MU2DC reveals to students what's behind the curtain of DC's complex web of politics

Written by Jason Barone, CAS communications director

enlarged group photo of MU2DC studentsThis past January term, a group of 10 political science majors thought they had a pretty clear idea of what to expect when they signed up for the second annual offering of the MU2DC 3-credit online and experiential learning course.

"I had taken [lecturer of political science] Christopher Kelley's course on the politics of organized interest, so I was interested in lobbying, interest groups, nonprofits — how they get their voice into the political process," said Ethan Morgan, a junior who is also majoring in professional writing.

And by the end of that week, the students realized that finding a successful career around the Beltway involves a lot more than simply studying hard and polishing up your resume and LinkedIn profile.

Because of the large number of Miami alumni who work in prominent positions in and around Capitol Hill, the third week of MU2DC embeds Miami students in the Miami DC community, taking them on an intensive, immersive tour of how the 21st century American political process generally works — and sometimes doesn't.

DC Behind the Scenes

"MU2DC was conceived as a miniature, one-month version of Miami's successful Inside Washington program," said Kelley, who leads the J-Term course, designated POL/JRN 399A. "Before their trip, students build their resumes and LinkedIn pages and prepare casebooks on the prestigious and generous group of Miami alumni they'll be meeting and shadowing during their week in DC."

Miami alumni work in all areas of the Hill, including the highest echelons of government. They are Congressional and administration staffers, consultants, lobbyists, communications directors, and elected or appointed politicians.

"We designed MU2DC for students who may not quite yet know what they want to achieve with their political science major," said Bryan Marshall, chair and professor in the Department of Political Science. "It provides them with incredible, invaluable opportunities to learn from our alumni and get a breadth of exposure to how DC works. By the end of the program, students have a much deeper appreciation of how policy and politics intersect, the variety of career paths that are available to them, and the applied strategies they will need to be successful."

photo of Olivia Fryman, Ethan Morgan, Omar Museitif, and Darsh Parthasarathy

Based on their interests, students are paired up with a Miami alum for a day of shadowing — experiences that typically take them into spaces well beyond the public's reach.

Omar Museitif, a sophomore considering a career in foreign policy after law school, shadowed Miami alum Jim Warden (Miami '95), a deputy director in the State Department working on issues related to nuclear proliferation.

"A lot of the things Jim does on a daily basis is sensitive," Museitif said. "All the same, he gave me a very interesting tour of the State Department, including the area where they do a lot of the press conferences, and told me about how his job functions. It was really unique."

Senior Darsh Parthasarathy, who is double majoring in political science and psychology, had a shadowing experience with Katie Webster (Miami '15), who is the communications director for U.S. Representative Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana. "After I graduate, I'm probably going to law school for communications law," Darsh said. "I'm taking the LSAT in June, though I might go to grad school first for a master's in global communication."

Olivia Fryman, a junior in political science and public health, met with Darren Willcox (Miami '93), who started his own healthcare advocacy firm, W Strategies. She also shadowed Jeremy Harrel (Miami '08), a managing director at ClearPath Foundation, a research and advocacy organization that works on clean energy solutions.

"I met alums who hold positions similar to what I would like to do, specifically in the public health sector," she said. "I want to work on the opioid epidemic and help craft policy legislation related to drug addiction."

"The whole week was amazing," said Morgan, who met with political consultant and entrepreneur Brigham McCown (Miami '88). "Because Miami has such a powerful alumni network, the kinds of things that we got to do — hearing full oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court, riding the Congressional subway, getting tours of the offices of the Vice President and the Speaker of the House — I just had no idea. It was wild."

"Observing the oral argument portion of a Supreme Court case was definitely one of the highlights," added Museitif. "To see all 9 justices in person, right there in front of you — it was extraordinary."

A prominent Miami alum from the DC area generously arranged the Supreme Court tickets for the students.

"We were just 4 rows from them," Morgan said. "Coincidentally, they were arguing an Ohio voter registration case. I was geeking out the whole time!"

"Our group was all just sitting there in the gallery, fully engrossed," said Parthasarathy, laughing. "And Ethan's foot wouldn't stop shaking. I was like, 'Can you not?'"

Navigating a Highly Partisan Environment

After they return to Miami, MU2DC students spend a week writing a reflection piece and putting together their burgeoning network — thanking all the people whose hands they shook and whose careers they briefly glimpsed during their whirlwind tour.

The students also admitted coming away with feelings of both high-flying exhilaration and grounded insight as the sobering realities of Washington, DC in 2018 were thrust into view. Partisanship was often on clear display.

enlarged group photo of MU2DC students at Facebook's DC office"There's a long-term process they call the 'master's on the Hill,'" said Morgan. "It largely comes from your time living and working in DC, and in order to advance, you have to pick a team and build a network. That means identifying yourself as Democrat or Republican, especially if you're working in Congress."

Parthasarathy provided an example. "Early in the week we met an alum who was all for President Trump, telling us how amazing he is," she said. "And then the next day we met another alum who basically told us, 'The president is a terrible human being.' Such starkly opposite opinions, one after the other!"

Despite such deep contrasts, overall likeability was shown to be an important factor of success — but sharp, in-depth mastery of the field is just as critical, according to Patrick Haney, professor of political science and CAS associate dean.

"The MU2DC program only works when it's matched with that deep understanding and knowledge, which students accumulate in our classrooms all year long as well as in the lead-up to the trip and the follow-up," he said. "That's where depth is built, and that’s how students achieve career success."

"But to make your resume stand out, you need to list some kind of additional skill or something unique and interesting about yourself," Museitif said. "As minor as it may seem, one little thing could be what gets you through the door."

A long, successful career in DC all comes down to the issues of trust and dependability. It's said that you can switch sides, but only once — and you better have a good reason for doing it.

"The second you lose trust with people, you're out," said Morgan. "You're done."

Simple, old-fashioned luck, the students learned, seems to play an important role as well. Time and time again, they were told stories by alums who credited their good fortune — but, Morgan added, there was an encouraging caveat.

"If you're serious and work hard, they told us you can make your own luck," he said.

Final Assessments

All 4 students came away from their week in DC with a more aligned, fortified sense of their career goals and how the complex machinations of Capitol Hill play into them. And they couldn’t have achieved this without the support of Miami's alumni.

"One of the biggest things we learned is that networking is key, and just the very fact that we're Miami students got us a little bit further through the door," said Parthasarathy. "The alumni were so generous and amazing. I don't think I would have gotten all these opportunities if I'd gone to another university."

"Personally, what I've learned is that DC is not for me," Museitif said. "There is a lot of bureaucracy and corruption, and many of the alums we met with were honest about this. But discovering this fact was just as valuable to me — I could not have done so without taking part in the MU2DC class."

Fryman agreed. "MU2DC is, without a doubt, an extremely valuable experience. I wouldn't say yet that I walked away with some revelation about what I'm going to do, but at the end of the week one alum was asking me not just about my majors but also was digging deeper — whether I liked DC because it's glamorous or because I truly had passion. He asked if I could really separate the two, and that was a good thinking point."

"We've all seen behind the curtain," Morgan added. "There are a number of barriers to entry and misconceptions around DC, but things start to become clear when you're actually there — and I can definitely see myself there."

And then came his most ironic discovery. "Despite all the partisanship and negativity you often hear, DC is probably one of the only places where you can learn the truth of a matter before the spin. These are my people."

MU2DC is sponsored by the Department of Political Science, with support from University Advancement. For more information about the program, contact Professor Patrick Haney (