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Washington, D.C., Study Group

Spring 2020 Director:  Michael Hayes, Department of Political Science 

The History of the Washington, D.C. Study Group

The Washington Study Group, sponsored by the Political Science Department since 1935, was the first formal Colgate Study Group, and the first of its kind in Washington DC. Under the direction of Professor Paul S. Jacobsen ’27, ten top-ranking juniors and seniors in the political science department were selected to attend in the fall of 1935. For the full semester, they studied the constitutional procedures and government operations of political parties, congress, public administration, and the legislation. They utilized the facilities of the federal government for first-hand observation of a wide variety of the government activities and also for some measure of actual participation in the work of several agencies on a limited intern basis. For example, they would aid in the work of a congressman’s office in addition to attending the sessions of congress and congressional committees. The study group would also continue through the January Term which enabled students to conduct major field projects, such as research on the branches of the federal government. In 1950, the 12th study group was composed of all seniors except for one junior student.  By the 1960s, the program allowed twelve students to participate in the study group. In 1973, the 34th Washington Study Group marked the first time that women participated in and completed the Washington Study Group. Three women in their third year joined the once all male students study group. The faculty-led Washington D.C. Study Group continues today as a popular group for students in the political science department. In addition, several newspaper articles, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote about Colgate’s success with the study group.

Students pose with a statue that says 'Zoo' at the Washington, D.C. zoo


Colgate University's Washington Study Group combines rigorous academic analysis with a total immersion in Washington political life. During the semester, students take senior seminars on the American political system and choose an internship in congressional offices, agencies, or think-tanks. They also meet national leaders in politics, journalism, business, the military, and the arts and visit the great historical and cultural sites of the city.

Begun in 1935, the Washington Study Group is the oldest of Colgate's study groups and the first program of its kind in Washington, D.C. Many of its graduates establish life-long connections in Washington and return to Washington after graduation to build successful careers in national government and politics.

Courses taken on this study group do not satisfy the Core Global Engagements requirement. Students will need to meet this requirement by enrolling in a designated course offered on campus.

Program Structure and Course Credits

The program features three 400-level seminars and a 12-week internship with an executive agency, think-tank, or congressional committee. Integrating course work with direct participation, the program provides a balance of academic study, social life, and practical experience. The three graded courses (POSC 410, 412, and 414) count for concentration credit, while the pass/fail internship component (POSC 413) counts toward graduation requirements. The seminars combine lectures, group discussion, and presentations by Washington insiders.

1. Our Changing Constitutional Order (POSC 410, 8 weeks). This course explores how the policy process in the United States is shaped by our constitution and how the major institutions of government have evolved from the founding to the present. It examines the changing roles of Congress, the President, political parties, interest groups, and public opinion as well as how policy-making takes different forms for different types of issues.  The role state governments play in both policy implementation and policy innovation will also be explored. Taught by Professor Hayes

2. Executive Decision Making and Leadership (POSC 412). The first half of this course meets as a weekly seminar, and explores themes relevant to the students’ experience in Washington: why government organizations function (or fail to function) as they do, presidential leadership of the bureaucracy, the formation of political/policy agendas, budget development and execution, executive-congressional relations, the media, and current events. In the second half of this course, students, with personal supervision of the instructor, will research and write a major paper on a topic that draws upon sources unique to our Washington location. Taught by Robert Samuels.

3. Internships in the American Political System (POSC 413, 12 weeks). Students serve a 12-week internship with executive agencies, congressional offices, the Supreme Court, the state department, the media or interest groups. They participate directly in the activities of the political process. The Readings and Research course (POSC 412) is designed to enhance and complement this internship experience. Pass/Fail. Placements and supervision by Robert Samuels.

4. Contemporary Politics and Policy (POSC 414, 7 weeks). This course applies the literature on the policy process presented in both POSC 410 and POSC 412 to a current policy area. Previous topics have included health care, welfare reform, campaign finance reform, energy policy, the proper scope of the federal government, and the causes and consequences of political gridlock. In research papers and class presentations, students will be asked to propose policy reforms and assess their political feasibility. For research papers, students will have checkout privileges at Georgetown University Library. Taught by Professor Hayes.

Throughout the semester, as part of the academic and experiential components of the program, we will have interviews with leaders in the policy process – media figures, interest group and party spokesmen, politicians, academicians, officials, and high-level civil servants. Students are expected to take full advantage of these opportunities by being active and informed participants.


Eligibility, Basis for Selection, and Prerequisites

The Washington Study Group is open to students who will be juniors, seniors, or mature sophomores in Spring 2020. Students do not have to concentrate in political science to be eligible for the group, although most participants are political science majors.

Selections are made by the Director in consultation with other members of the Department of Political Science. Criteria for selection include: academic achievement, evidence of interest, and personal qualifications essential to successful participation in the program.

Successful applicants for the Washington Study Group must take one of the following prerequisite courses:

  • POSC 210: Congress
  • POSC 150: America as a Democracy
  • POSC 211: The Presidency and Executive Leadership
For research papers, students may use the Library of Congress and will have checkout privileges at Georgetown University Library.


Students in ornate stairwellFor research papers, students may use the Library of Congress and will have checkout privileges at Georgetown University Library.They may also use nearby libraries at American University, Catholic University, and the University of Maryland, or other public libraries located in the Washington area.

Living Arrangements

Students will live in apartments rented by Colgate University in the Cleveland House located near the Woodley Park/Zoo Metro stop in the District of Columbia. Students take the Red Line from the Woodley Park/Zoo metro stop to Union Station and then walk about two blocks to the Hall of the States, where classes are held. Colgate will make the necessary arrangements for apartment leases and will charge students for housing.

Standards of Conduct

Activities and behavior of the Study Group members in Washington must be consistent with their responsibilities as students of the governmental process, as representatives of Colgate University, and – during internships – as participants in governmental operations. The program is a full-time activity and precludes other work commitments, such as part-time employment. On internship assignments, students maintain the regular work schedule of their offices.


Washington offers an abundance of rich, cultural life, including the Smithsonian Museums, Shakespearean theatre, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and other venues, as well as three major league sports teams. The study group will attend a variety of educational, cultural, and athletic events.


For details of student expenses on this study group, please see the Student Cost Estimate Sheet.

Calendar and Deadlines

All students interested in applying should plan on attending one of the informational sessions. The study group application will open on Wednesday, October 3, 2018, and will close on Wednesday, November 7, 2018.  Applications are on the Colgate University Off-Campus Study websites and are submitted online at offcampusstudy.colgate.edu. Only finalists in the selection process will be interviewed. Interviews will be arranged by e-mail. The faculty director will announce admissions decisions by early January 2019.

Program Dates

 Washington Study Group Program Dates: Late January – Mid-May, 2020

For More Information

If you have any questions, please contact Prof. Hayes, 111 Persson Hall, 315-228-7522, or mhayes@colgate.edu

Informational Sessions

    Thursday, October 11 at 7pm in 108 Persson Hall

    Tuesday, October 16 at 7pm in 108 Persson Hall

    Monday, October 22 at 7pm in 108 Persson Hall