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Villanova’s Washington Minimester Program Celebrates 50th Year

Unique three-week immersion program connects students with DC power brokers

Villanova, PA – It was the spring of 1972. President Richard M. Nixon was in office. The U.S. was still involved in the Vietnam War and Watergate hadn’t happened yet. That spring, a group of Villanova students and professors left campus to spend three weeks in Washington, D.C., officially launching Villanova’s Washington Minimester, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The annual three-week program is an opportunity for Villanova students to meet policymakers, lobbyists, pollsters, staffers and other Washingtonians who influence the political process from behind the scenes. Open to all Villanova students, it serves as a three-credit course and consists of roughly 35 seminars with people whose daily decisions make the Federal government run.

“Many universities offer Washington programs, but to my knowledge only Villanova offers an experience like the Minimester—a political immersion program with extremely high-level access,” says Matthew Kerbel, PhD, professor of Political Science and the program’s faculty advisor for the past 15 years.

“Over the years, we’ve had the chance to talk to senior White House aides in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the East Wing, meet with senators and representatives and clerks at the Supreme Court. We’ve had sessions with journalists on the set of ‘Meet the Press’ and with leaders of the Republican whip operation on the floor of the House. We’ve spoken with Reince Priebus when he was chair of the RNC and Howard Dean when he was chair of the DNC. We’ve met [former] House Speaker Boehner and [former] House Speaker Ryan on their private balcony overlooking the Mall and attended a small gathering with President Obama.”

“Washington is filled with Villanova Minimester alums, to the point where there is something of a Minimester network in D.C.,” Dr. Kerbel says. The typical career path starts in Congress, with Minimester students starting out as congressional interns while they’re still at Villanova, then parlaying that experience into entry-level jobs in the House or Senate after graduation.

“From there, it’s a matter of time before our alums work their way to more senior positions in congressional offices or on committee staffs. Some stay on the Hill, others move down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, or to departments and agencies like the State Department and Department of the Interior. Minimester alums have worked for the national party committees and in the media. Some have become lobbyists. We’ve even had a Minimester marriage—two Washington professionals who met on the program!”

One half of that couple is Meghan Rodgers ’13 CLAS, whose Washington career has included working as communications director for a Florida congressman and as deputy communications director for the USDA. She is now senior vice president of communications for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. “As a Political Science major, I always thought I wanted to work in D.C., but after participating in the Washington Minimester after my freshman year, I knew that was my goal,” she says. “I spent the rest of my Villanova years working towards it using the contacts I made during that program. I even met my husband in the program, and we got married at Villanova last year. Clearly it had a big impact on my career and my life!”

Dr. Kerbel gives great credit to his predecessor, the late Jeffrey Hahn, PhD, professor emeritus, Political Science, who took over the Washington Minimester in 1977 and ran it for 30 years. “He built the foundation that has made the Minimester so successful and so special,” Dr. Kerbel says. “I’ve had the privilege to run it for fifteen years, and over that time we have refined its academic focus, added a professional development component, and established fellowships to ensure that cost would not be an obstacle to attendance.”

This May, Dr. Kerbel will take yet another group of 15 students to the U.S. capital. “For me, the magic of the Minimester is watching my students fall in love with Washington,” he says. “For everyone, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have proximity to the corridors of power. For some, it’s a defining moment in their career search. These are the students who decide to stay. Every year, someone tells me that the Washington Minimester changed their life.”

About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.