GU Politics Reflects on Transformative Inaugural Year

Mo Elliethee

Mo Elliethee

As the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service approaches the end of its inaugural year on campus, its leaders, fellows and student participants reflect on the institute’s accomplishments since it opened its doors in August 2015.

In the past year, the institute, an affiliate of the McCourt School of Public Policy, hosted more than 60 speakers, launched its fellows program and created the student strategy teams program. GU Politics also established a mentorship program, matching students with professionals pursuing careers in line with their own ambitions.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Martin O’Malley (D-Md.), former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina and former senior advisor to President Barack Obama Dan Pfeiffer (COL ’98) among many others, have spoken to students and community members throughout the year.

Funded by the McCourt gift, GU Politics is modeled closely off the Institute of Politics at Harvard University and the University of Chicago Institute Of Politics.

According to Executive Director of GU Politics Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), there was a commitment upon founding the McCourt School in 2013 to eventually launch a program like GU Politics.

“There has never been one in Washington, let alone at Georgetown. If there was ever a town that needed to study how politics is really applied, it’s this one,” Elleithee said.

Having served as the communications director of the Democratic National Committee, Elleithee and the GU Politics Staff were given 11 weeks to get the program off the ground before the beginning of the academic year. Although they were crunched for time, the team solidified its major goals from the beginning: to provide students with behind-the-scenes access to prominent political figures so they understand how politics works.

According to Elleithee, today’s college students are not engaged with politics and do not see it as a vehicle for public service.

“The notion that I’m going to come in here, with my gray hair and after 20 years in the business, to teach you how to do politics is actually quite laughable. I’m one of the guys who broke it,” Elleithee said. “So our approach it to pull back the curtain and provide the access. I’ll bring in everyone I know from both sides of the aisle, and we’ll help you understand how it’s done.”

GU Politics created several speaker series, including Reflections On Running, which hosted former presidential candidates, Women & Politics, which featured prominent female politicians, and the HIPPsters Series, which brought Georgetown alumni in politics back on campus to share their experiences.

GU Politics Operations and Student Engagement Manager Hanna Hope said conversations with former advisors for Dr. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign Barry Bennett and Doug Watts exemplified the institute’s goal of engaging in honest conversations.

“They just gave such unvarnished thoughts on what it was like to work for Ben Carson during the election cycle and then [two days later] Bennett was in the news because he had become a senior advisor to Donald Trump. They said things that I don’t think you would normally ever have a chance to hear because they just didn’t filter their thoughts,” Hope said.

The institute’s fellows program was another highlight from this year. The five fellows, including former White House Deputy Director of Political Affairs Patrick Dillon and former Deputy Campaign Manager of the Romney 2012 campaign Katie Packer, frequently engage in discussion sessions and weekly office hours where they share their opinions and experiences with students.

Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast Jackie Kucinich is one of the fellows this semester, and held discussions focused on the presidential primary process. Kucinich said she was impressed with the engagement and interest she saw from students and the larger community.

“[GU Politics] has a reputation already for being a premiere place to be and a premiere place to speak. Part of that is Georgetown’s reputation already, but you can’t discount the people who are working here and how extraordinary it is that they’ve gotten this thing off the ground and that people are talking about it in a positive way and want to be a part of it,” Kucinich said.

As part of Kucinich’s student strategy team, which is responsible for promoting and organizing interactions between fellows and the rest of the student body, Ellie Singer (COL ’18) expressed how working directly with GU Politics fellows and programs has exposed her to ways politics and academic can intersect.

“Becoming part of the GU Politics fold, I’ve been exposed to a lot of people who are downtown and do this for a living, and it’s really interesting to see how things we’re studying here actually play out in real life,” Singer said.

Agustin Porres (GRD ’16), who serves as chief of staff on the strategy team of fellow and former President of the Republic of Costa Rica Laura Chinchilla, said he enjoys how GU Politics explores international topics in depth and values the direct interactions he has had with political figures.

“You may think someone like a former president is so far away from you, and then suddenly you’re having dinner with them. GU Politics gives you the experiences that make you feel prepared to discuss with politicians,” Porres said. “This experience has strengthened my capabilities for sure.”

Elleithee said he experienced uncertainty heading into GU Politics’ first year as to how he could involve individuals with different political backgrounds, especially considering his personal ties to the Democratic Party. According to Elleithee, others encouraged him to establish a nonpartisan identity as a solution, which he objected to.

“Why would we want to dissuade people from fighting passionately for what they believe in? So what happens today, when one side wins and one side loses, and we can’t find a common ground? Everyone takes their ball and goes home, or they start tweeting insults at one another,” Elleithee said. “The answer is not to lose our passion or our world views. The answer is to figure out how to work through them.”

Georgetown students have already felt the impact of GU Politics on campus. Many have participated in strategy teams for the institute’s fellows while others have also had opportunities participate in GU Politics’ sponsored events, including Republican and Democratic presidential debate watch parties, which drew crowds of approximately 400 people in October and November.

As the semester comes to a close, GU Politics continues to grow and increase its footprint on campus. Over the summer, GU Politics will construct a permanent office space in the basement of Healy Hall, with a designated political living room with televisions constantly streaming news. According to Hope, the room serves as a space for students to study and chat about politics with fellows.

The initiative will also continue to host several small programming events throughout the year, with an added goal of expanding its programming scope to include international and local politics.
“I also want to do a local politics vertical – not just D.C., but generally. If there’s a place where politics and public service meet, it’s on the ground in local governments around the country,” Elleithee said.

As the institute continues to develop, Hope said believes GU Politics will grow to be an integral part of the Georgetown experience.

“I think that has really been our goal, to make GU Politics feel like a part of Georgetown in such a way that people can’t remember what their Georgetown experience was like before GU Politics,” Hope said. “I think we have found that, in many ways, maybe we’re accomplishing that a little sooner than we thought.”

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