It is one thing to study the U.S. government and how it operates in Washington, D.C. It’s another to experience it firsthand, walking the same halls as members of Congress, sitting in the same courtrooms as federal judges and meeting with foreign ambassadors and lobbyists.
“After being taught in the classroom, actually seeing the historical locations in-person gave me a whole new perspective,” said Justin Lopez-Beltran, a sophomore at Penn State Behrend who is dual-majoring in political science and economics.
He and a dozen other Behrend students spent their spring break in the U.S. Capitol, where they squeezed a lot into one week. The group, led by Robert Speel, associate professor of political science, met with members of Congress and leaders of federal government agencies. They attended briefings at foreign embassies and international organizations, and they participated in seminars led by interest groups and political party officials and consultants. They toured government offices and facilities, and they visited downtown monuments and memorials, museums, and Arlington National Cemetery.
Throughout the trip, the students met with Behrend alumni who live and work in Washington, D.C. – including Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a 2004 graduate who serves on the House Rules Committee. He invited the students to attend a committee meeting.
“He even gave a shoutout to the class and Speel during the meeting,” said Casey Mitolo, a senior. “It was really special.”
“My favorite part was visiting Capitol Hill and seeing all the politicians you admire, and even some you might disagree with,” Lopez-Beltran said. “After taking multiple political science courses, it was fascinating to see politicians we have discussed and even argued about in the classroom.”
Classmate Nicklas Richar, a sophomore political science major, agreed. “It was really cool to be inside the Capitol building and to see all the senators and representatives I’ve watched on TV and realize that they are real people doing an actual job,” he said.
Mason Milliard, a junior political science major, especially enjoyed meeting with Behrend alumnae Yuri Unno, director for international trade policy for Toyota, and Elizabeth Buck, deputy assistant director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
“It was also really interesting to watch votes from the Senate and House galleries and to sit in for a lecture at the U.S. Supreme Court,” Milliard said.
Mitolo was surprised at the number of Behrend alumni in the capital. “It was extremely eye-opening to see all the doors that a Behrend political science degree can open,” she said. “We met alumni who work as political consultants, representatives, union leaders, and much more.”
Students agreed that the experience solidified the career choices.
“It was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life,” Richar said. “Every single place that we went had a rich history and is an important part of how our government functions. It really inspired me to continue in my career path, and I learned that the potential for jobs in this field is endless.”
“There are countless opportunities in D.C., and a wide variety of options, from campaign work to legislative work to lobbying,” Lopez-Beltran said. “This trip 100 percent solidified my career decision.”