Fifteen students in the Department of Communication and Sociology at Abilene Christian University spent a portion of their Christmas break in Washington, D.C., for a week of learning more about the current political landscape of the United States.
The ACU students were part of about 300 students from across the country who attended the Inside Washington seminar offered by The Washington Center (TWC). TWC is the largest independent, nonprofit provider of experiential education programs in the United States with academic seminars provided each year for students.
Dr. Lynette Sharp Penya, professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Sociology, accompanied her students on the trip for the third time. Students learned about the current political landscape and ways to improve democracy from a variety of high-profile plenary speakers.
In addition, students had the opportunity to visit with representatives from various organizations in D.C. such as the American Bar Association Commission on Immigration and the Baptist Joint Committee. This year’s students were able to experience a historic 15 rounds of voting in the House of Representatives before the new speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, was elected on Jan. 7.
“It was an incredible experiential learning experience,” Penya said. “It is always interesting being in D.C. to witness what is going on in politics up close and behind the scenes. We look forward to taking ACU students to Washington, D.C., in January 2025 for The Washington Center’s Presidential Inauguration Seminar.”
Ashlee Reed, a junior communication major from Cibolo, Texas, said she first became interested in government when she attended the 2018 Girls State session where high school girls learn more about city and state governments. The recent trip to TWC further enveloped her passion for democracy.
“It was wonderful to be a part of another program that is working to strengthen our democracy,” Reed said.
Students learned about a variety of topics including ethical journalism, foreign involvement, voter turnout and the economy. Gracyn McGathy, senior sociology major from Cedar Park, said she now better understands the United States’ current climate of democracy. She plans to pursue a career in law and advocating for the underprivileged.
McGathy and her colleagues met and spoke with Cynthia Akuetteh, the recently retired U.S. Ambassador to Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, as well as Pat Alsup, the former U.S Ambassador to The Gambia.
“I’m excited to take this experience home with me and use my education to better my local community and ACU,” McGathy said.
— Connor Mullins
Jan. 23, 2023