The Institute of Politics and Public Service welcomed its spring 2016 class of fellows to campus for orientation Jan. 14.
The orientation marked the beginning of a semesterlong term for the five fellows, including former President of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla (GRD ’89), senior politics editor for The Daily Beast Jackie Kucinich, former Deputy White House Political Director and Special Assistant to the President Patrick Dillon (COL ’99), former Mayor of Jacksonville, Fla., Alvin Brown and former deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign Katie Packer.
For Brown, the program offers the chance for the fellows to engage with and learn from students in a political conversation.
“It’s a great opportunity to really connect with young people at one of the greatest institutions in the world and give them that perspective outside the Washington Beltway, to learn from them, see what’s on their minds, really try to inspire them to get involved in public service,” Brown said. “How do they view the world, and what matters to them?”
Chinchilla highlighted the program as an opportunity to gain insight from a new generation of students.
“The most important thing that I learned in politics was about listening to the people,” Chinchilla said. “I am interested in continuing to listen to others, mostly young people. They are bringing fresh views to many problems. I think that if we want to continue to stimulate political participation, we for sure need to learn from them.”
Over the course of eight weeks, the fellows will each lead weekly 90-minute discussion groups on a range of contemporary political topics and hold office hours open to all university students.
Kucinich, who will host a group called “Politics, the Culture Wars and the 2016 Primaries — What Makes the Republican and Democratic Primary Voters Tick,” said that the idea for her topic developed naturally due to the timing of the program.
“The Republican primary and the Democratic primary are starting at the same time as our discussion groups are,” Kucinich said. “So it’s a very natural thing to want to talk about. At The Daily Beast we cover a lot of politics, pop culture and culture wars, what makes people tick. This election has all of that.”
Packer, who will lead a group titled “The Force of Women in the Political Arena,” explained both the historical and current importance of the subject.
“I’ve spent the last couple of years communicating with women from a campaign standpoint,” Packer said. “What can we do looking forward to engage women to fully occupy the role that women should have in our society, in our public life? I thought it was an interesting historical and forward-looking issue to discuss, particularly for young women.”
Dillon, who will discuss “The Never-Ending Campaign: How Politics & Campaigns Matter Even More When the Election’s Already Over,” emphasized the need to develop a balanced outlook on politics.
“I believe that politics is and can be a force for good. I am aware that just saying that is not something that people automatically believe,” Dillon said. “I thought it was important to show how that works so students get an exposure to what that actually looks like in real life.”
Brown emphasized the need for politics to have both a national and local focus, a message he said he hopes to impart through his discussion group, “Success and Struggles of a 21st Century Mayor.”
“It comes out of my own personal experience and wanting students to really understand what happens at the local level and how the future of cities will be successful if we get those bright minds back out of the Beltway into the local community,” Brown said.
Chinchilla expressed the desire to expose students to new perspectives of the political landscape through her group, “Latin America and the Hispanic Community in the U.S. in the Context of the 2016 Presidential Campaign.”
“[I hope to] bring my perspective as a foreigner, discussing how some of the views could impact the future scenarios between the United States and Latin America and in other regions, which depend on the public policy and political processes in the United States,” Chinchilla said.
In addition to the discussion groups, each fellow will be assigned a five-person student strategy team to aid them in research and promotion of the program. Applications to join these teams closed Jan. 20 and successful applicants will be notified next week.
The teams will also take part in a political hackathon to identify and provide prescriptions to contemporary political issues, which they will present at the end of the semester. The solutions will be published online in the IPPS publication 37th and O.
For Kucinich, the program will be crucial in facilitating a dialogue between students and fellows from which both sides can benefit.
“Learning from the students is going to be one of the best parts of this whole process,” Kucinich said. “One of the things I hope they take away from what I’m doing is an understanding of the crazy way we pick our leaders every four years and how fun it can be to watch it.”
Packer said that she hopes to inspire students to become further involved with politics and potentially pursue careers in the field.
“Beyond what I hope to take away, my hope is to ignite a curiosity, or desire to dig deeper,” Packer said. “I also think that [students are] coming of age at a time when there’s a lot of cynicism about politics. … I think it’s much maligned, and that most people who run and hold office are good people who are in it for the right reasons. This hopefully will give the students a view into that, where they can see that there is still some nobility to it.”
Dillon echoed Packer’s sentiments, particularly emphasizing the opportunities offered to students at Georgetown and his excitement about helping them develop their interest in public service.
“I’m a big believer in the power of what a Georgetown education can do and the opportunities it opens up, particularly here in D.C.,” Dillon said. “To the extent that there’s students here trying to figure out what their path is … I hope that I can help them think through the ways they might do that and help them move a little bit farther down that path.”