Inside Washington first-time faculty leader, Meagan McManus of Motlow State Community College (TN), became a believer in the two-week seminar for its academic rigor, bipartisan political exploration, and opportunity to meet and network with faculty from across the U.S.
She accompanied the first group of Tennessee community college students to attend the seminar and sees a lot of value for growing the partnership.
This has been your first TWC Inside Washington seminar experience. What are your initial impressions as a faculty leader?
I think this is a wonderful opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the political climate. For those students who think they want to be journalists or work in politics, this lets them safely test those career waters. Then for other students - I have an education major, a dietician major, a physics major - it’s a great opportunity to show them our country’s political workings up close. It’s one thing to see the government on TV and to see the places, but then to actually be there themselves, the students were in awe of the Capitol building, was something they really enjoyed and appreciated.
For me, this was my third trip to D.C. It’s always reinvigorating. You know things are happening here, that changes are being made.Meagan McManus of Motlow State Community College (TN)
What have you seen over these two weeks as the value for the Tennessee students who are attending the seminar?
Whether it’s Tennessee or a different state, people live in their own little bubbles. They get used to what they’re familiar with. Having the opportunity to escape that at the Inside Washington seminar, for the students to network and interact with other students from all different backgrounds or college experiences, have conversations with about how they grew up or how the election cycle works in their area, getting that exposure to each other is really beneficial.
Why is it important that programming such as this be available to community college students?
Tennessee has the Tennessee Promise Program. Any student coming out of high school, no matter their financial status, receives two years of free community college. We have a lot of students who would previously have gone straight into a four-year university setting attending community college now. That has really changed our dynamics. We offer opportunities to do study abroad and other things early on, but Inside Washington Seminar is really another way to enhance the college experience for them. The two-week program is a particular selling point as it’s a good way to start one of the four semesters we have them. And I think it has motivated them to dive into their classes back on campus.
Has the stature or variety of the panelists and speakers been a significant value for the students from your school?
They’ve enjoyed having speakers from a variety of perspectives. That has been really impactful for them. Coming from Tennessee, a very conservative state, I know a lot of my students expected to hear mostly liberal viewpoints, but they’ve gotten a mix. And they’ve appreciated being able to see both sides and figuring out on their own what they believe, not necessarily just what their parents believe. Most are from a small, rural community and that does impact worldviews. In the beginning it was nerve-racking for them, but they’ve opened up here at the end of these two weeks.
Attending the seminar has introduced you to other faculty leaders from around the country. Have you been able to network and begin relationships with many of them? Have they offered any particular advice for you as a new faculty leader?
The very first day was one of the most helpful days, as we sat in the faculty meeting discussing how to get the students involved in the small group discussions, develop their questions for the speakers ahead of time, and remain engaged with what they were learning. It was really helpful to be part of that with experienced faculty who had done Inside Washington seminars before. I met some really great people, incredibly friendly and they offered some great suggestions. I’ll be taking those lessons back to my own institution and incorporating them into my regular teaching. I would like to work with these individuals again at future seminars. Hearing how they started with a small group of students and built it to now where they’re using financial aid from their schools and making it part of the semester so more students can go was helpful. I think that is a key point and if Tennessee is going to continue the partnership they should look into that, some of those ideas they offered would really help us as we expand the program.
Why would you recommend your school continue sending students to TWC programming?
Primarily, I would recommend it for the academic rigor. This is a lot of material - speakers, topics - for students to digest in two weeks. The more you challenge students, the more they are going to rise to those challenges. They feel they’ve accomplished something in just two short weeks. That is something I think we should continue to push forward as a benefit of this program. I think the other big piece is the immersion into what is actually happening in politics. So many times, in whatever class or subject, you have to talk about it hypothetically or theoretically, but it is a different experience when you’re actually doing it, actually talking to people who are making the changes and doing it professionally. For them to be here and be involved in that is a powerful experience to take away from D.C.
The students gained a lot from this. For some of them, this was the first time they’ve really been away from home. They gained a lot from this. Back home, they’ll be more aware when they watch the news, they’ll know more about what’s going on and the implications. I think we should look at developing this for academic credit because they’ve really done a lot of work over these two weeks. This group has bonded pretty well, and I’ve bonded with them. One of the students from the other community college, who I hadn’t met until the seminar, just asked me to write her a recommendation letter. Some have asked for my phone number to keep in touch. This has been really great for all of us.
I don’t think this is an experience that you just go do and walk away from. It stays with you. I hope this isn’t a one time thing for me. I would love to come back.