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D.C. Program Places Students in the Driver’s Seat  

Student speaking at a podium participating in the Semester in Washington, D.C. Since its launch in the fall of 2014 the Semester in Washington, D.C. Program hosted by the School of Diplomacy has offered Seton Hall students the opportunity to complete University coursework while participating in full-time internships in some of the most prestigious offices in the American capital. In addition to gaining first-hand experience at the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and various offices of U.S. Senators and Congressmen, students take a series of courses specifically designed to enhance their exposure to professional life in D.C. One of these courses, entitled, “The Washington Experience: Actors, Institutions, and the Policy Process,” introduces students to the policies and positions of governments, international organizations, think-tanks, advocacy groups and more while simultaneously asking them to apply their knowledge of policy negotiation and foreign policy issues through class assignments. The capstone project for this course, a group negotiating exercise, pushes hands-on student learning and professional development to a new level by combining negotiation, policy memo writing, and a formal presentation into a thorough, multifaceted real-world scenario.

The first, and most extensive part of the capstone project is group negotiation and research. Students spend the better part of two months researching a current foreign policy issue, developing two to four policy recommendations, assigning Cabinet roles to their project team members, and creating a joint policy memo to complement a two-hour briefing and defense presentation. While the specific foreign policy issue is selected for students by the professor, the roles are decided by the students themselves; challenging them to look beyond their personal preferences to consider the division of power among the cabinet members and the effects that varying types of leadership play on the creation of coherent policy presentations. In the second phase of the project, students formally present the policy recommendations they have developed and submit their joint policy memos for review. However, this is not the final hurdle. After their presentations, the professor questions students extensively on the foreign policy topic. She might ask questions on every aspect of the issue including the background of the particular situation, the cost of the proposed policy option, the specific views of a certain government agency on the topic at hand and more. Only after defending their expertise and their suggested courses of action have the students fully completed the assignment.

Guiding students through this applied learning experience is former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Catharin Dalpino. Dalpino specializes in international relations, specifically Southeast Asian security. In addition to her public service, she has authored multiple book chapters, journal articles, and op-ed pieces as well as three books concerning American foreign policy in Asia, including Deferring Democracy: Promoting Openness in Authoritarian Regimes. Before joining the faculty of the School of Diplomacy, Dalpino also served as the Director of the Thai Studies Program at Georgetown University. Diplomacy alumnus Lucas Della Ventura described his learning experience with professor Dalpino, saying, “It doesn't feel like a class, it feels like an apprenticeship. Her insider knowledge, experience and candor have helped all of my classmates and I understand the D.C. political environment.” It is clear that professor Dalpino’s potent combination of past government work and international relations expertise cultivates a unique and impactful classroom environment for her students.

The question facing the spring 2017 class was: What path should the United States government pursue regarding the rogue state of North Korea and its nuclear program in light of recent provocations by its young leader, Kim Jong-Un and other complex realities? To add another facet, the project dictated that the policy recommendations be consistent with the conditions of the world and the nation in real time. In an ever-changing situation like the one with North Korea, this aspect forced students to actively monitor the conditions and update their policy work to reflect the realities of the system. Dalpino specifically noted the challenging nature of the subject, “It goes without saying that the students this semester faced the additional challenge of navigating their way through a complex and frustrating topic…in the midst of an uncertain and often baffling policy environment in Washington.” Dalpino added that her decision to assign this topic is a reflection of her confidence in the class’s abilities, and that the class “rose to the challenge admirably.”

The Washington Experience capstone project is the symbolic and literal culmination of a student’s semester in Washington, D.C. As students deliver written policy memos and formal presentations, they are also demonstrating the academic and professional skills they have developed in their time away from Seton Hall’s South Orange campus. In their return to New Jersey, these aspiring professionals bring with them experience and knowledge that institutions throughout the world seek, making them assets to their School, their class, and the world.

Categories: Nation and World

For more information, please contact:

  • Catherine Ruby
  • (973) 275-2203
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