What does it mean to be a courageous leader? Through The Fund for American Studies’ (TFAS) transformative programs in Washington, D.C., college students learn the tenets of courageous leadership through immersive coursework and hands-on internship experience. After nearly four months in the nation’s capital, 2021 Capital Semester Fall students shared during their closing ceremony on Nov. 23 how the program helped them become courageous leaders for liberty.
Creating Courageous Leaders
TFAS welcomed 12 young leaders from across the U.S. and Hungary to the Capital Semester on Leadership + the American Presidency this August. Hosted in partnership with the Ronald Reagan Institute, the 13-week program allows students to explore their personal leadership journeys through the historical lens of the American presidency. Director of U.S. Programs Joseph Starrs opened this year’s closing ceremony by encouraging the cohort to use their newfound leadership skills to make a positive difference in the world.
“I think that most of us would agree that the world needs courageous leaders, and I see in all of you that potential to be courageous leaders and to go forward into your respective spheres and to make a difference,” Starrs shared.
During the semester, students intern at various think tanks, congressional offices and nonprofit organizations across D.C., giving them the chance to explore the nation’s capital through the eyes of a young professional. Széll Kálmán Public Policy Fellow at the Hungary Foundation Csenge Savanya ’21 said her experience interning at The Madison Coalition in D.C. expanded her worldview and introduced her to influential leaders around the world.
“Interning in D.C. around all the historic places is a real privilege,” she said. “However, it would have been just a vacation without the stories of all the inspiring and ambitious people I met through TFAS. I thank TFAS for providing us with such a strong cultural background through this program.”
In addition to internship placements, networking and professional development seminars, the Capital Semester program provides courses for academic credit in international economics and government at George Mason University (GMU). Taught by world-class TFAS faculty including TFAS Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Anne Bradley, Richard Benedetto, Karen Czarnecki ’88, Gabriel Scheinmann and The Honorable Glenn Nye, these courses are designed to complement students’ internship experiences by teaching them how political and economic freedom can contribute to human flourishing.
The Journey of a Lifetime
Capital Semester student Alexis Lyle ’21 said the program’s economics courses changed her perspective on the world around her. Lyle interned for the Office of U.S. Congresswoman Sharice Davids of Kansas this fall. She hopes to start a career in policy when she graduates and has realized the foundational economic education she received through TFAS is vital to success in the field.
“I didn’t have much exposure to economics before this program because I thought it was just about math and numbers. I didn’t realize how absolutely vital economic education is in policymaking,” Lyle shared. “After taking a class with Dr. Bradley, I know economic knowledge is necessary for problem-solving and will definitely benefit my future career in policy.”
The Texas State University student was this year’s class speaker. In her remarks during the closing ceremony, Lyle reflected on a transformative semester in Washington, calling the experience the journey of her dreams.
It has been a dream of mine for over a decade to intern in D.C. on Capitol Hill, but it seemed like an unattainable goal until I came across TFAS.” – Alexis Lyle ’21
“It has been a dream of mine for over a decade to intern in D.C. on Capitol Hill, but it seemed like an unattainable goal until I came across TFAS,” Lyle said. “Thank you for this impactful and immersive experience and to everyone who is involved in this organization for helping me begin the journey of my dreams. I would not have gained the friendships, connections and opportunities without you.”
Encouraging Respectful Dialogue
TFAS programs instill the value of civil discourse by allowing the free exchange of ideas and exposing students to new perspectives. This semester, students participated in several activities that reinforced this practice, including a Braver Angels Debate. Since the 2021 D.C. Capital Semester Spring Program, TFAS and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) have worked together to integrate these debates into the TFAS curriculum to encourage students to engage civilly with one another on well-researched issues pertinent to today’s political and economic climate.
Lyle said the ability to have civil conversations with her cohort made her realize the value of collaboration in the workplace and the classroom.
“TFAS brought a group of young people together who respect and uplift civil discourse, who want to lead with compassion and who support one another’s accomplishments instead of becoming envious,” she shared. “I’ve learned the power of collaboration instead of competition, and it has been incredible to learn more about the world and more about my own blind spots from my classmates.”
Joining a Strong TFAS Network
In addition to activities like the Braver Angels Debate, students participated in several networking events, guest lectures, guided tours of The District and more this semester. In September, the cohort joined TFAS alumni and supporters at the 31st Annual TFAS Scholarship Dinner where they met 2021 honorees Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska and U.S. Chamber President and CEO Suzanne Clark. Students also attended a briefing at the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation with Amity Shlaes, participated in a “Building Your Brand” event and met with several TFAS alumni for a networking dinner at TFAS Headquarters.
Chief Communications Officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science Tal Woliner is a TFAS mentor, intern host and advisory board member. Woliner emphasized the importance of networking and relationship building as this fall’s closing ceremony keynote speaker. A dedicated volunteer for TFAS programs, Woliner has witnessed firsthand the long-term impact the TFAS Network has on launching the careers of future leaders in policy, journalism, economics and more. She encouraged students to maintain relationships they have built throughout the semester long after the program ends.
There are people in this room that are not just going to be your friends, but they one day might be able to help you get a job. They might be able to be a reference for you. They might be able to open doors for you in ways you never thought possible.” – Tal Woliner
“All of you here now have a network,” Woliner shared. “Your network is really important, and you can build it in any way. There are people in this room that are not just going to be your friends, but they one day might be able to help you get a job. They might be able to be a reference for you. They might be able to open doors for you in ways you never thought possible.”
Capital Semester student Scott Verduzco ’21 said his experience in Washington, D.C., this semester helped him realize his full potential. The Western Michigan University student shared that learning about the leadership journeys of past American presidents and building connections with TFAS alumni who were once in his shoes has motivated him to aim for success in his future career.
“This experience completely shattered any ceilings I put up for myself,” Verduzco said. “By studying these grandiose figures in American history or networking with D.C. insiders and hearing how they started out just like we’re starting out, I realized I can really accomplish any goals if I work hard to achieve them.”
Visit TFAS.org/CSFall21 to read more about this year’s Capital Semester Fall program.