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Korbel in DC Program Offers Students a Taste of Nation’s Capital

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Alyssa Hurst

Feature  •
US Capitol

Sitting in class at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Mackenzie Fallt was elbow deep in coursework, but she had an inkling that she might be able to absorb even more.

“I decided that after learning about issues influenced by U.S. domestic and foreign policy during classes at Korbel, it would be useful to actually understand how policy is created,” she says.

So in the fall of 2019, Fallt headed to the nation’s capital to take part in the Korbel in D.C. program. Over the past 20 years, the program has sent 10 to 20 students a year to Washington, D.C., to experience life on “the hill.”

During their semester there, students are expected to work an internship during the day (typically a full 8 a.m.-5 p.m. schedule) while attending courses in the evenings. The program is offered in partnership with Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

“I was drawn to the Korbel in D.C. program because of its location …  and the practitioners that we would be learning from,” Fallt says. “I love Denver, but I wanted to see if I would enjoy living and working in that environment.”

Understanding the intricacies of life in the District is the program’s ultimate goal, says Kevin Archer, director of curricular partnerships and assistant dean of undergraduate programs in the Korbel School.

“The program works well for students who think they want to work in D.C., but they don't have much experience in D.C.,” Archer says. “This is a great way to connect to that world without having to commit to it.”

This can be crucial to a student’s success post-graduation, he says. Because while Washington, D.C., presents a unique environment steeped in politics and rife with opportunity, it’s not for everyone.

Students aren’t always ready for “everything being connected to politics,” Archer says. “Politics is what runs D.C. And for most of us, that's not what runs our lives. There are no sidelines in D.C. Every single person out there is in the game.”

For those who find a fit in Washington, like Fallt, the experience offers not only a satisfying taste of a new and exciting world, but also a welcome kickstart to career opportunities. Fallt spent her time in the Korbel in D.C. program interning for U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado’s 7th Congressional District, and she immediately saw a future in the city.

Their team was very supportive of my growth as an intern, and I was given every opportunity to attend committee hearings and briefings and to sit in on stakeholder meetings,” Fallt says. “In one week, I could learn about different facets of global health, foreign affairs, student loans, health care and other issues, all from different perspectives and experts. It was a great experience to show me what opportunities existed and to feel out what my own career could look like.”

After graduating, she decided to stay in Washington and secured a job with Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, where she currently works as a legislative assistant.

This is not an uncommon outcome, Archer says. He estimates that 90% of Korbel in D.C. participants have successfully leaned on their internships or new connections to find positions after their time at Korbel has ended.

In the meantime, Korbel in D.C. students often return to finish what’s left of their coursework in Denver and bring with them new expertise.

“They bring a level of knowledge about D.C. and how D.C. works that, for anyone who hasn't lived in D.C., they just can't possibly know this,” Archer says. “A lot of our students will finish their degrees, load up their cars and head for Washington, D.C., and our Korbel in D.C. students bring that knowledge level of what it's like to be an intern there, what it's like to live and work there, and students talk to them about it.”