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Fast Track to Public Policy

Rockefeller Center puts first-year students in the political arena

The Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences believes opening doors for students early in their Dartmouth careers is the way to nurture a lasting interest in civic engagement and public policy. As part of its First-Year Initiative (FYI), the center sent 13 members of the Class of 2010 to Washington, D.C., last summer. Known as First-Year Fellows, the students took part in funded internships related to public policy and were mentored by Dartmouth alumni.

Four participants in the Rockefeller Center's 2007 First-Year Fellows program
Four participants in the Rockefeller Center's 2007 First-Year Fellows program brief students in Public Policy 5 on their experience.  From left: Clark Warthen '10, Allyson Bennett '10, Maura Cass '10, and Jessica Guthrie '10. (photo: Joseph Mehling '69)

Public Policy 5, Introduction to Public Policy, serves as a gateway to the FYI. Taught by Ron Shaiko, senior fellow and associate director of curricular and research programs for the center, the course is a prerequisite to apply for the First-Year Fellows program. But one day near the end of winter term, Public Policy 5 also served as a forum for prospective fellows to quiz members of the 2007 group on their experience as interns in Washington.

If there was a common thread in the answers the former fellows gave, it was a mix of wonder at the very real contributions they were able to make, and well-earned pride in their accomplishments. They researched issues, wrote letters and position papers, and presented their findings to their mentors and colleagues. Attributing their success directly to their center experiences in and out of the classroom, the fellows had particular praise for the week-long Civic Skills Training they completed prior to starting their internships.

"It was reassuring to have had the training and to know that I brought relevant skills to the job," recalled Allyson Bennett '10, who worked in the U.S. Department of Education. The students remarked on the excellent matches the program staff made connecting fellows and mentors, the degree to which the alumni supported them, and how pleased the graduates were to be connecting with current Dartmouth students. Jessica Guthrie '10 interned in the office of Representative Kirsten Gillibrand '88 (D-N.Y.), Dartmouth's first alumna in Congress. Guthrie found her internship, and her mentor, inspiring. "As complicated and difficult as her work is, everything she does makes a difference in someone's life."

"The fellows came back to campus with a sense of being able to effect change," says Rockefeller Center Director Andrew Samwick. "We're finding them showing the same skills here at Dartmouth-they're leaders." They are also in a position, he notes, to make the most of the center's other offerings, including its Policy Research Shop. Samwick quotes Nelson Rockefeller: "It is essential that we enable young people to see themselves as participants in one of the most exciting eras in history, and to have a sense of purpose in relation to it."

By KELLY SEAMAN

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Last Updated: 5/30/08