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What is DC without the annual Cherry Blossoms? Throngs of visitors made their way through the Tidal Basin to take in the beauty of hundreds of thousands of Cherry Trees welcoming Spring with shades of pink, white and red. Credit: Gustavo Centeno , Gustavo Centeno

Penn’s influence in the Capitol Building may soon be as notable as it is on Wall Street.

When Deirdre Martinez, director of the Penn in Washington program, took over in 2006 , Penn’s presence in the nation’s capital was ailing. In recent years, several Penn programs have experienced notable participation growth, and alumni have been trying to build out the Penn network there as well.

Only around 50 students a year were involved in Penn programs in D.C. in 2006. Now, the number is closer to 200. In 2012, the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative was also launched with the help of an $11 million donation from Penn alumni Marc Rowan , Marc Spilker and Diane Isaacs Spilker. The Robert A. Fox Leadership Program also offers D.C.-based research and service fellowships.

“I think there has been a realization that there is some untapped potential or opportunity in D.C.,” said Caroline Chang , director of D.C. Operations for the Penn Wharton PPI, which launched in 2012 . “There are a good number of Penn alums in D.C., but it maybe has not been as high or prominent on students’ radar screens as other opportunities or locations.”

Central to all Washington D.C.-based Penn programs has been alumni outreach.

“I think the most important part of Penn in Washington is building that alumni network,” Martinez said. “I currently have about 500 alumni in our network, and these are people who live and work in DC ... they do informational interviews, they hire Penn interns, we go to dinner.”

Penn Wharton PPI has looked to build on what Chang referred to as the “very robust alumni network and network of internships” of Penn in Washington.

“We certainly look to alumni from all the schools and that is a big piece of our outreach,” Chang added. “We are trying to be thoughtful in how we complement those activities that have already existed here, and how we can build on it and leverage it.”

In addition to Penn’s presence in D.C., Penn’s upper level administration on campus has increasingly come from political backgrounds. Penn President Amy Gutmann taught political science at Princeton University for nearly 30 years, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Penn David L. Cohen is Comcast’s chief lobbyist and an Obama confidant and newly appointed Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garret has an academic background in political economy.

“I want kids to go to Washington,” Martinez said. “So if more people on campus are recognizing that that’s a valuable thing and they are willing to help kids get there, I’m all for it.”

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