The American Studies Programs as an Off-Campus Option

By Emma Maple, DC columnist

The American Studies Program is a study away program in Washington, D.C., with which Whitworth University partners. The goal of the program is to expand students’ abilities to interact with people who are different from them. Photo by CyBelle Barthelmess.

When many Whitworth students consider partaking in an off-campus program, their mind immediately goes to the faculty-led programs offered by Whitworth. However, some Whitworth students may not realize that there are also a wide variety of partner programs available.

The American Studies Program (ASP) is a perfect example.

ASP is a study away program offered by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), a higher education association of over 185 Christian institutions around the world. 

Each semester, the American Studies Program takes between 10 and 20 students from participating CCCU institutions and places them in Washington, D.C. The students live together in an apartment complex owned by the CCCU, located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The Dellenback Center, located on Capitol Hill, is the apartment complex that students live in while taking part in the American Studies Program. Photo by Emma Maple.

CyBelle Barthelmess, director of the American Studies Program, said that the goal of the program is “that students will expand their cognitive complexity to think and consider the views of people who look, believe, worship, speak and vote differently from them, and…that they will be able to really listen to understand the perspective of others.”

Keierra Nunez, a student from Azusa Pacific University who took part in the program in Spring of ‘22, said that the program has taught her how to engage with people who had different religious backgrounds than her. She felt like it would have benefited from “exposure to more cultural environments.”

The students spend the first three weeks of the program partaking in day-long classes and field visits where they hear from government officials, nonprofit workers and more.

In the fourth week, the students begin their individual internships, which they participate in Monday through Thursday. The internship experience depends on the interests of the student. Many choose to work on the Hill, but students also land internships in the nonprofit sector, advocacy, think tank organizations and more.

Nunez said that even if students land an internship in a sector they don’t want to enter after college, they can still get something out of it.

After the third week, classes are held on Tuesday nights and Fridays.

Haley Blauch, a student from Messiah University who took part in the program in Spring of ‘22, noted that for her, “it was not an academically rigorous semester.”

The ASP program may be a good fit for a wide variety of students. Barthelmess said, “Often when people hear D.C., they think, ‘I need to have an internship on the Hill, or I need to be majoring in [political science] or history’. But that’s absolutely not the case.”

Barthelemess said the program is for anyone “who cares about getting to the root of issues and being a part of real change. [It’s for students who] don’t want to change the icing on the cake from cream cheese to orange glaze, but who really want to change the deep root of the cake and the ingredients of the cake.”

Barthelmess realizes that other programs might sound “more glamorous and romantic”, but “the influence of study away could be 15 miles down the road, it could be 50 miles or it could be in DC. I think that a semester away can transform students.”

Barthelmess encourages any student who thinks they may be interested in the program but is unsure if it is a good fit for them to reach out to her for a Zoom meeting so they can decide if the student would thrive at ASP.

Barthelmess said, “If I have a Zoom conversation with a student and it’s clear that God has a different purpose or a different vision for them, I would be absolutely honest with that student.”

COVID has had a large impact on this program in the past few years, according to Barthelmess. With enrollment in colleges dwindling across the board, Barthelmess said that study away/abroad programs are often a luxury that these institutions must cut. The ASP has felt the impact of this, with enrollment declining during the past few years.

Barthelemess said that the program feels like it’s “back in the rebuilding phase, pioneering and going campus to campus to get students.”

Both Nunez and Blauch said that they would recommend ASP to students at their home universities and that overall they had a positive experience with the program.

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