POWER PLAY; Politics as Major Is Magnet for area.(EDUCATION)

Article excerpt


Before Rebecca Hoffberg enrolled as a freshman at the University of Maryland at College Park, the Reisterstown, Md., teen already knew what she wanted to do after graduation. I want to go to law school, she says, and I thought a political science major would be a good route to take toward that goal. Rebecca is like just about half the political science majors at Washington-area colleges, who use the discipline as a steppingstone to law school. It's an increasingly popular major that allows graduates to explore opportunities in many fields, from active campaign work to public policy. Perhaps nowhere else is the major as valuable, or as popular, as when it is offered at a Washington-area school.

If you are interested in government and politics, then this is the place to be, says Wayne McIntosh, associate chairman and director of undergraduate programs for the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland. You get a completely different experience here than if you were majoring in political science at the University of Iowa.

Throughout the year, students majoring in political science or government at area institutions such as the University of Maryland and Georgetown, George Washington and American universities use their proximity to the centers of power to get key experience as interns in government, campaign and lobbying offices from Capitol Hill to Georgetown.

There is definitely a Washington draw, says Josh Mitchell, chairman of the Department of Government at Georgetown University. Our students see a constellation of a critical mass of opportunity here.

In this case, geography is as important as class size, course offerings or the number of times faculty members appear as talking heads on television.

Our students pursue internships very aggressively, says Christopher Deering, a professor and chairman of the Department of Political Science at George Washington University. And we have to practically beat off people who would like to use our students as interns.

That's a common refrain at most area colleges and institutions. Students from around the country and, indeed, around the world pour into Washington each year, attracted not only by high-caliber education, but also by the chance to work with high-profile individuals and organizations in government and politics.

Our students can walk down the street and see familiar faces, says Sarah Stiles, a professor in the School of Public Affairs and director of the Leadership Program at American University. And our students who have internships end up talking with people that they have only read about up to this point.

At American University, students in the leadership program at the School of Public Affairs travel beyond the classroom twice a week to see politics in action. Students have a chance to interact with members of Congress, listen to campaign managers' war stories and talk with lobbyists about policy.

They're talking with people who are practicing politics and making policy every day, Mrs. Stiles says. They have a keen sense that they are witnessing history.

That's not to say all area institutions treat the internship experience the same way. Some institutions, such as George Washington University, give some modest credit for a fairly structured experience at a Capitol Hill or downtown office.

Other institutions, including Georgetown University, treat such experiences as supplemental opportunities.

Not all worthy life experiences are worthy of academic credit, says Betty Andretta, associate dean and director of the undergraduate program of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, but they can be fabulous opportunities to try on different jobs or seek out a niche.

The possibility of an internship that offers the prospect of employment down the road is one reason area political science departments attract so many students, but interest in the field itself has been increasing steadily, particularly in the past few years. …