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Colin Powell School Semester in Washington, D.C. Program Is Changing Lives

Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Colin Powell School Semester in Washington, D.C. Program Is Changing Lives

Michaela Lugo

An immersion program in the nation's capital, funded through a grant from the MCJ Amelior Foundation, creates fresh options and understanding.


As recently as this fall, Michaela Lugo, a senior majoring in political science, felt her post-graduation goals lacked clarity. Then she heard about the Colin Powell School Semester in Washington, D.C. program. Lugo applied, and in January, she joined nine other Colin Powell School students in the nation's capital.

Initially drawn by the chance to see and live in D.C., Lugo says her semester is proving to be "a definitive period" in her life. The program includes a four-day-a-week internship at a policy-focused organization, an independent study project, and two courses—one on foreign policy, and the other on domestic policy.

Lugo, who is working at LIFT DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to poverty eradication, says she has discovered strengths and interests she didn't know she had. "I've learned that I'm interested in work that fights poverty, and I've found a passion for issues of income inequality," says the native New Yorker. "I have directions and options."

Making Lasting Connections

For Lugo, the program, which launched in January, is working exactly as intended. It is a powerful instrument in the Colin Powell School's growing arsenal that enables students to gain robust career-enhancing opportunities. The Semester in Washington program targets students in or near their last semester and encourages them to develop networks and to plan next steps after graduation. 

A grant from the MCJ Ameloir Foundation covers the program's housing costs. (Students live in a house near Capitol Hill leased by Washington Interns Student Housing.) Through the gift, students who would otherwise be unable to afford the living expenses and D.C. rent can attend the program.

"Semester in Washington, D.C. is a rare opportunity," says Kimberly Cozart, the program's residence coordinator and adjunct professor. Students benefit from living away from home—a first for many—and from having entrée to events and lectures with the school's partner think tanks. "They see that folks at the center of decision-making are not much different from themselves," notes Andrew Rich, a professor with the program. "This makes public service and policy making seem more viable as professional options."

The program's effectiveness hinges largely on the way the seminars, internships, and independent study reinforce and enrich student learning. Students delve into the policy process, begin to pay more attention to national policy, and see how it works in the real world. "They can see now what a large impact someone who is not directly elected can have on the process," Cozart says.

Firsthand contributions

Wayne Backus, a senior majoring in sociology, has already experienced this firsthand. Interning with the National Disability Network, an advocacy organization, he researched the way certain schools and institutions subject mentally disabled children to the use of restraints (including chains) and seclude them in unattended areas. The distressing information he found provided Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who is promoting a bill prohibiting such practices, with helpful background material.

Backus, who plans to become a hospital-based social worker, applied to the Washington program to broaden his outlook before going to graduate school. "The whole Washington experience has opened my mind to things I've never experienced," he says. "We're seeing how the world really works, and this will definitely make me a better professional."