Gardner-Webb Faculty Leader Analyzes Impact of 2013 Inauguration Seminar Experience

Gardner-Webb Faculty Leader Analyzes Impact of 2013 Inauguration Seminar Experience

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Ben Gaskins
February 12, 2013

Impact of Faculty Leaders


Faculty leaders are in a unique position to provide students with the tools and background needed to get the most out of their time in Washington, D.C. My students arrived at The Washington Center (TWC) possessing very different experiences, interests, and goals for the week. Some had strong political leanings and interests while others cared passionately about journalism. Some knew who the speakers were, others had never heard of them before. Some students had been to D.C. before while many had not. Students were from all over the United States while some were not American. All this diversity provides a unique challenge—and speaks to the importance—of the faculty leader in providing guidance as these students seek to get the most out of their time in our nation’s capital.


As a faculty leader, it was not my job to force students to experience new and wonderful things—that was expected of them and provided for them. Instead, it was the faculty leader’s role to help the students make connections between the speakers they heard, the site visits they embarked upon and the academic side of what they were experiencing. My job is to push the students to consider the implications of what was being said, to go beneath the surface of what was being presented, and to carefully weigh the evidence before them to make incisive judgments about the new information to which they were being exposed. The students were seeing and learning things that could not be expressed adequately in any textbook, so the faculty leader must help provide the background that students might be lacking, and assist as they attempt to piece it all together. If successful, I wanted to see the students I had argue, debate, consider, reflect, and—most of all—think deeply about what D.C. had to offer. If the faculty leader facilitates learning and reflection, then the experiences of the students will do the rest. We play a small but vital role in creating an environment in which students will learn and grow in ways that will stay with them for a long time.


Impact on Students


TWC’s Inauguration Seminar provided a fantastic opportunity for students who did not know whether politics or journalism was the right profession for them to experience in some way what such jobs would be like. They heard from a number of professionals—some of who were barely older than the students themselves—who were making careers in D.C. and often at the highest levels of government. A number of them expressed that such positions were not for everyone: many love D.C. while others can’t get away fast enough. This forced the students to imagine what life would be like for them if they pursued a job in politics—whether or not they were considering such a path previously.


After coming back from the program, one student wrote that "prior to the TWC experience, I had always toyed with the idea of moving to D.C. and taking my chances in the world of politics. Now after such a great experience, there is no doubt in my mind that D.C. and the political arena is where I'm supposed to be."


The site visits also played an important role in students’ thoughts for the future. Numerous students related how affected they were from visiting the Israeli embassy, specifically how it made them re-evaluate the conflicts in the Middle East and their feelings toward America’s role in the region. Visiting National Public Radio, the Newseum, and the National Press Club encouraged students interested in journalism to think about the past and future of the media in American society and how they might fit into that environment. I could clearly see students wrestling with new ideas and trying to figure out what they were called to do with their lives. No matter where they were in their academic career, students said that their time in D.C. made them think and evaluate where they were going and how best to get there.


Personal Experience


For myself, it had been a long time since I had spent any length of time in D.C., so I viewed my time at TWC much like a student. I wanted to see, experience, and learn as much as I could from the speakers, visits and environment as I possibly could. My academic background in American politics was useful in many respects as a faculty leader, especially in leading discussion and helping to connect speakers to the readings and other theories/evidence in the discipline. But like the students I was encountering much of what makes D.C. unique and fascinating for the first time.


One thing I learned is that D.C. is a city of people who sleep five hours a day and work 19. Everyone is either very important or working their way to becoming very important. It is an exhausting, exhilarating environment that simultaneously seduces and repels, with an equal capacity for good and evil. Along with the students I walked through the streets marveling at all there was to do and experience, seeing in person what had long been viewed through a media lens. One student was walking on a sidewalk outside a Capitol Hill office building when a man bent down to pick up a piece of trash. Recognizing the man, but not remembering his name, the student struck up a conversation with him, eventually finding out that he was South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, made famous by yelling “You lie!” during one of President Obama’s speeches to Congress. This could only happen in D.C.


I benefitted greatly from my time at TWC. The contacts I made from around the country will continue to pay dividends in the future, and all that I learned and experienced will help me as a teacher of American politics. I am very eager to return to another seminar offered by TWC!


Check out albums from the Inauguration Academic Seminar on our Flickr channel:


1. Inauguration Seminar: Day 1

2. Inauguration Seminar: Day 1 | Bus Tour

3. Inauguration Seminar: Day 2

4. Inauguration Seminar: Day 3

5. Inauguration Seminar: Day 4

6. Inauguration Seminar: Day 5

7. Inauguration Seminar: National Press Club

8. Inauguration Seminar: Day 6

9. Inauguration Seminar: Day of Service

10. Inauguration Seminar Site Visits


Dr. Ben Gaskins is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Gardner-Webb University. He teaches American politics, with specialties in religion and politics, public opinion, and media. Dr. Gaskins received his Ph.D. in political science from Florida State University in 2011.

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