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Quarter in Washington

  • By Marina Dundjerski
  • Published Apr 1, 2002 8:00 AM

Thirty Bruin undergrads are participating in UCLA's Quarter in Washington Program this spring, despite what they saw on TV newscasts when the Pentagon was attacked or when the anthrax scare was at its height. For these top students, being in Washington, D.C., while government leaders grapple with terrorism on different fronts, presents them with a golden opportunity, not a threat.

"Going to Washington right now opens up a tremendous learning opportunity for me: analyzing the history that is being made in our nation's capital," says communications studies major Cynthia Determan, a senior. "Prior to Sept. 11, there was a trend to minimize government and cut back on bureaucracy. But Sept. 11 changed the government's agenda to one that must provide security in this time of crisis."

Determan, who is in Washington this spring to intern in the office of Congressman David Dreier (R-Covina) and research government expansion that resulted after the attacks, is one of many Bruins in the program who have chosen to focus their research projects this year on Sept. 11-related topics. "Although the events that took place on Sept. 11 resulted in a lot of pain, I feel a lot of positive reforms have resulted," Determan says.

Administered by UCLA's Center for American Politics and Public Policy, the Quarter in Washington Program, now in its 12th year, provides undergraduates with a full-credit academic quarter, plus an internship every fall and spring in the federal government, a congressional committee, museum, think tank, advocacy group or other organization.

The students use this experience as a launching pad for an original research project, which they present at the end of the quarter. In past years, students have examined flaws with law enforcement databases for DNA evidence, federal compliance with environmental mandates and welfare reform.

This past fall, history major Matthew Straite, who interned with the National Building Museum, researched the viability of skyscrapers in the 21st century. Political science major Kelly Hart, who interned in the White House Office of the First Lady, analyzed the communications techniques of first ladies, including Laura Bush's role before and after Sept. 11. "Mrs. Bush said so many times to me that she didn't want to make speeches," Hart recounts. "But this really forced her into the limelight, and she has become what the press has termed the 'comforter of the nation.' "

History major Heidi Hyun, another fall 2001 intern (Department of Justice), talks about the value of simply being in the capital. "It's just a really inspiring place. You see people on the street and know that everyone's out there to make a change and save the world. It's somewhere that's very different from L.A., even New York, I think."

It's not just the students who benefit from the experience, says Joel D. Aberbach, director of UCLA's Center for American Politics and Public Policy and founder of the Washington program. The students "are ambassadors for us in Washington."

The Quarter in Washington Program celebrates this week with the official dedication of the new $37-million University of California Washington Center, an 11-story, 106,000-square-foot building in Washington's Dupont Circle.

For the first time, the more than 200 students from eight UC campuses can live and learn together in the heart of the nation's capital. The new center promises to become a hub of intellectual life, offering seminars, book readings and press conferences in the facility's state-of-the-art auditorium.