Tales from Washington, D.C.

The author recounts her time in the nation’s capitol with the Washington Semester Program

Jan 24, 2011

This past fall semester I had the opportunity to live for three months in the heart of our nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C. I participated in the Washington Semester Program, which allows students to take classes at Georgetown University and work at an internship of their choosing. Over 50 students from universities across the United States participated, and we got to live in the center of it all: across the street from the Library of Congress and two blocks away from the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court. At Georgetown, all the students took three classes: Economics, Theories of Constitutional Interpretation, and a Capitol Semester Seminar course.

All the program’s students moved in during late August and spent several days getting settled into their apartments, exploring the city, and getting to know one another through orientation activities. We toured the Library of Congress, U.S. Capitol, and Smithsonian Museums, as well as the local neighborhoods. D.C. is such a vibrant, clean, exciting, and busy city, and a lot of the museums and attractions are free.

Throughout the semester, all of the students toured the State Department, Pentagon, World Bank, Federal Reserve, International Monetary Fund, and White House. We also attended a Nationals’ baseball game and volunteered at the D.C. Central Kitchen. In our tour of the Pentagon, I learned that during the Cold War, the Soviets had nuclear weapons aimed at the pavilion in the center of the building, believing there were important secret activities in the area. However, in reality, the center of
the building was just a small café.
For the internship component, I followed my interests in the defense and security field. I interned at Booz Allen Hamilton working on a team for the Office of Nuclear Nonproliferation & International Security, a division of the Department of Energy. My goal was to create a strategic planning initiative examining the years 2016–20 and considering possible shocks and surprises. It was an invaluable experience where I learned the intricacies of the consulting world, many of which cannot be taught in a classroom.

Being in D.C. provided great opportunities to attend many events and network with people. Upon the recommendation of a colleague, I joined Young Consultants D.C., which ended up connecting me with people from all around the nation’s capitol. The Washington Semester Program also gives participants the opportunity to apply for a mentor who is an alumnus of the program. My mentor ended up becoming a great friend — we still talk every week.

I also had many informational meetings with important business people and government officials to learn more about their experiences and perspective on the industry. Kiron Skinner, the director of the Center of International Relations and Politics program at Carnegie Mellon, arranged a dinner meeting for the students with Paul Wolfowitz, former president of the World Bank. I learned to try to find mentors around me, utilize any company forums, attend all possible lectures and conferences, and, most importantly, say yes to any opportunity.
Living on my own in D.C. gave me the chance to try new things that I might not have tried otherwise. I decided to begin learning Arabic and signed up for a class on Saturday mornings. I also took salsa lessons, attended concerts, and traveled around the area outside the city. New York City is only a four-hour bus ride, and the beach is just an hour away.

My time living at the heart of the nation’s capitol was incredible. It helped strengthen my conviction to go into the defense industry upon graduation. I met passionate, knowledgeable, and friendly people, upon whom I know I can rely to guide me in the future. The semester was a unique opportunity to simultaneously gain course credit, work experience, and a new perspective on the world beyond Carnegie Mellon.