Students Spend Inauguration Week in Nation's Capital

Monday, February 2, 2009

Alicia Plummer, a senior public administration major, hopes to one day have a career in government. The South Philadelphia native and graduate of Girls High saw an opportunity to be immersed in American political history and government when she heard about a program for academic credit offered by the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. The program would take her to our nation's capital from January 10 – 20 to learn about the role of the media during the 2008 presidential campaign. The seminar held another great draw – she would be in Washington, D.C., during the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

"I was bound and determined to get there," she said. "I knew it would offer me an exceptional behind-the-scenes perspective on the relationship between politics and the media."

But Plummer, a Saint Joseph's University Mission Scholar who has been awarded the SJU United Scholars Grant, knew she needed to raise extra funds in order to attend the seminar. Early in the fall semester, she started saving money earned from her two jobs. During the week, she worked as a student assistant in the political science department, and sixteen weekend hours were spent in customer and patient services on the environmental services staff at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Though the process is highly selective, Plummer was accepted to the seminar along with approximately 670 other university students from 47 states. She was happy to learn that a fellow traveler from SJU, freshman Maria Selde, an international business major from Omaha, Neb., was also accepted. But despite all of her scrimping and saving, Plummer realized in November that she was unable to cover all of the fees and incidental costs associated with the program.

Not to be undone by her lack of resources, Plummer, who was raised by her grandmother and is the first member of her immediate family to attend college, decided to send a letter asking for financial assistance from her extended family, and she was gratified and humbled when contributions arrived. "I couldn't have attended the seminar without their support," she said. "I'm so grateful to everyone who helped me."  

The seminar featured meetings with national political reporters, including CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent and moderator of Face the Nation Bob Scheiffer; former host of ABC News' Nightline and Senior News Analyst for NPR and the BBC Ted Koppel; Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page; and USA Today reporters Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel. There were also trips to the Pakistani, Egyptian and Israeli Embassies, topical lectures from faculty experts associated with several universities, and site visits and tours of the city.

"The Washington Center offers our students a great opportunity to be 'right there' in our nation's capital to learn about – and in some cases to participate in – the making of American government," said Graham Lee, Ph.D., professor of political science and coordinator of the Washington Internship program at SJU. "I'm glad both Alicia and Maria had a such a positive experience in Washington."

Plummer said it was fascinating to hear the insights of top journalists on the role of the press during this election cycle, and cites the visit to the Egyptian Embassy during the Gaza conflict as particularly enlightening.

Selde, who said she had not been interested in politics and government before she arrived at SJU, also saw the seminar as an opportunity to learn, and noted that she was one of the few freshmen from throughout the country to participate in the seminar.  But both students remarked on the opportunity to be in Washington during the run-up to the inauguration – and Inauguration Day itself – as a memory that will last a lifetime.

"Being in Washington during the inauguration was very important to me," said Plummer.  "President Obama is the embodiment of the American dream. He exemplifies, on a large scale, why it is my dream to work in government."

Selde added that "there was a captivating energy in Washington during the inauguration, and I was surrounded by a contagious excitement. The positive attitudes of everyone around me made it worth waking up at 6 a.m. to get a spot near the jumbotron."

--Patricia Allen

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