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TFAS Welcomes Spring 2021 Capital Semester Students


The new year brought a new TFAS program and new students to the nation’s capital! Fourteen outstanding young leaders were selected to attend the 2021 Spring Capital Semester program in Washington, D.C.

Students arrived in D.C. on Monday, Jan. 25, and are thrilled to begin their unique semester experience this spring.

“Our first week in D.C. has been incredible even in a global pandemic,” said Johanna Viik ’21, a student from Estonia. “I have loved chatting with the rest of the students. I feel like we are quite a diversely opinionated group and that we have a lot to learn from each other. This orientation week has made me very excited for the months to come because there is so much still to experience and learn.”

We are quite a diversely opinionated group, so we have a lot to learn from each other.” – Johanna Viik ’21 

With four international students and 10 students from across the U.S., three of whom attend Penn State University, the program participants will learn as much from each other as they do from their classes and internships.

The students spent their first week getting settled into their new apartment building on Capitol Hill, participating in various orientation sessions, and touring the city while following social distancing guidelines.

The students will spend the next four months taking classes at George Mason University, partaking in stimulating conversations with prominent TFAS lecturers and guest speakers, interning at various organizations for 30 hours each week, and exploring this semester’s theme: Leadership + the American Presidency.

The Leadership + the American Presidency (LTAP) program track is hosted in partnership with the Ronald Reagan Institute. This exclusive program allows students to explore their own leadership journeys through the lens of historical lessons from the American presidency. The program is geared toward students who wish to grow as civic-minded leaders with careers in public service, policy, politics, or the nonprofit sector.

On Jan. 26, TFAS hosted a virtual welcome ceremony and orientation for the new class. TFAS notables like President Roger Ream ’76, Chairman Randy Teague, Director of U.S. Programs Joe Starrs, and TFAS Academic Director Dr. Anne Bradley introduced the students to TFAS and the world of Washington during the orientation.

Students have already begun their classes with TFAS professors. This semester’s faculty includes Dr. Bradley, Professor Richard Benedetto, Professor Karen Czarnecki ’88, Dr. Gabe Scheinmann, and Congressman Glenn Nye. The cohort will take courses in international economic policy and the American presidency in addition to weekly class time to discuss their internships and current events in D.C. and around the world.

In addition to learning and interning, the students will have an intimate view of The District through behind-the-scenes tours, briefings and special events, beginning with a moonlight tour of the national monuments and a walking tour of downtown D.C. in the coming weeks.

When asked what stands out about this group of students, alumna and program coordinator for the Leadership + The American Presidency track Eliza Miller summarized her observations in a single word: engaging.

“Usually in a new classroom setting, a professor will ask a question and maybe one or two hands will raise,” Miller said. “But this class is so engaged already, every single hand shoots into the air to answer every question posed by our professors.”

Meet the 2021 Spring Capital Semester cohort below.

Spring 2021 Capital Semester Class

Wajiha Alam, an international student from Karachi, Pakistan, is a junior at the University of Rhode Island where she serves as a member of the student senate representing the College of Arts and Sciences. She is an avid volunteer and holds a certificate from the U.S. State Department for completing over 100 volunteer hours in a year. The State Department selected Wajiha for the premier Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange program in 2016 which allowed her to come to the United States, where she became involved with a marching band, debate competitions and more. This semester she is interning at the Institute for Sustainable Development.



Samuel Bilotta, a sophomore political science major at The Pennsylvania State University, is a native Pennsylvanian with extensive experience in student government. He served as the student body vice president, a student representative on Penn State’s Faculty Senate, and a member of Penn State’s Council of Commonwealth Student Governments. He is interested in foreign policy and congressional politics and is especially excited to learn more about the innerworkings of D.C. politics this semester. He is interning at the Health and Medicine Counsel of Washington this semester.



Bradley Booth is a native Georgian and senior at the University of North Georgia, where he studies international affairs and French. This combination of programs allowed Brad to study abroad in Quebec City, Canada, and London, England. He is a member of the North Georgia’s Corps of Cadets Association and helped found North Georgia’s Phi Delta Theta chapter. This semester Brad is interning at Praescient Analytics.





Kayla Davidson is also a sophomore at The Pennsylvania State University, where she studies political science and psychology in the hopes of attending law school. She dreams of practicing family law and working her way into the world of politics by becoming a congresswoman. With internship experience working for her state representative and the completion of Keystone Girls State, she already has lots of preparation for her future career goals. This semester Kayla is interning with the Office of U.S. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.



Billie Gardner, a Division I athlete, California native and senior at Pepperdine University, has a passion for service and leadership. She is a member of the pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta and has studied abroad in London, Peru, and Greece. She completed a year of service with AmeriCorps’s JumpStart program teaching pre-school students in Los Angeles, California, and participated in Pepperdine’s social action and justice colloquium, as well as their Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution undergraduate certificate program. She has internship experience with Sojourners Magazine and the Idaho Democrats and will spend this semester interning at kglobal.



Jake Jennings is a native Georgian and senior at the University of Georgia. He has extensive experience debating on campuses across the U.S. from Stanford to Columbia and has worked on the congressional campaigns of two Georgia representatives. Jake is passionate about business-government relations and desires to become a lobbyist. He is very active and especially enjoys golf. This semester he is interning with the Office of U.S. Representative Austin Scott of Georgia.




Donna Mayo, an 18-year-old junior at Emmanuel College, is a successful softball player and peer mentor at her university. She enjoys watching sports, especially the Georgia Bulldogs. This semester Donna is interning at the International Virtual Reality Healthcare Association.






Emīlija Linda Mendelsone is an international student from Riga, Latvia, who attends the University of Latvia. She is an accomplished leader and has experience as  president of the Student Board, a leader of European Youth Parliament, and a member of the international non-governmental organization, “Restart.lv.” She enjoys volunteering and is passionate about sustainability. Emīlija Linda is a multilingual traveler and has studied abroad in Switzerland. Her dream is to dedicate her life to international efforts to improve global quality of life. This semester she is interning at the Joint Baltic American National Committee.



Kaetana Mendoza is a native Texan and current student at the University of Texas at Austin. She is pursuing a global management certificate and is passionate about international affairs, political science and economics. She has volunteered with the Liberal Arts Refugee Alliance, the UT Law Immigration Clinic, and the Daily Texan student newsletter. She worked for the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice and used her fluent Portuguese language skills to help others in all of these volunteer and work activities. This semester Kaetana is interning at the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute.



Penelope Papadimitriou is a junior at Southern New Hampshire University who was born in the U.S. and raised in Greece. She is passionate about international affairs and loves coffee, books, and traveling. Penny especially enjoys challenging herself and reading motivational books. This semester she is interning at the International Virtual Reality and Healthcare Association, which will be her first internship experience.




Michal Pawlowski is a Polish graduate student at the University of Warsaw, where he studies economic sciences. He already has a master’s degree in philosophy and two bachelor’s degrees, one in public finance and taxation and the other in philosophy. He is especially interested in institutional economics, inequality and growth, and the history of thought. Michal speaks four languages and is active in various student and nonprofit organizations. He has interned with the European Commission Representation in Warsaw and the Polish Financial Supervision Authority. He is eagerly waiting to hear back about his internship opportunity for this semester.



Johanna Viik is an international student from Estonia who studies international relations and public policy at Tallinn University in Estonia. She actively participated in the student senate at her university and served as the chairperson of the board for the Tallinn University student union. In this role she led a team of eight employees and more than 300 volunteers to protect the interests of students at the university and across the country. She is passionate about high-quality education, non-formal learning, and providing the best opportunities for students to grow. She has volunteered with YFU Estonia, where she had the opportunity to work closely with students and promote study abroad experiences. This semester she is interning at Advocacy Associates.

John Villella is a Nevins Fellow of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at the Pennsylvania State University. He worked for city councilman Zeke Cohen of Baltimore, served as the office intern for the president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, actively participated in the National Political Science Honor Society Pi Sigma Alpha, and volunteered as an advanced dialogue facilitator for World in Conversation. This semester he is interning with Atlas Network.




Samantha Zeno is a senior at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, studying social psychology and anthropology. She is a natural leader who seeks to serve others and promote small-town values on a university-wide scale. She is a first-generation college student who was elected to serve as the president of the undergraduate student body. Samantha is passionate about public service, equity and advocacy. This semester she is interning at Mil Mujeres.





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