AU Gap Student, Bobby Ramkissoon, attended AU’s Crucial Conversations talk with award-winning spoken word poet and actor Theo Wilson and Washington Post reporter and AU alumnus, Peter Holley. Holley and Wilson discussed Wilson’s undercover journey as a “digital White Supremacist,” what he learned about the impact of the internet, and the value of community dialogue.

Empathy and The Power of the Arts

Being accepted into the American University Gap Year program was an incredible opportunity for me. The program can be a home for political enthusiasts, and politics has been my passionate purpose and intended career path for as long as I can remember. I entered the program ready to jump into the political scene in Washington D.C. When applying to internships, I predominantly applied to congressional offices. I always knew I wanted a profession in politics and working on Capitol Hill just seemed like the most obvious first step. But after having interviewed with several congressional staffers where they had laid out my responsibilities as an intern, I didn’t feel as interested in the internships as I thought I would be. I wanted to be proud of the work I had completed at the end of the day and felt as if I was contributing to something greater then myself. I hoped that through participating in this program, I would be making a difference by impacting someone in a way that I’m not entirely aware of. I was hopeful that my presence would enhance or inspire, or even challenge, the people around me, and in turn, help me reach for the best that there is and give the best of myself.

As a result, I decided to look for opportunities to develop intellectually and professionally in a deeper way. Through much research and deliberation, I inevitably found myself in the realm of non-profits. Non-profit organizations establish themselves with the goal to meet a tangible need, instead of the goal to make money by meeting that need, which seems contra to our current political system. Out of the hundreds of non-profit organizations in Washington D.C., the one that stood out to me the most was Split This Rock.

The mission of Split This Rock is to cultivate, teach, and celebrate poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. I have always been fascinated by the power of the arts. All through high school, I was an active member of the Performing Arts department. As an actor, I spent time living another person’s life and seeing things from their perspective. I had prejudices about people and places that blocked me from seeing their uniqueness and individuality. But through theatre, I was able to get beyond these labels to appreciate the personal stories of the people in their circumstances. I am able to have conversations with people who I may never meet outside of a fictional setting. Acting has nurtured an unyielding curiosity about others and, in turn, broadened my sense of personal identity. Reflecting on this experience, I gradually became convinced that the most effective way to achieve social change was not through the traditional means of party politics and introducing new laws and policies, but through changing the way people treat each other on an individual basis, in other words, through empathy. And I have found, that there is no better tool to elicit an empathic response than art.

Art has a better chance of changing hearts and minds over black and white statistics. The numbers are readily available, but the stories are not. Stories are an empathic magus that can enable us to shed our own skin and step into another way of looking at the world. Empathy has the power to erode our cultures of violence and racism and extend boundaries of our moral concerns. It may just be that empathy is the key to what will change the political culture.

– Yougeshwar “Bobby” Ramkissoon Jr.
AU Gap Student, Fall 2017

From the Founding Principles to Separation of Powers to Civil Liberties, Media, & Beyond

The semester is half over and the AU Gap students have been busy taking advantage of all DC has to offer through their Seminar in American Politics. Below Professor Marie Fritz shares what the students have been studying the past few weeks and how they have been able to use DC as their classroom.

In an effort to address salient issues occurring in politics and society, we started off the semester in our Seminar in American Politics class with a visit to Arlington House Museum (the home of Robert E. Lee), adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery.  In class we talked about political memory, the potential for reconciliation, and how some dominant ideologies remain in our political culture.  Like many other introductory courses in U.S. Politics, we shifted to an exploration of the Founding principles and the structure of American government.  Exploring philosophical ideas such as liberalism and republicanism, we visited the National Archives to view the U.S. Constitution along with other Founding documents of the United States.  In class the students worked together to draft portions of a new U.S. Constitution with the student groups based in specific geographic regions of the United States.  It was fascinating to see how students would design elections and change the representation of the people in Congress, as well as to establish the rights of groups that had been previously excluded.

After discussing the U.S. Constitution, we moved on to federalism and the separation of powers.  We enjoyed an educational boat tour of the Anacostia River on the east side of the District of Columbia hosted by Anacostia Riverkeeper, a non-profit organization with a mission to protect and restore the river, and discussed environmental federalism and the ways in which the structure of our government impacts public policy decisions at the federal, state, and local levels.  We even saw a bald eagle!

We examined civil liberties and media at the Newseum and watched a documentary about the Freedom Riders to learn more about the relationship between federalism and the promotion of civil rights.  As we turned to studying the three branches of government we had the opportunity to meet Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (a non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives for the District of Columbia) with a talk on the floor of the House of Representatives, followed by a student-led tour of the Capitol building.  We visited the Supreme Court and enjoyed a lecture in the main courtroom where oral arguments are held.  Finally, we examined various theories related to the presidency and completed a project about budgeting decisions and the executive branch using the question, “If you were an advisor to the current President, which programs would you cut from the federal budget to advance your administration’s priorities?” to guide the discussion.

In the last part of the semester we will explore public opinion, campaigns and elections, interest groups, and social policy with professionals who work in the areas of polling, campaigns, and public policy.  I am excited to see how the final section of the semester unfolds.

– Dr. Marie J. Fritz, AU Gap Professor, Fall 2017



The Seminar and my Internship = the Perfect Combination

AU Gap Students enjoy a boat tour with the Anacoatia Riverkeepers.

It’s been about six weeks since we’ve arrived on campus, and finally all of us Gap students are settled into our working and class schedules. It was quite the transition from being a high school senior taking eight classes, to preparing for an internship fair and going on site visits my first week in D.C.

Our in-class site visits have taken us everywhere from the Arlington National Cemetery to the Newseum – my personal favorite. In between those two, we’ve seen the National Archives, National Monuments, and even been on a boat tour of the Anacostia River. When us Gap students aren’t exploring D.C., we’re usually discussing topics from our American Politics Seminar, or updating each other on all of our exciting internship opportunities.

The internship I have chosen to take this semester is in the Congressional Office of Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. Her office is located in the Cannon House Office Building, and she represents the 21st district of New York. She is the youngest Congresswoman to be voted into the House. Working in such a young and professional office is enjoyable and inspiring.

My biggest responsibilities in the office consist of speaking with constituents on issues the Congresswoman will vote on, and giving tours of the Capitol building. Getting to the Capitol at first from Cannon was a tricky task, but after doing it a couple of times, I’ve got it down. I’ve learned a ton of interesting fun facts, some being about how the Capitol is haunted!

I can easily say that the American Politics Seminar and my Hill internship make the perfect combination for me this semester. I am honored to be where I am, and am looking forward to the rest of this semester here at AU.

– Molly Kopp, AU Gap Student, Fall 2017

An exciting few weeks, but still so much ahead of us!

Madeleine at her internship at the American Red Cross

We are almost a month into the American University Gap Program with still so much ahead of us! In the meantime, we’ve explored Arlington National Cemetery, uncovered some of America’s most historical documents at the National Archives, and cruised along the Anacostia River while hearing about the current environmental issues plaguing our nation. When we are not engaged in our on-site visits, you can find the AU Gap Programmers studying American Politics or working at their individual internships.

Our first week at American University was devoted to making sure we were all well prepared for one of the most significant networking events of the semester – the Internship Fair. Held in early September, the fair was an excellent way to create an initial platform for our professional skills, to build off of throughout the semester. Although I was fortunate to already have an internship secured before the fair, such an influential learning experience allowed all of us to establish a foundation of success for future job searches.

This fall, I am interning at the American National Red Cross. This is the perfect internship for me since I have a strong passion for helping others and intend to follow a career path into medicine. While I will primarily be responsible for on-site disaster relief, other things I will be involved in at the American Red Cross include assisting with casework research and getting involved with their “Pillow Project”- educating children about what to do in a disaster. With the recent catastrophic events in Texas and Florida, the American Red Cross staff is busier than ever and it is truly an honor to be a part of such an effective and benevolent organization

– Madeleine Chow, AU Gap Program, Fall 2017

American University Gap Program Kicks Off a New School Year!

It’s a new semester and the American University Gap Program is excited to have our fall students on campus. This fall, 14 students are joining us from nine states and DC to immerse themselves in an academic seminar and internship.

After a two-day orientation last week, students kicked off the semester with the internship fair on Monday.AU Gap Students enjoying orientation At the fair, students networked with nearly 100 organizations to find an internship for their Mentored Field Practicum course. With a variety of interests, students are securing their internships in everything from Capitol Hill—working in their congresswoman’s office, to hospitality—working with the management of one of the highest regarded restaurants in DC.

Fall 2017 Internship FairYesterday, students started their American Politics Seminar where they’ll learn about U.S. government theories and practices in the classroom from lectures and guest speakers, and out in our nation’s capital!

Throughout the semester, you will hear directly from our students about their experiences living and learning in DC. Stay tuned!

The City Where It All Happens

In the closing weeks of my time here in D.C. I’ve come to really appreciate the opportunity I’ve had to experience the city where so much happens. My internship with Lobbyit, a small lobbying firm located near the Congressional office buildings, has taught me valuable skills about working in an office setting as well as giving me more knowledge on the political processes of our country. I have been able to see more closely the political process and have attended various hearings by the Committees of Congress, both house and senate. Every day of my internship I have the pleasure of being able to see my favorite building in Washington, D.C., the United States Capitol Building.

This week I helped Lobbyit with one of their “Hill Day” events, where they take a group from a client organization up to meet with members of Congress concerning a certain issue they hope to see action on. Even on the days away from my internship Professor Maisch keeps things interesting with thought provoking lectures and organizing meetings with fascinating speakers every week.

My semester here in the Gap Program has made me fall in love with this city and has been a great learning experience before college.

-Kyle Clements
AU Gap Student, Spring 2017

Only 2 weeks left…where has the semester gone?

The semester has flown by and our AU Gap students are busy finishing up the semester. So what have the students been up to the last few weeks?

In their seminar class, they have explored the role of the media in Foreign Policy including a speaker at the National Press Club and then a visit to the Newseum. They have visited the National Museum of African-American History and Culture and met with the Office of the Delegation of the European Union to the United States.

And this week student met with Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins to learn more about the Global Health Security Agenda, an international effort with over 55 countries to reduce infections disease threats such as Ebola and Zika.

Next week students will wrap up class and internships and start studying for finals!

Exploring Foreign Policy through Different Perspectives and Site Visits around DC

Spring break has passed and the semester is more than half over. It has been incredibly rewarding to teach this wonderful group of students. So far, this semester our Gap Year Seminar on International Affairs has met with U.S. Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, Senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer and President of the American Foreign Service Association, for an outstanding lecture on new threat-set facing the United States and the world in the Twenty-First Century. Subsequently, we have been exploring the alternative responses that U.S. foreign policy may provide to these new challenges. We have also studied the constitutional debate over the roles of Congress and the Executive Branch in the formulation and implementation of foreign policy, as well as the main schools of thought that seek to guide our foreign policy.

While considering the various philosophies competing to influence U.S. foreign policy, we have visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum where we had a seminar session with an expert on the international law of genocide, with a Holocaust survivor from The Netherlands, and toured the Permanent Exhibition. We have also met with representatives from The Heritage Foundation, the World Service Authority, the Center for the National Interest (formerly known as the Nixon Center), the Cato Institute, Citizens for Global Solutions, and the Center for Teaching Peace, all of whom offered sharply different perspectives on how to respond to the current international challenges facing the United States and the world. We are capping this section with a class discussion about the schools of thought in U.S. foreign policy, for which every student has chosen his or her preferred school of thought and written an essay making the strongest possible case for it based on the lectures, guest speaker presentations, and required course readings. We are all enjoying this major class debate that is now going in to its third phase this week. It has been both enlightening and enjoyable

-Dr. Christian Maisch, AU Gap Professor, Spring 2017