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Washington, D.C., Study Group

Spring 2019 Director:  Noah Dauber, Associate Professor 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.


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, congressional committee, think tank, or interest group. 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 Constitutional Order: Continuity and Change (POSC 410, 8 weeks). This course explores the legal and ideological framework of governance and policy formation in the United States. The course will begin with a study of the Constitution and limited government, survey the reform movements (from Progressivism and Populism to the New Deal) which inform policy debates to this day, and then turn to the recent contexts of policy (from the Civil Rights movement to the Reagan Revolution to the New Democrats). Throughout the course, but especially in the last section, we will hear from local activists, scholars, and policy makers about how these intellectual frameworks have informed their approach to government. Taught by Professor Dauber.

2. Readings and Research on American Government (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, administrative law, the formation of political/policy agendas, budget development and execution, executive-congressional relations, the media, and current events. The course focuses in particular on the administrative law of the federal bureaucracy as it relates to the three branches of government (especially on the doctrine of Chevron deference). 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 Patrick Purtill.

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. Graded satisfactory/unsatisfactory. Placements and supervision by Patrick Purtill.

4. Seminar: Contemporary Policy Process (POSC 414, 7 weeks). This course applies the literature discussed in 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 the Spring of 2019, we will focus on welfare reform and the labor market. 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. In hearing from economists, lawyers, and party officials from a range of institutions, we will try to make sense of how the parties are trying to define a political economy for America which is consistent with their traditions (explored in POSC 410), but which needs to face the changing economic realities of automation and global trade. Students are expected to take full advantage of these opportunities by being active and informed participants. Taught by Professor Dauber.

Eligibility, Basis for Selection, and Prerequisites

The Washington Study Group is open to students who will be juniors, seniors, or mature sophomores in Spring 2017. 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 and Decision-making in American Government
  • 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.

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.

Students on the Washington DC study group

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 estimated 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 deadline for applications to the spring 2019 Washington D.C. Study Group is Wednesday, November 15, 2017. Applications are on the Colgate University Off-Campus Study/International Programs’ websites and are submitted online. Only finalists in the selection process will be interviewed. Interviews will be arranged by e-mail. Student notification of selections will take place late December 2017.

Program Dates

 Washington Study Group Program Dates: late January — late May, 2019

Informational Sessions

Monday, October 16, 2017 at 4:30 pm and

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 at 11:30 am

Both informational sessions will be held in 101 McGregory Hall.
All students interested in applying should plan on attending one of these sessions.

For More Information

Contact the Director, Noah Dauber, ndauber@colgate.edu