The Washington Semester Program: The Best Semester

By Emily Gayle

During the Fall 2019 semester, I had the opportunity to study and intern in Washington, D.C through the Washington Semester Program (WSP). As a SPIA student, this was the experience of a lifetime because I was able to fully immerse myself with the politics and events that I have learned about from the beginning of my time in SPIA.

As an intern on Capitol Hill in the office of Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), I learned what the inner-workings of Congress were like from past and present congressmen and women. This was enlightening because I found that the public’s perception of Congress is slightly misconstrued. Members from both sides of the aisle are literally sectioned by party on both the House and the Senate floors – that is true – but that is as set-in-stone as Congress’ enforcement of voting rules. In fact, members of one party are not as hostile to members of the other party as they seem to be on television. Their words and actions on their respective floors are seemingly alleviated as soon as they leave the chamber thresholds. I found that they are more likely to work together, even on the most controversial bills, than one might expect or perceive through medial portrayal.

Another SPIA-relevant aspect of my experience was that I was exposed to the civil-military relationship. Through the WSP, we were given the opportunity to tour the Pentagon and Lockheed-Martin. Though I had already explored the inside of the Pentagon by the escort of a lieutenant general in the Air Force and a Colonel in the Special Forces, I was exposed to it again by the escort of two former UGA students that worked there in a civilian capacity. As a student, the insight from both the military officers and civilians provided a unique perspective that I had only read about. However, unlike on Capitol Hill, the Pentagon was very similar to what I expected. Having grown up in a military household, I had been conditioned to the confidentiality and respect that surrounds the military, so it was no surprise to me to find that to be true within the nation’s leading joint operations command center.

At Lockheed-Martin, I was exposed to part of the military industrial complex. As I had again only read about it up until that point, our tour of the government relations building reintroduced me to something that I had previously seen as mundane and boring. I was surprised and intrigued to learn more about the integrated nature of the private sector in government work.

From my internship experiences to the exploration opportunities provided by the program, I was exposed to what all Washington, D.C. had to offer. Weekends were used to explore more cultural aspects of the city and partake in events that I would never have been to if I remained in Georgia. The university has well prepared that program for SPIA students as it introduced those like myself to applicable learning opportunities that reiterate the importance and relevance of what we are learning in the classroom.