With the introduction of the Institute of Politics and Public Service inaugural Fellows Program class, the center brings leaders from government and the media to campus to lead discussions, interact with students and speak on a variety of current political issues.
The IPPS, which was launched in August, is the McCourt School of Public Policy’s newest initiative, aiming to engage students in the current political landscape.
The five inaugural fellows include Luis Fortuño, the former governor of Puerto Rico, Brianna Keilar, a CNN senior political correspondent, Charlie Spies, an election law attorney at Clark Hill, John Stanton, BuzzFeed’s D.C. bureau chief and Buffy Wicks, national director of Operation Vote and former senior staff member for President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.
Keilar said she is particularly looking forward to hearing students’ perspectives on the 2016 presidential election.
“I’ve been really impressed so far with how much attention students really do pay to the process,” Keilar said. “They have a lot of interesting opinions that are kind of all over the map. … I’m hoping I can provide students with a bridge into the political world that they’re living right next to.”
Wicks, who worked for Obama for six years, said she hopes her experiences in politics will provide valuable insight for the students.
“I think what we can offer is sort of lift the hood a little bit on the inner workings of politics or media or what we do, and kind of shed some light on how things actually happen,” Wicks said. “I’m inspired by these students; I think it’s a very active campus. … For those of us who have worked in the business a long time, it’s really refreshing to be around that.”
In the next two months, each fellow will lead a 90-minute discussion group on today’s political landscape, open to students from any school in the university.
Additionally, the fellows will interact with and receive advice from student strategy teams, comprised of small groups of students who will conduct research for their discussion sessions and promote the program on campus. Applications to join these teams closed Sept. 18 and final selections will be announced sometime this week.
The teams will also participate in a “Political Hackathon,” in which fellows and students work together to develop solutions for a prevalent issue in politics. The IPPS will publish students’ ideas on its website.
For Stanton, the program is an opportunity to get an honest opinion from an up-and-coming generation of students.
“It’s going to be fun to talk, frankly, through some of the ideas about how technology and young people are shaping politics now,” Stanton said. “How politics is covered by us, and also to get the thoughts of the students about those issues and about how things are playing out.”
Fortuño highlighted how he sees the program as an opportunity to shape both his and the students’ understanding of politics today.
“We’re going to have a great opportunity to challenge perhaps the views that some students may have, and to have them challenge ours,” Fortuño said. “In that process I believe all of us will learn from each other as to how the process operates.”
Spies similarly emphasized that the program is a chance for students and fellows to share their views on the workings of the political system.
“I am excited about the Fellows Program because it’s an opportunity to interact with students and correct some misconceptions about the political process, but also learn what students are currently focused on,” Spies said. “I hope we have a diverse group of students and viewpoints.”
Several of the fellows also touched on possible skepticism from students regarding our current political system and expressed hope that the program could address some of these stereotypes.
Keilar said that the program could quell any student hesitancy about getting involved in politics.
“Once you get into some of the details and you start to look at it in a more molecular way, I think that takes away some of the mystique, which creates some of the mistrust,” Keilar said. “They get some of their questions answered and they can really see … what parts they really like, what parts they don’t like, what parts are broken and therefore what parts their generation has to figure out a way to fix.”
Spies added that the program can facilitate discussions that will potentially counter this student skepticism.
“Mistrust is currently based on ideological opposition to whatever office-holder people don’t like,” Spies said. “I believe that there is a cause or a leader that anyone at Georgetown could get behind. Hopefully we can work together to figure out who those people and causes are.”
Wicks stressed that students have led some of the most innovative movements in political history and that they should feel like they have the power to make substantive change in politics.
“I think students are often at the forefront of social change in this country on a lot of different issues, in a lot of different movements over the history of this country,” Wicks said. “I think what we hope to do here is also provide other discussions about avenues of ways to get involved.”
Stanton agreed that students often do not realize their influence on politics.
“They don’t realize that the tools to do it are already existent, in fact they are very much using them, much more than any other generation,” Stanton said. “If you look at Black Lives Matter, or you look at the Arab Spring, those were things that were created essentially by young people using the technologies that young people are using on this campus right now.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Charlie Spies is currently an attorney for the Republican National Committee. Spies previously served as a counsel to the RNC.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.