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W&M provides more flexibility with enhanced D.C. Semester Program

  • Studying in the nation's capitol:
    Studying in the nation's capitol:  Students who participate in the D.C. Semester Program are afforded resources and experiences that are only available in Washington, D.C.  File photo
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Starting in spring 2021, William & Mary will enhance its D.C. Semester Program to include a wider variety of course themes and more flexibility for students and faculty members. 

The D.C. Semester Program, based out of W&M’s Washington Center in Washington, D.C., is geared toward students who are interested in learning and working in the nation’s capital, although the program has pivoted to temporary virtual instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The full semester program, which began in 2006, follows the same academic calendar as the university and is open to students of all majors and academic experience. D.C. Semester Program students participate in an internship and take two additional courses during the semester. 

Starting in the spring, those courses will cover more topics, and students will have more mentorship and internship opportunities. 

Rhys Tucker ’14, who manages the D.C. Semester Program, said changes were made to adjust to students’ needs and to attract a wider population of applicants. 

“We’re excited about these changes and hope they will allow more students to participate in the program,” Tucker said. “We want participants to be more self-guided based on their interests and to focus on the exact internship they want.” 

Student applications for the spring 2021 program are open now and will close on Sept. 28. 

The D.C. Semester program is an experiential learning opportunity where students participate in an internship in a professional setting while also taking courses that utilize the resources of D.C. 

The program will no longer focus on a singular theme for each semester. Students will now participate in courses that provide multiple modules of study. 

“Instead of a singular focus on a broader D.C. application, students could get a couple of weeks looking at environmental science, for example, or national security or arts and culture,” Tucker said. “We want to appeal to a larger base of students, not just those hyper-focused on a specific issue.” 

By offering multiple modules of study, the program can involve a larger cohort of faculty members as well. 

In addition to traditional seminar lectures, the D.C. Semester Program offers guest speakers and site visits. 

The program also provides a professional reflection course facilitated by interim director Roxane Adler Hickey. 

“Students can think more deeply about their internship experience and make connections to their larger career goals by reflecting on their own and talking together as a group,” Tucker said. 

In the past, one faculty member led the specific-topic focused program for the semester. The new program has increased that to eight faculty members for both the spring and fall semesters. 

The modules for Spring 2021 will be:

  • History of Washington, D.C., taught by History Professor Adrienne Petty
  • Addressing Environmental and Sustainability Challenges in D.C. and Beyond, taught by Geology Professor Nick Balascio, Professor Elizabeth Canuel of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Geology Professor and Director of the Environmental Science & Policy Program Jim Kaste and Chancellor Professor of Geology Heather Macdonald
  • International Security and Development, taught by Rebecca Halleran Latourell, assistant director of programs at the Global Research Institute, and David Trichler, director of programs & outreach at the Global Research Institute
  • Built Environment: The Architecture of Transportation, taught by David Brashear, director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art 

“The D.C. Semester Program is a fabulous opportunity for students,” Macdonald said. “In the new version of the semester course, with its four modules, students will be able to explore aspects of history, international relations, environmental science and architecture and consider how practitioners in different arenas approach issues and solve problems. As students participate in the course and engage with the speakers addressing topics in each of the different modules, they will develop their ability to persuasively communicate with different audiences.”

The D.C. Semester Program is also offering more flexibility with internships. In the past, students were required to choose an internship that fit the overall theme of the semester. Now they can participate in any internship of their choosing. 

“In expanding high-impact learning opportunities through increased internships, the program advances W&M priorities to support students in developing skills for their successful futures of knowledge, work and service,” Tucker said. 

Because of the pandemic, the D.C. Semester Program will be administered remotely this fall. Courses will be conducted over Zoom through a mix of synchronous sessions with faculty and guest speakers, as well as through online discussion groups, pre-recorded lectures and engagement with online media. 

“Certainly some of the impact may be affected where you don’t get to go into an organization and see what it’s like for people who work there, but you still have access to the people working in those realms who can still provide that insight and expertise that you wouldn’t get in a traditional class,” Tucker said. 

If the program has to go remotely in the spring, the Washington Center will be prepared. 

“We’re able to be flexible, and I think part of our planning for the spring is being mindful that conditions still may not be ideal and we may need to adjust and plan for remote offerings, but it will be fairly easy to achieve that if that’s the case,” Tucker said.