Washington Program in National Issues Takes Students Beyond the Classroom


Mark Cassell

Students in the WPNI program.

Ashley Caudill, Reporter

Cathy Teti, Kent State 1975 alumna, sat among the first students of the Washington Program in National Issues in 1973 and again as an assistant to the director in 1974.

Teti started her time at Kent State as a French major but soon realized that her interests lay in political science studies.

“When I was growing up, opportunities for women were extremely limited,” Teti said. “You could be a teacher, you could be a nurse, you could be a secretary and you could be a librarian. But that was it, that was your universe.”

Due to the limited opportunities women were presented with in the 1970s, Teti’s parents questioned what she would do with a political science degree.

“At some point, you were expected to drop everything and get married and that would be the end of it. And I wasn’t ready for that, I was looking for what else could I do,” Teti said. “Then I came to the Washington program in the nation’s capital. It just opened up an entire world and it literally changed my life.”

After Teti graduated in 1975 she quickly moved to her first job as a GS5 Research Analyst at the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. From there, she held various positions in governmental departments.

“The idea of the program is to give all the participants the broadest exposure to all the pieces that come together and make the United States work,” Teti said.

The program was started by alumni and is upheld by alumni today. Fran Richardson was a key member at the start of the program and was the first woman to graduate from Kent State with a journalism degree in 1939.

Students in the WPNI program. (Mark Cassell)

Matt Dermody, president of the National Capitol Chapter of Kent State alumni, graduated from Kent State in 2010 and attended the program that same year. Today, he is the head of the alumni program that runs the Washington program.

“The alumni drive this train. We give a lot of our time,” Dermody said. “We do focus groups, meetings and mentorships to guide and help students. There is a pay-it-forward type of mindset to that.”

Mary Joyce, senior communications major, currently attends the program in D.C., interning at a strategic communications firm.

“It gave me real-world experience,” Joyce said. “I am interning four days a week and one day I have class, but even on that one day of class, we are out doing things in D.C. and talking to people.”

During her time in the program this semester, Joyce has been on tours through the Supreme Court, the Pentagon and the Capitol building. Not only do the students gain unique experiences in class, but they also have unique opportunities with their internships.

“One of my clients is hosting an event on the Hill, so I am going to an event with senators which is something I never thought I’d say,” Joyce said.

Joyce’s fellow classmate, Shane McGinnis, currently interns in a house office at the Capitol building this semester.

McGinnis, senior political science and visual communication design major, only added political science to his schedule after the recent events over the last few years that left him with the desire to understand the events that impact so many people’s lives.

“It’s kind of like a test run. I get to really feel what it’s like to work in an office in a place where I could possibly be for my career,” McGinnis said. “I think it’s really interesting to get that firsthand experience of working in a congressional office.”

Similar to Joyce, he has had many exciting experiences due to his internship.

“I got to sit on the floor of the House of Representatives in the first row,” McGinnis said. “It was a surreal thing because you only see it in the State of The Union and very certain votes, so that was really cool.”

The curriculum of the program is focused to connect students with what they are learning in the classroom to a real-world experience through internships.

“Fundamentally it’s really a bridge that builds that connection from what you do in the classroom to what you do after you graduate,” Mark Cassell, director of the WPNI program said.

Students spend four days interning at various companies around the city while attending a day of briefing during the week. These briefing lectures provide students with knowledge about how a variety of systems work in the United States, especially the governmental system.

“No matter what your background is you will learn something about policy, how policy is developed and how we think about policy,” Cassell said. “Each student really comes away with a better understanding of the process that leads to public policy and how we evaluate public policy.”

The WPNI program celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. To recognize and celebrate the program and its achievements, there will be an event hosted at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on April 27.

The event will feature an alumni keynote speaker, award The Fran Richardson Award, will recognize outstanding professors and a graduation ceremony for the graduating students currently in the program. The proceeds from the event will be placed towards a scholarship fund for future WPNI students.

“You are challenged intellectually and you are given the space to explore,” Teti said, “I frankly bleed blue and gold and part of that is the support of a network that the university and the alumni in the area have given and that I hope to provide as well.”

Ashley Caudill is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected]