By Suzanne Woods, Director of the School of Public Service
In the aftermath of a gripping and controversial presidential election, it is perhaps no surprise that interest in the St. Albans School of Public Service 2017 program was stronger than ever, with a record 50 students attending (36 boarding, 14 day students) and an admissions yield rate of 96%. The SPS students came from as nearby as a few blocks away from the Cathedral Close and as far away as Saudi Arabia (SPS 2017 class included four international students). Through the extraordinary generosity of our donors, led by the SPS Board, we were able to fully meet the financial need of all applicants: 35% of the SPS students received financial aid, with the average award covering over 90% of the cost to attend SPS.
The students made the most of their four weeks at St. Albans. They took twenty-one full-group off-campus trips, including visits with a U.S. Supreme Court justice at the Supreme Court, a U.S. senator in the halls of the Capitol (literally! After trying to get into an unexpectedly locked meeting room, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse fielded questions from our eager students in a hallway), and the stunning National Museum of African American History and Culture. The trips included not one, but two trips to foreign soil: Australia and Germany (an aside to those worried about the impact on the SPS budget: the Australian and German Embassies, to which we traveled by school bus, are both legally considered foreign soil). In addition to the full-group trips, students had the opportunity to sign up for ten small group trips (named “Ted Trips” in honor of SPS faculty member Ted Eagles ’54, who organized them) to think tanks such as the Brookings Institution (for a panel discussion on the manufacturing economy outlook under the Trump administration), to the Heritage Foundation (to hear a talk by J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy), and to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) for a panel discussion on U.S.-China relations).
Plenty of work took place on campus, as well. The SPS Class of 2017 heard from twenty different speakers, including members of the media (from Politico, The National Review, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and National Public Radio); leaders of nonprofits such as D.C. Central Kitchen; three ambassadors; two judges; the senior media advisor for the Trump presidential campaign; a State Department expert on Russia; a former CIA officer who spoke on China; and St. Albans graduate Lieutenant Thomas (“Buddy”) Bardenwerper ’08 of the United States Coast Guard, who spoke about the Coast Guard’s mission and his own path to public service. In the classroom, the SPS Class of 2017 read eight case studies, ranging from an assessment of Russian social media influence efforts in the 2016 presidential election to a case study on philanthropic goals and challenges through the lens of Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa; took seminars on the economics of public policy (led by St. Albans-SPS faculty member Ted Eagles) and on public speaking (St. Albans-SPS faculty member Mark Bishop); and even took a statistical look at gerrymandering courtesy of a guest lecture from St. Albans faculty member Michael Hansen.
In addition to classes and speakers, the students took part in three simulations: (1) a mock Supreme Court argument of the travel-ban case, with students playing the roles of lawyers and justices; (2) a mock National Security Council meeting to discuss a response to North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, presided over by SPS Board Member (and, more to the point, former legal advisor to the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor) John B. Bellinger ’82; and (3) a multi-week mock political advocacy project in which students wrote legislation, “lobbied” members of Congress (played by the SPS faculty), held press conferences, and ultimately debated “in Congress” for the passage of their “bills.” Judging by the performances, if the SPS students wish to go into law, diplomacy, or politics, they have bright futures!
Best of all, the students were excited and grateful for all the opportunities that the greater St. Albans School and Cathedral Close community does so much to create for these visiting students each summer. As one student wrote: “The program spectacularly exceeded all of my expectations. Every day opened my eyes again and again—all the way to the speaker on our last day, who is running for Congress to try to make a difference. Every day expanded my horizons to what I hope to be a part of some day. You gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. Thank you.”