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A Lasting Influence: TFAS Summer Program Transforms Student Leaders

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After an impactful eight weeks in the nation’s capital, D.C. Academic Internship Program participants joined the TFAS Alumni Network during a closing ceremony on July 29. The cohort of over 250 in-person students and 30 virtual participants heard from a variety of industry professionals this summer on issues like free speech, media bias, capitalism and U.S. foreign relations. They also forged connections with TFAS alumni through career exploration seminars and networking sessions.

Through this transformative program, TFAS students intern at the nation’s leading think tanks, nonprofits, law firms and government offices while simultaneously taking upper-level economics courses with world-class TFAS faculty at George Mason University. The comprehensive program combines academic courses, internships, housing, site briefings, guest lectures, a professional development series and a one-on-one mentorship program.

The TFAS Network

D.C. Summer Programs students learn about the “economic way of thinking” through their government and economics courses.

During the 2021 closing ceremony, TFAS alumna Sarah Petrin ’95 shared keynote remarks on the impact of the program on her professional and personal development. Author of “Bring Rain: Helping Humanity in Crisis,” Petrin shared the importance of making a difference, taking risks, and being open-minded to opportunities for growth.

“What you have accomplished by coming here is no small thing,” Petrin said. “By spending a hot summer in Washington, D.C., to expand your education and grow your professional network, you have already set yourself apart from your peers. Being here shows that you are willing to go the extra mile to learn and to grow. This is something you will need to do your whole life.”

Life-Changing Impact

Summer programming began on June 4, and within the first two weeks students heard from esteemed business leaders, journalists and policy professionals, including:

TFAS students heard from Senator Rand Paul on the importance of free markets and individual liberty for the first summer 2021 Capitol Hill Lecture.

TFAS alumni congressmen David Rouzer ’93, ’94 and David Kustoff ’89 also joined the students to share the life-changing impact of participating in TFAS programs on their careers in the United States Congress.

“Had I not been introduced to The Fund for American Studies, I probably would not be in the U.S. Congress today,” Congressman Rouzer said during a virtual seminar in June.

These lectures and events gave students the chance to make vital career connections, open their minds to new ideas and explore a variety of interesting topics. Throughout the remainder of the summer, TFAS students heard from more impressive speakers, including:

Teaching “How to Think,” Not “What to Think”

Best-selling author and economic commentator Amity Shlaes also shared insights with TFAS students during the summer 2021 Lev Dobriansky Lecture on Political Economy on Tuesday, July 20. Shlaes discussed her book “The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression,” which shattered widely held myths about the Great Depression and the New Deal policies. She recounted how she wrote the book against the advice of her newspaper editor in an act of personal “rebellion,” encouraging students in the audience to use “productive rebelliousness” to accomplish challenging goals in life.

During week four of the summer 2021 D.C. Academic Internship Program, students heard from columnist at The Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley, at the annual Neal B. Freeman guest lecture.

“I encourage you to explore your own rebellion because it may be the thing that takes you where you want to go,” Shlaes told students.

Another special lecture offered by TFAS each year is the Neal B. Freeman All-Student Guest Lecture, sponsored by the generous support of TFAS friend and businessman Neal B. Freeman. The speaker for this year’s lecture was The Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Riley, who addressed students and TFAS board members on “Why Thomas Sowell Matters.”

“On a lot of campuses, students are being told what to think instead of how to think,” Riley said during the lecture. “Sowell is a rare species because he has consistently sought out the truth, wherever it leads, even if the truth is unpopular.”

In addition to these special guest lectures and seminars, program participants also attended the annual TFAS Capitol Hill Lecture Series. Hosted in partnership with the Office of Senator Rand Paul, this year’s lecture series included remarks from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley and Georgetown University Law Center Professor Randy Barnett. Each of these speakers took the podium to share their thoughts on salient issues like free speech, constitutional originalism and censorship in the media.

Instilling the Value of Civility

TFAS D.C. Summer Programs offer an invaluable opportunity for students to gain insight and knowledge outside of their university curriculum. One of the most important values TFAS promotes is civil discourse, a key component of democracy. This year, TFAS and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) worked together to add Braver Angels debates to the TFAS program schedule. With the addition of these student-led debates, program participants are able to engage civilly with one another on well-researched issues pertinent to today’s political and economic climate.

Business + Government Relations students discussed the benefits and consequences of raising the federal minimum wage for their Braver Angels Debate.

Public Policy + Economics student Jonathan Voos ’21 said the debates showed him the importance of having difficult conversations and learning from differing views on key issues.

“I enjoyed that I learned new things and heard ideas I hadn’t heard before,” Voos said. “While I don’t agree with everything that was shared, I still learned a lot and I’m glad we had the opportunity to respectfully debate such a salient topic.”

The Braver Angels team said that TFAS students successfully maintained civil dialogue and asked respectful questions over the course of the debates. Daniel Acosta Rivas, the program manager for college debates and discourse at ACTA, had glowing remarks for the Journalism + Communications students after their debate.

“This was one of the most profound displays of truth and beauty I’ve ever seen at one of these debates,” he said. “I applaud all of you for your determination in the pursuit of truth.”

Living, Learning and Interning in the Capital City

Alongside these lectures, debates and internships at congressional offices, policy think tanks, news publications, and nonprofits across The District, TFAS students took academic courses at George Mason University from world-class TFAS faculty. The intensive classes taught by TFAS professors Dr. Anne Bradley, Dr. Don Boudreaux, Dr. Christopher Coyne, Dr. Richard Boyd, Karen Czarnecki ’88, Dr. Richard Benedetto, Dr. Jonathan Askonas, and Dr. Rosolino Candela related important economic principles to current events in our government and around the world.

Students take a group photo on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial during a tour of the National Mall.

University of Tulsa student Asa Scott ’21 shared that his economics class with Dr. Christopher Coyne encouraged him to pursue healthcare policy as a career.

“Two years ago, when I began at the University of Tulsa, I had no clue what I wanted to study. Gradually, my passions for political science and chemistry gave rise to one specific interest in healthcare policy,” Scott shared. “Thanks to my TFAS program, this interest has quickly transformed into a potential career path. My class, ‘Economic Problems and Public Policies’ taught by Dr. Chris Coyne, opened my eyes to another dimension of policy and political science – a study of incentives and purposeful human action in the presence of choices, which Dr. Coyne regularly referred to as the ‘economic way of thinking.'”

Unique to students in D.C. was the opportunity to explore the city’s historical sights. Each weekend this summer, students attended organized tours of The District’s most famous landmarks, museums, and neighborhoods, including the National Mall, Lincoln’s Cottage, Roosevelt Island, Georgetown and more.

TFAS students journeyed across Roosevelt Island for a guided morning hike.

TFAS D.C. Academic Internship Programs bring together top students from across the country and around the world for an eight-week academic internship experience in the nation’s capital. Participants choose from a variety of program tracks based on their areas of interest and experience, and leave the summer with new knowledge and skills as well as a network of over 43,000 TFAS alumni.

View more photos from the summer and read more about the summer 2021 program at the links below.

TFAS Summer 2021

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Below is a snapshot of the summer programs in Washington, D.C. To see more photos from the summer, visit us on social media.

D.C. Summer Program 2021

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Back to Class: TFAS to Welcome Students In Person for Summer Programs

Week Two of TFAS – Living, Learning and Interning in Washington, D.C.

Week Three of TFAS – Living, Learning and Interning in Washington, D.C.

Weeks Four and Five of TFAS – Living, Learning and Interning in Washington, D.C.

Week Six of TFAS – Living, Learning and Interning in Washington, D.C.

Braver Angels Debates Encourage Civil Discourse in TFAS Classroom

TFAS Students Learn About "The Forgotten Man"

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