You can go most anywhere in the city, mention American University’s Washington Semester Program, and find alumni who will tell you that it changed their lives. From the first cohort of students, who arrived in 1947 to explore American government and politics, to today, our students – and more than 50,000 alumni -- have transformed their lives and those around them.
This program pioneered experiential learning. It is the longest running, and possibly the first, to combine academics with internships. That kind of innovative thinking still drives the School of Professional & Extended Studies (SPExS). Today, students of all ages can choose from a variety of experiential learning programs modelled on the Washington Semester. The GAP program for high school graduates and the Washington Mentorship Program for college freshmen prepare students for a successful college career. The Graduate Professional Studies (formerly known as the Graduate Gateway Program), the English Language & Training Academy, and for several decades, the Washington Internships for Native Students (WINS) program, have helped non-traditional students carve a successful educational and career path. And now, we offer professional and graduate education to mid-career professionals.
Two characteristics distinguish our approach: practical, work-based learning opportunities and collaborative partnerships that span more than 3000 employers and 150-plus academic institutions around the world. For seventy years, our alumni have built successful careers and lives with the transformational skills and professional networks acquired through their semester, year or degree programs. We proudly celebrate their – your -- accomplishments in this publication, and on our website (http://www.american.edu/spexs/). In these pages, you can reminisce about your own days in Washington, and the friends and associates you found through one of our programs.
Today’s headlines call for greater career readiness, more apprenticeships and internships. We need the leadership skills and collaborative work training that have been -- and always will be -- a hallmark of all our programs.
Our alumni serve as mentors and internship supervisors, as subject matter experts in and out of the classroom. We look for your ideas on how to keep our programs relevant. We want you to share your time and energy with us to help ensure that the next seventy years of learners can have the same kind of life-changing learning experience that you had. And to make these opportunities accessible to all, we would appreciate your financial support, as well [include links to both SPExS dean’s fund and David C. Brown fund]. I am excited about the next seventy years, and what we can accomplish together.
I was a little bit intimidated coming to Washington in 1961 for something called The Washington Semester Program.
I was a senior at the Western College for Women. Here I was coming to the nation's capital - the big city. I was arriving at a co-ed school and joining students from all over the country.
But I also was coming at one of the most exciting times for a young person to be in Washington - President John F. Kennedy's presidency. I so vividly recall my time here - meeting such important people and learning how the federal government worked.
By the time I left, I was in love with politics and, in the back of my mind, I wanted to get back to D.C. After graduating, I used the direction and confidence I got with the Washington Semester to join Kennedy's Peace Corps, helping build an agricultural college in Iran. That launched me on a career that took me to wonderful places in academia and government.
By the time I retired, I had been assistant secretary for policy at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Carter administration, president of Hunter College, and chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1992 President Bill Clinton invited me to join his Cabinet as secretary of Health and Human Services. It was a dream come true 30 years after my Washington Semester.
After my government service, I became president of the University of Miami in Florida. Since the Washington Semester had given me my love for public service, I was eager for Miami to take advantage of it. We initiated a special relationship with the School of Professional & Extended Studies to send as many as 50 of our first semester freshmen to Washington to start their academic careers with similar opportunities.
That's why I was pleased when Dean Carola Weil invited me to be the honorary chair of the Alumni Engagement Campaign. I know that alumni all over Washington, the nation and the world had similar experiences. The Washington Semester changed their lives, just as it changed mine. I am sure they will want to reconnect with it to see that it is still going strong with the same commitment to excellence in experiential learning.
In these challenging times for higher education, with rising costs, supporting the Washington Semester Program is more important than ever. More students from a wider variety of backgrounds need this opportunity. That's why I hope that the Dave Brown scholarship, announced for the 70th anniversary, will give the next generation of students the same opportunities that have helped thousands who have come before them.