TWC Recognizes Dr. Eugene Alpert for Helping Shape Experiential Education

TWC Recognizes Dr. Eugene Alpert for Helping Shape Experiential Education

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Maha Neouchy
September 30, 2013

Dr. Eugene Alpert, who has served as Senior Vice President at The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC) since 1993, retired in early September 2013.

Throughout his time at the organization, Dr. Alpert led the development of innovative academic seminars such as the National Convention Seminars. Established in 1984, these two-week academic seminars examine the role of national political conventions in the process of nominating and electing a party’s candidates for president and vice president of the United States. They take place on-site at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions and place students in volunteer fieldwork positions with the party, convention committee, host committee, media, and many other convention related organizations and events.


Dr. Alpert developed lasting relationships with figures like C-SPAN's Brian Lamb and Steve Scully, and CBS’s Bob Schieffer. These relationships have provided students with meaningful learning opportunities in Washington, D.C.


Dr. Alpert also created affiliations with major institutions such as Furman University in South Carolina, Miami Dade College in Florida, the University of Rochester in New York, and the University of San Diego in California, just to name a few. These affiliations have opened doors for hundreds of students to have access to internship opportunities in D.C.


Dr. Alpert has spent his career working in experiential education. He has been a long-time active member of the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE) and has served as its president, board member and volunteered on numerous committees and initiatives.


He holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. from Michigan State University and a B.A. from the University of Rochester. He is author of numerous articles pertaining to experiential education and the political process including "Conventional Wisdom: A Television Viewer's Guide to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions."


Michael B. Smith, President of TWC, describes Dr. Alpert as "...a leader known for his integrity, creativity and energy." He goes on to explain Dr. Alpert as "...a pioneer in both experiential and higher education, making it a goal of his more than 30 years of service not only to improve TWC's academic reputation, but also to provide quality service to the organization."  When TWC liaisons, faculty and staff were asked about the impact of Dr. Alpert's work, adjectives used in response included: charismatic, passionate and well-respected.


It will be difficult to say goodbye to such a dedicated staff member and friend. Dr. Alpert's devotion to experiential education and TWC's mission is apparent in his contributions over the last decades and in the strong relationships he has developed with alumni, faculty and liaisons across the country.


Dr. Alpert sat down with TWC to discuss his various roles and impact on the organization.


Watching TWC Transform: An Inside Perspective


TWC: You've dedicated a big part of your professional career to TWC's mission. Why do you believe in it?


Dr. Alpert: Experiential education works--I observed the transformation in my own students who participated in TWC's program back in 1978. I was a young assistant professor and always thought I would be in libraries, working on publications and writing books my entire life. I started seeing my students who went through the TWC program come back as different people, transformed after a semester with TWC. That was a secret of education that was not very well-known at the time.


After 16 years of sending students from TCU through the internship program--about 181 of them total, and visiting each one of them multiple times during site visits--I learned so much myself and could see how it changed the lives of students. I realized that instead of working with 15 students a semester, I wanted to work with 500. That is why I wanted to come to TWC--because experiential education works.


TWC: Can you tell me about your involvement with the organization dating back to 1977 when you served as the liaison for Texas Christian University?


Dr. Alpert: In 1977, TWC's founder, Bill Burke, sent a flyer around to political science departments all over the country, including TCU. As a result, my department chair sent me to Washington, D.C. to investigate TWC's program and I came back with a yellow pad filled with notes on all of the services. It was the best way for our students to travel 1,500 miles away from Texas for an internship. We knew exactly what they would be doing, where they were going to be living and what would happen if something went wrong. TWC also helped provide the academic evaluation of the students. They did so much that other people didn't know how to do back then. TWC really was the answer to provide the exceptional kind of learning experience for our students.


It was the best way for students to have access to public policy. I was recruited as the TCU liaison and put in charge of selecting students in 1977 to attend the program for that upcoming fall. My chair set it up so that we selected students a year in advance and I would teach them during the spring semester in a noncredit course, which was the prerequisite for them going to D.C. We had nine the first year then anywhere between 12 and 18 every fall semester after that.


I spent a lot of time on it and built up the program so much that it became a centerpiece of the university. Most people were not exploring experiential education opportunities or internships in Texas, let alone internships in D.C. Another perk of the program was that we had a lot of students from other departments on campus, not just political science, but also from the business, journalism, philosophy, history, chemistry and theater departments. It was really interesting and educational for me to work with students from so many different backgrounds. The program was very unique and had widespread university support. I did that for 16 of my 17 years at TCU.


TWC: What do you think is the biggest impact of experiential education on the lives of students?


Dr. Alpert: For students, it is even more than just about enhancing their skills. It opens doors they otherwise did not know existed. For example, students in Texas who wanted to be graphic designers assumed the only places they could have a career was Dallas or Houston. But through an internship with TWC, it could now be D.C. or even New York. It gave them new opportunities and new horizons so they could make their own choices and decide what direction they wanted to pursue for the rest of their lives. I think that is really important for anyone to be able to know their strengths and have the right choices to follow their dreams in life.


TWC: You have led TWC's Academic Seminars for more than two decades and helped create one of the first academic and professional experiences at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions for both college faculty and students. Why do you believe these experiences are so transformational for all participants involved?


Dr. Alpert: It opens up the political process. Even for myself as a political scientist, I used to teach about things that I haven't necessarily experienced. Student seminar attendees, no matter what their major, become better citizens and better people because they improve upon their understanding of how to live in the world, get along with people and interact with them.


The Democratic and Republican National Conventions gave participants the opportunity to walk into a coffee shop in New Orleans and sit down and have a beignet with George Will or shadow senators and their entourage. To have access to these people and to see what politics and life are really all about is so eye-opening for the students that it helps them make better choices about their lives and get to know themselves better as well.


TWC: What would you say has been the most significant part of your time with TWC?


Dr. Alpert: One of the most significant events during my time with TWC was the opening of the Residential and Academic Facility at NoMa. The biggest dream of founder, Bill Burke, when he first started TWC was to have our own residential facility for students. I think that is the grandest achievement we have ever had. The second would be the headquarters building in Logan Circle, which 10 years ago no one thought was even a possibility.


I also think the impact that we've had on students has been one of the most significant parts. I'd like to touch on 9/11 because I'm really proud of the way we handled that experience. In fact, it became a model for other internship programs in the nation's capital:


I got into the office that morning and every staff member was on the phone trying to get in touch with every single student. Remember most people did not have cell phones then. It was the second Tuesday of the program and all the students had been at their internship for exactly a week. Throughout the day we called every student at work and every student at their apartment. We found out where every student was by the end of the day and organized meetings at each of the locations. Bill Burke called college presidents all day and sent letters to each one. I spent the day emailing every university liaison and gave them an update regarding TWC's efforts and how to contact their students. At the end of the day, everyone was accounted for and we were able to make sure they were safe.


I was really proud of the staff and how calmly they reacted to everything and how diligent they were in making sure everyone was informed. It was probably the most significant time for TWC. A lot of students came from the New York area. Some of them had relatives or friends who were involved in the building crash. Only five students left after 9/11. We had a picnic that weekend to get them out of their rooms and away from CNN. And on Monday, we had our first Presidential Lecture Series, with professionals from the Kuwaiti Information Office and two clinical psychologists who spoke about what the reaction to the attacks were.


I still remember students standing up and saying that even though they'd rather be home, they felt a duty to stay in D.C. That was their public service. The students were very brave. Later on in the semester, Senator John Kerry had called and said he wanted to speak to the students, which he did, and that was most appreciated by all. I was really proud of the way TWC handled that whole situation. The students all came first. Staff came in every day and no one stayed home.


TWC: What have been your major contributions during your time at The Washington Center?


Dr. Alpert: Some of the major contributions I've made during my time with the organization include:


  • The partnership and relationship TWC has created with C-SPAN. People around the country are able to witness students hearing from wonderful speakers throughout the country.
  • Partnerships TWC has developed with organizations such the National Society of Experiential Education, National Collegiate Honors Council, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  • The opportunity to run seminars such as the Women as Leaders Seminar and the National Convention Programs and help lead programs that met critical national needs, such as the nonprofit leaders, minority leadership, women in public policy, and the environmental policy programs we have had over the years.
  • Some significant hires of talented staff over the years, including some who are still here after more than a decade of service, such as Pilar Mendiola-Fernandez, Brian Feeley, Karen Henry and Kathleen Regan.

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