Students find classroom is all around them in D.C.


David L. Dodds

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Students find classroom is all around them in D.C.

University of North Dakota Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Administration Dana Harsell recalls chatting a few years ago with a dean from one of those fancy public policy schools smack-dab in the heart of the Washington Beltway.

At the time, Harsell was in the nation's capital as part of an annual visit by UND business and public administration master's students and faculty. The dean, whose school routinely invites movers and shakers of Washington, D.C., to speak in its classrooms, was incredulous that students and faculty from a Midwest university could travel more than a 1,000 miles, drop in and get anything accomplished.

"How do you do it, I mean, where is your classroom?" the dean asked.

Harsell calmly answered, "This is our classroom," panning his arms across the sky to indicate everything around them was a learning opportunity for UND students.

"We take the student to all of these places and run them ragged," Harsell said. "They are so tired by the end of it, but they come away with a much better insight than they could ever get sitting in a traditional classroom. It's an enormous amount of work, but it's well worth it."

And that's what Harsell and his colleague UND Professor of Economics Patrick O'Neill have been doing this week – UND's spring break -- in Washington. The two have been leading 14 students in the Master of Public Administration and the Master of Business Administration program around the district to meet and network with people who do for real what they only read about in textbooks back in Grand Forks.

Harsell said that sometimes the UND students get an up-close-and-personal look at major policy issues being hashed out in Congress or elsewhere in the Beltway. A couple years ago, healthcare reform was the hot topic, and this year everyone is dealing with sequestration, he said.

On the students busy agenda this week are appointments with business leaders, governments officials and lobbyists for organizations such as Major League Baseball, the American Beverage Association, the Department of Homeland Security, General Services Administration, International Trade Administration, National Endowment for the Arts, FDIC, IBM, General Mills and Cargill.

"Each day has its own high points," O'Neill said. "Many of the students found the Major League Baseball lobbyist (Lucy Calautti, senior adviser with Baker & Hostetler LLP, and wife of Kent Conrad, former U.S. senator from North Dakota) to be very interesting. She is just full of life even when she's not talking about baseball -- the students found her to be fantastic."

O'Neill said the students also get a chance to meet members of North Dakota's congressional delegation and agency leaders who have roots in North Dakota, including Tony Clark, a former North Dakota Public Service Commissioner who now serves as a commissioner on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Another person they were impressed with, O'Neill said, was Peggy Kuhn, a UND alumna, Truman Scholar, and current legislative advisor for the FDIC. They also got to meet Austin Redington, another UND alum who now works as an analyst for the International Trade Administration. Redington came to Washington, D.C., on a similar UND spring break tour, and later, secured an internship with the ITA that eventually led to where he is now.

O'Neill said the annual visit to Washington is part of the College of Business and Public Administration master's course "Government and Business," a team-taught class that is a melding of economics and political science.

"We show students the interaction between government and business and how they work together and how sometimes they can work at odds," O'Neill said. "And during our trip, we can show them first-hand how everything comes together with those entities right here in Washington, D.C."

O'Neill said the course launched 11 years ago thanks to former College of Business and Public Administration alumnus Ken Mellem and a friend who worked as a federal lobbyist. The idea eventually took form and was launched under UND emeriti faculty Rob and Mary Kweit. In fact, he said, during this year's visit , at a UND Alumni Association Reception, students and faculty personally honored the Kweits.

David Dodds

University Relations writer

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