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UNC students study domestic and global policy issues in the nation's capital

honors in dc program
Members of the UNC Honors Seminar on Public Policy and Global Affairs visit the Department of Justice. Contributed by Sean Nguyen.

This January, another group of UNC students left campus to participate in one of the University’s many spring semester study abroad programs. One cohort, however, traveled domestically to the nation’s capital to participate in UNC’s Honors Seminar on Public Policy and Global Affairs.

Although the Honors in Washington, D.C. program places an emphasis on public policy, the group is comprised of 22 students from various majors and backgrounds. Over the course of 15 weeks, students take seminar courses on domestic and global policy issues and work four days a week at an internship position in the city, which allows them to complete 14 credits by the end of the semester.

Daniel P. Gitterman, chairperson of Public Policy and director of the program, said they try to connect students with various opportunities in the city, but also encourage participants to be “innovative and entrepreneurial” in reaching out to organizations. 

“I think for students who are interested in global affairs or foreign policy, there are numerous opportunities to work with those organizations and those issues in D.C.,” Gitterman said. “I would say they are globally engaged in a major way without being abroad.” 

Sophomore and American history major Sean Nguyen, who is working with the House of Representative’s Judiciary Committee, said he finds the internship aspect of Honors in Washington, D.C. to be particularly beneficial.

“I wish every Carolina student would have the opportunity to (participate), whether it's on Capitol Hill or in the government, or wherever they're interested,” Nguyen said. “Just to get some real 9-to-5 work experience and then return back to Carolina to sort of see where their studies align with that.”

In addition to assisting members of Congress with the investigation of the current presidential administration and potential obstructions of justice and corruption, Nguyen has worked with the committee on issues like student bankruptcy reform and voting rights legislation. He said although having such opportunities has been both stressful and rewarding, he found the networking experiences in particular to be “invaluable.”

Junior Phyllis Elliott, another program participant and public policy major, reiterated the importance of UNC’s graduate community and the lessons in networking that she’s garnered from her experiences in D.C. Elliott is working for the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute in the NIH.

“If you're thinking about moving to D.C. and you really haven't been to D.C. or have a large network here already, I would say definitely do the program because you get to meet so many people,” Elliott said. “You get to go to so many places to kind of get a feel on the type of jobs that are here, the type of people that are here and meet people to leverage your networks.”

Both Nguyen and Elliott secured their internship positions through UNC graduate contacts. 

Elliott, who has been able to attend conferences in addition to examining how different health policy legislation impacts research, said she feels her time at UNC has been particularly helpful in preparing her for the rigor of the Honors in Washington, D.C. program.

“With me being involved in different organizations and clubs on campus on top of schoolwork, I feel like that really helped me learn how to manage my time,” Elliott said. 

Nguyen also said his experiences in the study abroad program have helped to shape his current career trajectory.

“It's been incredibly eye-opening for me to be up here,” Nguyen said. “I think before this program, I was sort of pensively wanting to work for the government or go into public service. I had never really seen what that looked like though. And now that I'm up here immersed myself in Capitol Hill with all these incredibly hardworking people, it's really sort of confirmed that belief.”

Although the program is a collaboration between Honors Carolina and UNC Public Policy, Gitterman said all undergraduate students are encouraged to apply. Gitterman also said there is the potential of creating something similar for students over the summer. However, he emphasized that his current “number one priority” is to raise money for fellowships for students who might not be able to afford the costs of the program.

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