New Institute Targets Youth Engagement

The McCourt School of Public Policy will launch the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service this fall, led by former Democratic National Committee Director of Communications Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), to foster public service and civic engagement.

McCourt School Dean Edward Montgomery said he believes that the Institute for Politics and Public Service builds on the historical strength of the McCourt School in policy analysis and management.

“We are going to build a massive data institute and trying to think about how to use a new type of data that’s becoming available to think about public policy problems. That’s one pillar we stood on,” Montgomery said. “The twin to the new data institute is the new Institute of Politics and Public Service, where students and faculties will be engaged with the process of getting things implemented. These are the twin pillars on which the school will rest as we specialize in what to do and how to get it done.”

Drawn by the public service aspect of politics, Elleithee has served in senior positions in four presidential campaigns, including a role as senior spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, since graduating from Georgetown in 1994. Elleithee said he decided to transition to the academic world to explore different perspectives on politics.

“People who were practicing politics are sort of losing sense about what it’s all about. Too often I think I got so caught up in the daily back-and-forth that it’s easy for me to lose sight about what it’s about,” Elleithee said. “Something that has been weighing on me for a while is, how can it be better, how can we connect better and particularly how can we connect better with young people?”

Elleithee warned against further alienating the younger generation, who no longer necessarily considers politics a noble channel of service. He said it is vital that politicians explore new ways to reengage millennials and seize the learning opportunity to draw inspiration from the younger generation.

“Too often in politics, we demand that people come to us. That’s not how young people communicate,” Elleithee said. “I rather go to them, bring politics to them, hear from them and have a real dialogue where people like me can share our experience, and at the same time we can learn from students.”

The new institute will soon roll out a series of initiatives, which include the flagship fellowship program that will be unveiled this fall. The fellowship connects McCourt School students with prominent political leaders who expressed interest in “going back to school.” Five fellows each semester will take classes, engage in discussions and host conversations with students and student groups. This semester’s group of fellows includes Buzzfeed’s D.C. Bureau Chief John Stanton, former Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño and CNN Senior Political Correspondent Brianna Keilar.

“Young people want to see something that’s real, thats authentic,” Fortuño said in a video on the institute’s website. “Everything [in politics] is so rehearsed. It’s like a bad movie where you know what’s going to happen next. There are great people involved in politics that are well-intentioned and trying to change our communities for the better.”

Elleithee envisions the new institute as a place not just for people to “come and tell war stories,” but to genuinely engage.

“We want to have the students actually mentor the fellows as much as the fellows mentor the students,” Elleithee said. “Maybe the fellows then go back to their real life, to their careers, to politics and think about it a little bit differently.”

Both Montgomery and Elleithee believe that Georgetown’s location in Washington, D.C. gives the school a unique ability to connect the students and the campus with those who are engaged in local policy.

“We are very fortunate here that we have got the whole city, and no shortage of people who want to come to speak on campus,” Montgomery said. “In order to get off the stage of Gaston [Hall] and really get in with the students, it’s all about the students leading the way.” Besides the fellowship program, the new institute also plans to introduce a speaker’s program, where public figures are brought to campus to speak with students, according to Elleithee. An internship program is also under discussion. Elleithee mentioned that they will look to the student body when deciding on new initiatives.

Montgomery said he believes the new institute will further enhance Georgetown’s reputation for convening great minds.

“Our university already has a long history and excellent reputation for being able to bring people from all big sectors and international arenas, and now we are adding public policy to that mix”, Montgomery said. “We have that great historical strength that we are adding another piece to — all things that can work together to create a bigger and more comprehensive program which we will just be a piece of.”



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