by Fernando Quintero
Washington, D.C. ‚ With all eyes focused on the nation's capital in the wake of Tuesday's election, students participating in the inaugural semester of the new UC Berkeley-Washington Program are keeping their attention on their studies.
Whether it's a visit to the battlefields of Gettysburg, the halls of Congress or the Smithsonian museums, the students are taking advantage of the many educational opportunities Washington, D.C., and its surroundings have to offer.
The program, which began in January, provides a unique opportunity for up to 20 undergraduates from all majors to spend a semester in Washington pursuing full-time course work and a field research internship that reflects each student's area of interest.
"It's been the best learning experience," said Daniel Alba, a senior majoring in economics and political science who was placed in an internship at the Department of Justice. "Nothing in a classroom or textbook could ever compare to being here, where all the action is."
Sharyn Jones, a Berkeley senior studying anthropology with a special interest in oceanic archeology, is working at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Her job involves cataloguing and curating artifacts from the museum's Pacific Ocean collection.
"There is stuff lying around that dates back to the 1850s ‚ amazing things," she said.
"It's such a huge museum with such a large collection that some things are neglected. There are important artifacts that have not been researched."
The centerpiece of the curriculum is the research seminar, which combines students' field work with class meetings that emphasize comparative methods, bibliographic research and analytical writing.
Students design their own research strategy, make extensive use of Washington's libraries, museums and other resources, and then write a term paper that incorporates their internship experiences.
In addition, students take one or two seminars that emphasize a subject such as politics, history, public policy, the arts or the media. Topics depend on the Berkeley faculty in residence as well as offerings by other UC campuses, including Davis, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, which were the first to establish Washington programs.
The UC programs are all located on the fifth floor of a modern office building near trendy Dupont Circle, within walking distance or a short cab ride away from many of Washington's most important landmarks and institutions.
Berkeley student participants are housed in an apartment complex in nearby Arlington, Va.
"Along with the valuable lessons to be learned from having a first-hand look at an area of interest, a semester with us will teach students self-reliance within a structured environment," said Beth Boles, director of the UC Berkeley-Washington Center.
"We're presenting a very disciplined academic experience."
The center also sponsors conferences, symposia and policy debates. Boles said she hopes the center will also serve to connect Washington-based Berkeley alumni with the campus and provide Berkeley with a physical presence in the nation's capitol.
Boles added that having Berkeley faculty appointed to such high profile positions in the Clinton administration has helped raise the campus' visibility in Washington.
"We just got a call from Vice President Gore's office asking if any Berkeley interns were available," she said.
Boles agreed having students in Washington in an election year has afforded special experiences. "Right now is an exciting time to be here."
"It's been awesome in the sense that being here really has capitalized on what we talk about in lecture halls," said Arash Ghadishah, a senior studying political science and public policy who has an internship at the Department of Education. He sits in on public policy brainstorming sessions on everything from migrant education to drugs in school.
Boles said the Berkeley academic program became a reality due to strong support from Vice Chancellor T. Carol Christ; Nelson Polsby, director of the Institute for Governmental Studies; and others. The Office of the President has also provided financial support.
For information on UC Berkeley-Washington Program, contact Sarah Kelsey at 642-9210 or Beth Boles at (202) 296-9031.