantage of living at the Bass Center, where you have your colleagues to learn from, as well as the staff and instructors. Seminars are small and often taught by people from the world of policy, politics and the media. Informal learning over dinners and conversations in the house is a key part of students’ experiences as well.
Washington is also fascinating and engaging as a city. We don’t want students to think that Washington, even right now, is only about contentious politics. It’s important to understand that Washington is also a great cultural center, and, thanks to Peter and Helen Bing, we can take advantage of many of the great cultural institutions in the city. There is also a steady stream of people from Silicon Valley who are working on such crucial issues as cybersecurity and voter mobilization. Our students majoring in engineering or computer science have also done internships in non-governmental enterprises that are very much a part of the Washington fabric.
In my experience, Stanford students are looking to work on something that really matters. In Washington, they are presented with an opportunity to do just that.