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Since 2005, Michigan in Washington (MIW) has helped students understand how to connect their passions and education with an impactful career in Washington, D.C., while helping them establish a professional network they can leverage after graduation. Now, the program is ensuring that even more talented students are able to make those powerful connections.
Rising senior Lorraine Furtado wants to create tangible change in the field of sexual violence. As part of the Winter 2019 MIW cohort, she was able to explore what a career as a national advocate for sexual and domestic violence survivors could look like when she interned at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). In the evenings, she explored an equally weighty issue of social justice in her “Race and the City” class: how oppressive institutions overlap to create racially segregated cities that promote inequality. She weaved the two experiences together in her final research paper about whether communities' demographics, particularly populations of people of color, are represented in the advertising of the organizations that serve them, like domestic violence hotlines and shelters.
“Through MIW, I was able to translate the skills and concepts I was learning into tools that are valuable to employers,” says Furtado. “It exposed me to an entirely new side of political science. As a woman in the social sciences, there is considerably less encouragement to develop an analytical skill set. MIW gave me the chance to develop a technical skill set and refine it through real-world experiences.”
She continues, "Michigan in Washington has allowed me to see my education in action and advocate for survivors. The time I’m putting into my education is meaningful because of this work. I’m forever grateful to have been able to spend a semester working every day to uplift survivors.”
Fellow U-M student Emily Crabtree also spent the semester in D.C. Emily’s past experiences, including living with her family for five years in Central America, exposed her to how poverty affects families and communities. She hopes to serve in the future as an elected official to strengthen local Michigan communities by fighting poverty and increasing access to quality education. Working as an intern in the office of Michigan congresswoman Debbie Dingell, she attended briefings on Capitol Hill and gained a valuable understanding about how public policy is formed. Like Lorraine, Emily chose an evening class—the “Politics of Persuasion”—that helped her reflect on the work she was doing in her internship.
“I’ve always known that I want to work on the Hill, but without experience it is much harder to get a job after graduation,” says Crabtree. “As much as Michigan in Washington can be challenging, it is so rewarding because you’re making huge strides toward achieving academic and professional goals while you’re here. This really makes all the difference.”
Lorraine and Emily are both passionate about making an impact and changing lives through their work, and they knew that an internship in Washington, D.C. would be instrumental in helping them launch their careers. However, as first generation college students, they lacked the family networks and business connections that help many young people land one of Washington’s coveted intern positions.
That’s where Michigan in Washington (MIW) comes in. The rigorous program provides an internship experience in Washington, D.C. within the framework of an academic study away program. Students work hard, and they come away with a semester of college credit, a budding network of professional contacts, and an inside shot at landing a job in the Beltway after graduation. To help them prepare for the experience, MIW students receive coaching in internship search strategies. They also take a professional development class prior to their semester in Washington. And once in D.C., they benefit from access to the University of Michigan’s powerful Washington, D.C. alumni network.
Launching the Opportunity Fund
When Bednar, who is a professor of political science, as well as a research professor in the Center for Political Studies at U-M’s Institute for Social Research, was named director of the program in 2017, she recognized that the access MIW afforded students could be a once in a lifetime opportunity for some. She and MIW program administrator Amber Blomquist were concerned that students who have an affinity for the program, who are ready to make a difference by working in Washington, D.C., but who lack the financial resources to make it a reality, may not even consider it.
“When we think of maximizing our impact as a program, we think about really talented students who have the academic credentials, the passion, and the ideas, but don’t already have the kinds of connections that might help them get a foot in the door for an internship. And very often that correlates to students who have financial need,” notes Bednar. “We were concerned that those students might not see a place for themselves in the program, or in that environment, because they think a semester in Washington, D.C. is financially beyond their reach.”
Washington D.C. is expensive; it consistently ranks as one of the top ten most expensive American cities in which to live. Though MIW’s semester in Washington is more costly than an academic semester in Ann Arbor due to higher housing and living costs, it is competitive with study abroad programs—and it packs more punch. MIW students are busy, too busy for work study or an evening job, but they gain career experience while earning a full semester of credits. They spend Monday through Thursday working at a full-time internship that reflects their particular area of interest, attend courses in the evenings, and a take a research class on Friday mornings. On weekends they’re encouraged to explore the city’s rich historic, cultural, and recreational offerings.
Thanks to the generosity of the MIW Advisory Board, the program had an existing scholarship program. Bednar and Blomquist thought the program could do more, and wanted to focus on removing financial barriers to help with recruitment and grow participation of students with financial need. The Advisory Board is highly invested in the program; many live and work in Washington, D.C. and also serve as mentors to MIW students. They were on board with Bednar’s plan and eager to help. So, in Summer 2018, they launched a scholarship fundraising campaign for the newly created Michigan in Washington Opportunity Fund endowment. The Fund provides need-based scholarships of up to $5,000 to students for whom the Michigan in Washington experience is a transformative and life-changing opportunity; for example, students who are the first in their families to attend college, who have experienced hardship as a result of family economic circumstances, or who come from underrepresented educational or geographic backgrounds, such as public high schools in rural or urban areas. Bednar leveraged a generous match from the university’s Victors for Michigan campaign to elicit strong response out of the gate, and raised nearly half of the total five-year, $500,000 goal in less than a year.
Engaged Alumni Add Value as Mentors
“Michigan in Washington provided me with valuable experiences and numerous connections, and what I learned will be so important in helping me begin my career on the Hill,” says Crabtree. “I am starting an internship with Senator Chuck Schumer's office in a few weeks, and I could not have accomplished this without the support of MIW and the Opportunity Fund.”
The strong start for the MIW Opportunity Fund is one testament to the value that advisory board members, MIW alumni, and members of the larger Washington, D.C. community see in the program. Mentorships, a crucial professional development element that the program has been especially successful in integrating, is another. Washington, D.C. thrives on relationship-building. Knowing how to effectively network, and with whom to network, is a vital skill, and MIW has thoughtfully built a framework for robust professional networking. Each student is matched with two U-M alumni mentors: The first is a recent MIW alumnus, relatable and close in age, who can help them navigate and leverage their Washington experience. The other is a more senior professional who can offer advice and insight about career development, as well as access to their own established networks.
“Our mentoring program provides an enriching way for us to engage our alumni by valuing them for their experiences and enabling them to create personal connections with undergraduates,” says Bednar. “Through their mentors, our students begin to realize the power of what it is to be a Michigan Wolverine, which is a pretty significant power in D.C.”
“I wasn’t fully aware of how strong the University’s network of alumni was until Michigan in Washington,” says Furtado. “Alumni offered constant support to our cohort through meetings, career development workshops, and mentoring. These experiences were invaluable, and I am forever grateful for the alumni who took time to make current students feel supported and valued.”
“The program is the perfect preparation for someone who aspires to work in D.C. after graduation,” echoes Madeline Carter, who interned at bipartisan government affairs firm Forbes-Tate Partners in Fall 2018. “With MIW’s assistance, I’ve practiced networking and met incredible D.C.-based Michigan alumni who are excited about helping me navigate the job market. The program works hard to bridge the gap and introduce you to professional life in the city, regardless of your starting point.”
As the program enters its fifteenth year, work on expanding the MIW Opportunity Fund continues for Bednar and Blomquist so that even more motivated undergraduates can join the 600+ MIW alums who are making an impact worldwide as teachers, researchers, lawyers, policy analysts, public service professionals, physicians, musicians, engineers and mentors.
“It has been so exciting to see our community of Michigan in Washington alums, mentors and friends come together to support the Opportunity Fund’s mission to broaden the horizons of these and so many more students in the future,” says Bednar. “I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the next few years.”
Cultural Enrichment at Michigan in Washington
Each MIW student is encouraged to take advantage of the breadth of cultural and intellectual opportunities available in Washington, D.C. and receives cultural enrichment funds to apply toward approved activities during their semester in Washington, D.C.
At right, students from the MIW Winter 2019 cohort attend a National Symphony Orchestra performance of Tchaikovsky at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.