Washington Semester Takes UAlbany Students to
the Heart of the Action
by Greta Petry
Curtis Johnson, 21, a UAlbany senior from Chili,
N.Y., near Rochester, has only been in the Washington
Semester Program for a few weeks, but has already
seen the President.
Johnson is assigned to the Washington office
of Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-Clarence, N.Y.-26th
) of western New York.
UAlbany student was invited by Reynolds’ office
to attend a speech President Bush gave in February
in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.
“Attending a speech by George W. Bush was the
opportunity of a lifetime,” said Johnson, who
wants to go to law school.
“I applied for the Washington Semester Program
so that I might gain meaningful experience in
government and so that I might get a leg up on
other graduating seniors in a vastly competitive
job and graduate school market,” Johnson said.
He and 12 other UAlbany undergraduates are gaining
that “leg up” this semester.
Jeff Locke had a similar experience on the other
side of the aisle, so to speak. On Locke’s first
day of the internship, the 20-year-old junior
from Rochester, N.Y., found himself seated near
senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Hillary
Clinton (D-N.Y.) at a Senate Health, Education,
Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) hearing on
the problems of the uninsured.
“It was the thrill of a lifetime,” said Locke,
another aspiring attorney who is living with all
of the students in Arlington, Va. “The city is
great for public transportation, and having the
Washington Monument as a backdrop for work every
day is inspiring. I was nervous my first day on
the job, reading the plaques and seeing the pictures
of the directors and senior policy advisers in
Senator Kennedy’s HELP minority committee staff
Within days Locke was offered the opportunity
to contribute to Kennedy’s response to Bush’s
FY2005 budget proposal. The full response was
a 30-page document. “It has been a thrill to see
my work included in this report, not to mention
to be able to have behind-the-scenes access to
committee meetings and senior strategy sessions,”
The Washington Semester Program is run by the
Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy’s
Department of Political Science.
“Albany is a politically-charged town, but I
knew I had to see if Washington could be in my
future after college – from the town itself, to
the people, to the atmosphere, and to the jobs
available,” said Locke.
He was impressed by the credentials of Professor
Michael Malbin, who has secured placements for
UAlbany students in key offices. Malbin, who earned
a Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1973, joined
the UAlbany faculty in 1990. He teaches legislative
politics, elections, and campaign finance, and
directs the Washington Semester Program each spring
semester. The students take classes with Malbin
on Mondays and Fridays at the offices of the Campaign
Finance Institute, a research institute he also
heads, and intern the other three days of the
One of this semester’s courses focuses on the
coming election; the other is a research and writing
seminar. But the course work is only a part of
the students’ experience.
“They have had a full plate of activities,” said
Malbin. Several went to Richmond to campaign during
the Virginia presidential primary. Several heard
Secretary of State Colin Powell testify, and others
went to a conference on AIDS in Africa. In February
the group attended an event at the National Press
Club, hosted by the Campaign Finance Institute,
on the front-loaded presidential primary system.
Rep. Michael McNulty arranged a March 5 tour of
the White House for the group.
In addition to Locke and Johnson, others working
in Congressional offices are: Dara Stofenberg,
for Rep. Howard Berman of (D-28th, Van Nuys, Calif.);
Catherine Provost, working for Rep. Joseph Crowley
(D-7th, representing parts of the Bronx and Queens,
N.Y.); Daniel Stinfil, working for Rep. Major
Owens (D-11th, Brooklyn, N.Y.); and Priya Mehra,
working at the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.
Michelle Newman is at the Department of Justice
in the Office of Justice Programs; and Jee Hae
Lee is assigned to the International Broadcasting
Bureau (IBB) Office of Policy. IBB is the umbrella
organization that oversees “Voice of America.”
Other interns include: Caithlin Murphy, at the
American Public Health Association; Elizabeth
Butler, at the Center for American Progress; Emma
Reynolds, at the Children’s Defense Fund; Wendy
Suzanne Hale, at Hill & Knowlton; and Sofia
Yazykova, at the National Endowment for Democracy.
Provost, a junior, finds the internship to be
“incredible,” the work meaningful, and is pleased
to find she is treated as an equal by the office
staff. “I feel as if I am serving a purpose in
our nation’s government,” she said.
“On my first day on the Hill, I found myself
in the back of a shiny black Lincoln with my congressman
on my way to a luncheon reception with U. N. laureate
winners,” Provost said. “In one week I’ve seen
Colin Powell, [Senate Minority Leader] Tom Daschle,
Secretary [of the Department of Homeland Security
Tom] Ridge, [House] Speaker [J. Dennis] Hastert,
the ambassadors to Ecuador, Israel, and the President
of Spain. I am living a political science student’s
dream,” said Provost.