Duke in DC Program Set to Launch Next Spring


Editor’s note: Attend an information session on Sept. 11, 2012, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in Rhodes Conference Room, Sanford Building. Lunch will be served. Applications for the Duke in DC-Public Policy program are due Oct. 1, 2012. Apply online.

Next spring, about a dozen Duke undergraduates will head to the nation’s capital for a new Sanford School program that will combine classroom learning with real-world education and interactions with practicing policymakers.

“Duke in DC: Public Policy” will be based in the new Duke University Washington Center at 1201 New York Ave. NW, a few blocks from the Metro Center and McPherson Square subway stations. Students will take four courses, work as interns four days a week and complete a research project.

“I always thought we needed an institutional link to Washington, where a lot of the nation’s policies are made and where we have a whole network of relationships with alumni and others,” said Sanford Dean Bruce Kuniholm. The goal is “not to take Duke to DC but to develop in DC something totally different that can be a galvanizing, transformative experience for students,” he said.

The semester-long program will be led by Associate Professor of Public Policy Kristin Goss, who was a Washington-based journalist before beginning her academic career. Her applied political analysis course will feature prominent speakers from government, media and interest groups. Among them will be Ted Kaufman, former U.S. Senator from Delaware and a Sanford visiting lecturer. Kaufman, who teaches in the law school’s DC program and worked for many years with Vice President Joe Biden, endorsed the program in a videotaped interview.

“There are a lot of Sanford grads in Washington right now and not just in Washington, but also in positions of importance, in the Congress – the House and the Senate – in the administration, in media, in interest groups … who would be an incredible resource,” Kaufman said.

Students also will learn from the experience of former Washington Post Managing Editor Phil Bennett, now Sanford’s Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice and managing editor of the PBS series “Nightline.” In Bennett’s seminar, “The First 100 Days: Politics, the Media and the Making of an Agenda,” students will follow contemporary news events, learn about the history of relations between the government and the press, and meet journalists covering post-election policy and politics in the capital. 

Robert Cook-Deegan, professor of the practice and director of Duke’s Center on Genome Ethics, Law and Policy, will teach a research seminar. The students’ independent research projects could take the form of an academic term paper, a literature review for a senior honors thesis, or a significant consulting project for the student intern’s sponsoring organization.

Goss’s second course, “Whose Democracy? Participation and Public Policy in the United States” draws on her own research. It will explore the role of citizens and interest groups in shaping the policy agenda.

One of the goals, Goss said, is to give students an opportunity to get to know “the real DC” the urban metropolis where everyday Americans live and real social problems exist, as opposed to the “political DC” of national elites and young politicos just passing through.

"Research tells us that Millennials are turned off by politics and don't see government as a particularly useful mechanism for tackling big problems," Goss said. "My hope is that the program will show students the very good and consequential work that passionate people in Washington, often operating far from the media glare, are doing every day to improve people's lives and fulfill the promise of our democracy."

Some of the added value will come from visits to DC sites and afterhours student interactions. To make that easier, housing for the group is planned in apartments near Capitol Hill or Woodley Park.

Lauren Hendricks PPS’12, president of the Public Policy Majors Union and a former White House intern, was part of the planning group. She began advocating for a DC program during her sophomore year.

“It made sense to me to have one and it baffled me that we didn’t already,” she said. Hendricks believes the DC program will appeal to highly motivated students, especially those aiming for careers in Washington. Some students might even be able to extend their internships through the summer and pursue longer term, more in-depth assignments. Hendricks said the new program may make the growing public policy major even more attractive to new students.

Although the Duke in DC program is not restricted to public policy majors, students must first complete the major’s core course, Public Policy 155, “Introduction to Public Policy Analysis.”

“We’ll see in a few years if the program is scalable,” Kuniholm said. “I’m convinced it will be a good thing.”