Although Penn’s Washington Semester Program has been offered every semester since 1994, the political climate in the nation’s capital may affect students’ motivations for enrolling in the program.
The WSP allows students to take academic courses, carry out a research project and pursue an internship related to their interests, all while living in Washington.
Penn interviews approximately 15 students and accepts 10 to 12 into the program each semester. This year, enrollment has “remained fairly steady despite the election,” WSP Director and Political Science professor Kathryn Tenpas said.
College senior Adrienne Lee Benson participated in the program because she was “interested in diversifying [her] political experience” after working on political campaigns in the past.
“It’s a fascinating time to be in Congress right now,” she said. Apart from the health care bill, “there’s so much else going on” — including financial and criminal law reform, she added.
Although Benson believes the current political climate did not affect her motivation for enrolling in the WSP, she said some students may have other reasons for participating.
“Partisanship sometimes makes a difference for students,” she said. “More students may be interested when Democrats are in the majority or when a Democrat is in the White House.”
Election years are “definitely a plus and a big incentive for students to apply” to the program, College sophomore Marwa Ibrahim wrote in an e-mail.
She added, however, that “there is always much to see and learn in D.C. for anyone interested in politics, any year.”
Tenpas explained that although the political atmosphere this year may have increased enrollment, other factors have kept the total number of participants steady. Other universities, like the University of California at Berkeley and the State University of New York at Buffalo, have even experienced declining enrollment in Washington-based programs, according to Tenpas.
She wrote that there is a possibility of students going to Washington “to observe the Obama administration from front-row seats,” but that “difficult economic situations have negated this line of reasoning.”
Tenpas added that many parents worry about expenses traditionally associated with studying away from campus. She said the WSP requires “roughly the same” tuition as attending classes at Penn and that housing in Washington can be cheaper than in Philadelphia.
College senior and political science major Neel Lalchandani enrolled in the WSP last spring. He said his main motivation was to obtain work experience and to apply his academic knowledge to “real life.”
Though the political party in office and the election year might affect students’ motivations “on the margin,” Lalchandani admitted that last year, he “thought that there would’ve been a lot more interest than there actually was.”Comments powered by Disqus
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