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“A Semester Like No Other”– TFAS Students Complete Capital Semester Program, Overcome Challenges Amid COVID-19

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One by one, the smiling faces popped on the screen as nine students from across the U.S. and Australia logged in to their virtual TFAS Capital Semester Closing Ceremony on Monday, May 4. Sixty minutes later, they left as TFAS alumni with a semester-worth of lessons, experiences and connections that will carry them into their careers as our next generation of responsible leaders.   

Looking Back on a Memorable Semester

It wasn’t the semester that TFAS or our new alumni expected. Students were halfway through their spring semester in Washington, D.C. when states began closing down businesses, doctors’ offices and academic institutions to combat the spread of COVID-19. The students soon found themselves facing a “semester like no other” as TFAS quickly transitioned to a virtual program.

Earlier this spring, Capital Semester students enjoyed an alumni-led tour of the U.S. Capitol building.

Though their time in D.C. was cut short, TFAS students made the most of their semester by exploring the U.S. capital city and getting to know their classmates from different parts of the world. Many TFAS sponsored events gave students the chance to network with industry professionals ranging from government to the private sector. 

While in D.C., Capital Semester students had the chance to participate in an alumni-led tour of the U.S. Capitol Building, a site visit to the West Wing of the White House and a number of networking events attended by TFAS alumni. Upon receiving news that the remainder of the program would have to be completed virtually, Flinders University student Shannon McSkimming ‘20 said she was initially concerned that she would no longer have access to these impactful events. However, she soon learned that TFAS would be offering most of the remaining briefings and lectures virtually.

Students tour West Wing
TFAS Director of Journalism + Communications and U.S. Programs Joe Starrs joins Spring Capital Semester students for a tour of the West Wing.

“I was excited to learn we’d still be having a lot of our planned events virtually, because even if we come back to D.C. another time on our own we still wouldn’t be able to participate in a lot of these events and seminars that we have access to through TFAS,” McSkimming explained. “The fact that we can do them virtually has been really cool because we haven’t really missed out on much at all by going online. It’s also been great to get to see all of my classmates in the program too.” 

McSkimming said she and her classmates have been gathering for “virtual hangouts” over the past few months to keep in touch and reminisce on their D.C. adventures. One of her favorite memories is getting to explore D.C. with new friends.

washington monument
Students took a trip to the top of the Washington Monument, enjoying 360 degree views of the D.C. metro area.

“On the weekends, a few of us would go to museums together and sight see around D.C.,” she said. “It was nice having that solid group of people to explore the city with.”

Although many students were not able to complete their internships remotely, Indiana University at Bloomington students Hunter Grate ’20 and Nathan Ryder ’20 were fortunate to intern with organizations that were able to host them virtually. Grate interned with the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) and Ryder with Praescient Analytics

“It was hard to leave, but I’m glad that I have the opportunity to finish my internship remotely,” Grate said. “I feel like I’ve still been able to get a lot accomplished.”

Welcome to the TFAS Alumni Network

Upon completion of the Capital Semester program virtually, students were welcomed to the TFAS Alumni Network via Zoom during this spring’s closing ceremony. The cohort heard words of wisdom and advice from TFAS staff, professors and alumni. 

zoom graduation
TFAS staff and faculty welcomed students to the TFAS Alumni Network during a virtual closing ceremony.

TFAS Director of Journalism + Communications and U.S. Programs, Joseph Starrs, opened the ceremony by acknowledging the students’ continued dedication to their coursework despite the challenges associated with virtual learning. 

“It really is a semester like no other, not because of what has happened, but because of the students,” Starrs said. “It’s because of who you are, and the leadership and the character that you have demonstrated.” 

During a short video presentation, students had the chance to reminisce on their semester in D.C. and hear well-wishes from TFAS faculty and alumni. Alumnus Jon Cantalini ’17 sent students a congratulatory message, welcoming them to the TFAS Alumni Network:

“Congratulations everyone! You are now in a worldwide group of TFAS alumni! Here’s to you and everything that your futures hold.” 

Spring Capital Semester students celebrated 53 years of TFAS at the Founders’ Day celebration this year.

The ceremony continued with remarks from TFAS President Roger Ream ’76, who encouraged students to focus on developing habits that will foster the leadership skills necessary to better the world around them. 

“You can spend much of your life trying to gain knowledge, trying to become a more informed, intelligent person, and that’s very important to do, but I want to emphasize the importance of developing good habits,” Ream shared. “I think if we live by good habits, they guide us through life. Keep focused on what kind of habits make you a better person and a better leader in the future.”

TFAS thanks our faculty and students for their continued dedication to completing the Capital Semester program virtually this spring, despite challenges incurred by the outbreak of COVID-19. For more information on upcoming TFAS virtual programs, visit TFAS.org/VirtualSummer.

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