University at Albany

(l-r) Martha's Table Major Gifts Officer Hana Viswanathan, Semester in Washington Director Meredith Weiss and UAlbany BA/MA student Melody Tien of Bayside, N.Y. prepare sandwiches for McKenna's Wagon, a mobile food truck that serves Washington's homeless and hungry.

UAlbany Undergraduates Give Back to Community While Studying in D.C.

For almost 20 years, University at Albany undergraduates aspiring to careers in government and the public and nonprofit sectors have traveled to Washington, D.C. to spend the spring semester studying and working in the nation’s capital.

Kamiar Alaei
UAlbany Semester in Washington students prepare
meals for the homeless and hungry during a visit to
Martha’s Table in Washington, D.C.
Their arrival in D.C. marks the culmination of several months of preparation for challenging internships that will give them an opportunity to apply their interests, skills and passions in a practical workplace setting. They’ll also have numerous chances to meet political leaders, network with successful alumni, attend legislative hearings and special briefings, and get to know the District itself through visits to government agencies, historic sites, museums and art galleries, performing arts centers, and major sporting and recreational venues. 

This spring, the Semester in Washington (SIW) experience, already considered life-changing by so many who’ve taken part in it over the years, will be enriched even further by the addition of another important element to the students’ itinerary.

“Community service is at the core of the UAlbany student experience,” says Rockefeller College Semester in Washington alumnus and advisor Peter W. Brusoe, a D.C. resident and campaign finance and lobbying data analyst for Bloomberg, L.P.  “Last year we discussed adding a group service project to the program so that students could give back to the community.” 

Dr. Brusoe suggested introducing students to Martha’s Table, a northwest Washington nonprofit that for 35 years has been providing food, education and opportunity programs for vulnerable children and families.  Last year alone, the organization served more than 1,000,000 meals, distributed free clothing and housewares to 10,000 neighbors in need, and provided education to over 200 children and older youth. 

Kamiar Alaei
Students listen to a panel discussion about
nonprofit issues presented by employees of
Martha's Table.
“It’s a great organization,” said SIW Director Meredith Weiss.  “The program they put together for our students was really informative and compelling.”  In addition to touring the nonprofit’s food market, early childcare center and its thrift shop Martha’s Outfitters, the 25 UAlbany students met and talked with a number of young professionals who work in various departments at Martha’s Table including stakeholder engagement, development, and the Healthy Start, Healthy Eating, and Healthy Connections programs.  During their visit, they even got to be hands-on, preparing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for homeless and hungry people in the city.

“We were able to witness the ways in which non-profit organizations operate, network and influence the surrounding communities,” said Robert Mainville, a political science major from Troy, New York concentrating in international politics at UAlbany.  This spring Bobby is interning for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.  “It was interesting to be able to talk with employees of Martha’s Table and ask them about their career paths and how they got into the field of nonprofit work,” he added.

Senior Holly Wilkinson, a communications major from Canastota, New York who’s interning at the Smithsonian Institution echoed Bobby’s interest in the nonprofit field.   “This experience made me realize how important nonprofits are,” she remarked.  “I am already volunteering at D.C. Paws Rescue and eventually want to open my own dog rescue or shelter.  Martha’s Table made me confident in a career at a nonprofit.”

“Visiting Martha’s Table definitely inspired me to do some volunteering, and I could tell it inspired others as well,” said sophomore Amanda Goldfine, a double major in history and political science from Cortlandt Manor, New York.  While in Washington, Amanda is working for Capitol Associates, a bipartisan government relations firm specializing in health policy. “Being in a new area and seeing that there are organizations like Martha’s Table that care tremendously about people gave me a new appreciation for D.C. and the people who live here.”

Eldersburg, Maryland junior Shelby Hettenbach, an intern with the D.C. grassroots membership organization Citizens for Global Solutions, reported that she “had a great time.”  Shelby hopes to intern in the fundraising department of Martha’s Table this summer.  “I signed up to volunteer the moment I got home,” she said.

“The dichotomy between ‘federal’ and ‘local’ Washington is striking,” notes Dr. Brusoe.  “A city where people pay thousands of dollars for a political fundraising dinner has people just blocks away starving. I think it's important that as our students experience ‘federal’ Washington first-hand, they also see ‘local’ Washington.”

That distinction didn’t go unnoticed by political science and history double major Orion Marchese of Glen Cove, New York.  Orion, who’s landed an internship at FairVote, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that seeks to make democracy fair, functional, and fully representative, hopes to one day run for political office.  “Inspiring” is how he described his experience at Martha’s Table.  “The fact that Martha’s Table is still feeding and caring for so many despite the gentrification of the D.C. area is a true testament to the strength and dedication of the staff.”

Martha’s Table may have just found itself a couple dozen new recruits.  “The students were clearly impressed,” said Professor Weiss.  “Several are now seriously keen to volunteer during their stay in Washington.”

Peter Brusoe is also impressed.  “I think it speaks well of our students that regardless of whether they’re studying in Albany or here in D.C. they are giving back to make the world a better place.”

Rockefeller College's Semester in Washington is offered every spring and is open to all majors.  Students earn 15 credits while taking classes and completing an internship with a public official, government or public service agency, advocacy organization, or private sector business.

Applications for 2017 will be accepted this April and October. For more information, please visit

Article originally published on February 9, 2016
Contact: Mary Hunt at (518) 442-5264