A Semester in our Nation's Capital

Posted by Kyla Pigoni on Saturday, March 30, 2013

By Elizabeth Stoltz, '13

Two classes. One research paper. One internship. One half-marathon. One spotting of President Obama’s motorcade. Countless new friends made, monuments run by and museums explored. My fall semester in Washington D.C. shaped me, challenged me and inspired me more than I could have ever imagined.

My average week in Washington D.C. looked something like this…

Monday through Wednesday, I’d wake up early to catch up on the news before walking to my internship at Ketchum, a global public relations firm, on its Global Research & Analytics team. After spending the day developing research-driven insights for various prospective and current clients and enjoying lunch with my intern friends, I’d pack up and walk home. Fortunately for me, the Cornell Center in Washington (Ithaca College’s affiliate D.C. program) was located in the heart of Dupont Circle, less than half a mile from my internship’s office.

Upon arriving home, my roommate and fellow IC student Stephanie Lavallato and I would lace up our shoes, grab our headphones and hit the streets running. We’d run for miles at a time, laughing, sightseeing…and more often than not, getting lost. We were training for the Navy & Air Force half marathon, the first half marathon of our lives, and for me, D.C. provided the most astounding running course. Leaving from the Dupont neighborhood meant I could be at the White House in ten minutes, the Washington Monument in fifteen, and running around the beautiful Tidal Basin in forty-five and circling back around the Lincoln Memorial within an hour.

Thursdays and Fridays, our evening runs switched to the morning, as we had class at 10 a.m. Thursday mornings were spent discussing and debating fall’s most pressing political conversation – who would become the nation’s next president? Our 8-credit class, Politics & Policy, highlighted the electoral and policy-making process, party views and our public policy research papers (more on that later). Fridays, I was wisped away to the world of American Shakespeare, where we explored how Shakespeare’s works have been tailored to American audiences and how do we – the audience – derive such different meanings from the same plays?

However, what was perhaps the most defining and rewarding element of my semester in Washington was the writing of my capstone research paper. At the Cornell in Washington program, students are challenged to dig into an area of public policy and produce an empirical research paper, which is ultimately presented to our professor, TAs and peers. The most intensive research paper of my academic career, most evenings and weekends were spent researching, writing or meeting to discuss with my TA.

I spent my semester exploring the extent to which first ladies’ initiatives have aligned with the respective president’s domestic social policies, examining how first ladies’ behaviors, perceptions and legacies differ based on political party and defining the policy implications of this study’s findings. Ultimately, my final paper, Beyond the Pillow Talk: How Gender, Media and Politics Shape the Role and Legacy of First Ladies, 1961-2012, will be presented at the National Council on Undergraduate Research and the Whalen Symposium. Though it meant a lot of late nights and early mornings, I cannot be more grateful for the experience. It allowed me to totally immerse myself in an area of study, craft my skills as a researcher and writer and spark my interest in pursuing graduate school. I had high hopes that studying the first ladies would be my foot in the door to meet Michelle Obama, but that dream has yet to pan out…

To me, there was something incredible about remembering that as I read and watched the news, debated politics and researched the first ladies, these policy- and headline-makers were just a ten minute walk away. There was one morning that this realization became even clearer. I woke up to an email announcing that Amnesty International was hosting an XX Factor: Town Hall on Women’s Rights conference that day. To my delight, the conference was only a fifteen-minute walk away! I was thrilled to have the opportunity to spend an entire day surrounded by leading women’s rights activists from around the world and hear Eve Ensler share her vision for One Billion Rising. It was at that moment I realized the enormity of the opportunities available to me in Washington D.C. It’s an energizing city, an inspiring one, and I can’t be more thankful for the opportunity to learn, work and live in it.