Cornell students are once again immersed in internships and classes at the capital this semester, as the Cornell in Washington program continues with a new transition into the public policy school — and with goals of increasing alumni involvement and access to financial aid resources.
According to Prof. John Cawley, policy analysis and management, who became director of the program in the summer, Cornell in Washington has seen increasing interest this year compared to previous years, with around 70 people showing up to their first information session this semester.
“There’s a lot of interest in Cornell in Washington this year,” Cawley said. “Students are very engaged with the decisions being made by our government, and students seem really eager to embrace life and seek out new experiences.”
There are currently 17 undergraduate students participating in the program this semester, along with three Ph.D. students who act as residential tutors.
According to Cawley, the program follows the same COVID-19 testing and mask policies as the Ithaca campus, with students being tested once a week, compared to twice a week last year — their samples are being shipped to Ithaca for analysis.
However, Cornell in Washington housing at the Wolpe Center has not had any positive cases since COVID began, according to Cawley.
Although each living space is single occupancy this semester, Cawley said the program is shifting back into normal occupancy starting in spring 2022, hoping to accommodate more students in the program. The program usually has around 40 students during normal semesters, but has seen reduced numbers since the pandemic started.
About half the current Cornell in Washington students are working in-person internships this semester. Some students in the program said working remotely gives them more time to do other activities.
“Most of the cohort works Monday to Wednesday, nine to five … Especially working at home, we’ve kind of gotten to choose our hours and also have some free time as well,” said Komal Anupindi ’23, one of the 17 students in the program this semester.
Anupindi is a health care policy major, working this fall at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in D.C.
“It’s really cool to see how D.C. works and how interconnected all the internships we’re all doing are, and how different sectors come together and make policy,” Anupindi said.
Tanya Aggarwal ’23, who is interning at the Department of Justice in the Civil Rights Division Voting Section, said the program has challenged her in ways that classes in Ithaca didn’t.
“Moving away from just being a student has been very challenging and very rewarding for me, because I find school has been kind of a comfort zone for me,” Aggarwal said. “Stepping away from that and almost being working full time, I’ve grown a lot and it’s been a struggle but in a really good way.”
Aggarwal said she feels like the program has also done a good job of prioritizing students’ mental well-being — students are assigned to residential graduate students called tutors, who act as mentors and have weekly check-ins with students.
“I feel like my tutor’s been there for me and she’s someone I can talk to,” Aggarwal said. “When I’m struggling with my internship or something else, she has been a point of contact for me.”
This semester also saw the program’s recent transition from the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions to the Brooks School of Public Policy, which allows the program to fall under the same college as other policy programs, Cawley said.
“The move into the Brooks School of Public Policy makes complete sense, and is the best thing that could happen to Cornell in Washington,” he said.
The program will now be under the same umbrella as the undergraduate major in policy analysis and management, and the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs Masters in public administration degree. Cawley said he believes the program will benefit from connections with other degree programs and by being colleagues with other faculty teaching policy.
Under Cawley’s leadership, the program also hopes to increase the involvement of Cornell in Washington alumni as resources for students.
“We want to keep the alumni informed about the great developments in the program and keep them involved,” Cawley said.
Cawley also said working with alumni affairs and development, he’s looking to make the program more accessible for students on financial aid, particularly during the summer sessions. Currently, if students on financial aid want to participate in the program in the summer, they need to ask the financial aid office for additional support.
This semester, the program has also introduced D.C. experiences for the students –– such as trips to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Students, too, said they felt they are learning and growing from these experiences. Aggarwal said the program hosts around one or two events per week, giving students the chance to get a full D.C. experience.
“I’m learning a lot about the history and culture of D.C. while I’m actually here. That experience and learning about a new place that has so much history and so much relevance for both American history and politics,” Aggarwal said, “that linking up together to form this experience is truly unmatched.”