Spring cohort trips back on track

Scholars' UN simulation

McDonnell Scholars head to Washington

Trips to Washington, D.C. and to New York City over spring break have been a highlight of the McDonnell Scholars’ experience since 2007. After a pause due to the global pandemic, this year’s programming resumed with a visit to the nation’s capital. More than 50 McDonnell Scholars from three cohorts traveled to Washington, D.C. to learn about the U.S. political system, enhance their leadership skills, and grow their professional network. Joining them on the road was the Academy’s founding benefactor, John McDonnell, whose vision continues to shape the program in important ways. “Our programming focuses on enhancing the Scholars’ communications skills and embracing new experiences out of their comfort zone. This includes having difficult conversations and thinking critically about challenging global issues,” said McDonnell Academy Director Kurt Dirks. 

… the trip is a chance to bond with other Scholars. It is these strong personal connections among the Scholars, forged through their shared experiences, that are particularly meaningful and last a lifetime.

Kurt Dirks, Director

Over three days, the Scholars met with leaders from various government agencies, top think tanks and media organizations. Guest speakers from the U.S. State Department and the Department of Energy addressed critical global issues and the intricacies of U.S. foreign policy-making. Experts from the Council of Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institute weighed in on current events. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine took center stage in this year’s discussions. President Putin’s risk tolerance is “insatiable,”warned Matan Chorev, principal deputy director of theSecretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff. Michael O’Hanlon, director of research in Foreign Policy at Brookings, discussed the historical precedent of aggressors who thought wars would be easier than they turned out to be. Putin is not crazy, but he has miscalculated on Ukraine, argued O’Hanlon. The Scholars also engaged in a NationalSecurity Council simulation focusing on a case involvingRussia and NATO in the Baltics, drawing parallels to the current situation in Ukraine.

The Model Diplomacy simulation was interesting; we got a feel of the complexity of decision making, and how a lot of external factors influence the decision-making process.

Clifford Atuiri, McDonnell Scholar

On the second day, the Scholars heard from experts on nuclear security and non-proliferation including Corey Hinderstein, deputy administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration and Mahsa Rouhi, research fellow at the Center for Strategic Research, Institute for National Strategic Studies. In another session, the Scholars engaged in a lively debate about the role of the media in the political landscape. Aamer Madhani, White House reporter for the Associated Press, and Eric Schultz, a senior advisor to former President Obama, offered their personal advice to communicators and discussed the need for innovation in a constantly evolving media landscape. Mr. Schultz reflected on the challenges posed by the spread of disinformation and the urgent need to improve media literacy for young people. These sessions were interspersed with cultural and social experiences, including visits to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the Library of Congress and other iconic landmarks, as well as an inspiring night tour of the national monuments.

The program concluded with a reception, hosted by Mark Wrighton, Chancellor Emeritus of Washington University in St. Louis, on the campus of George Washington University, featuring Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) as a special guest. In their free time, the Scholars enjoyed touring the city’s famous sights together. Dain Lee, Tzu-Hsin Huang and Pei-Hsu Lin explored D.C. by bike. “After a long day of talking and listening, there is nothing better than rolling your wheels along the Potomac River,” said Tzu-Hsin Huang. “Not only did CaBi (bike-share program) take us to enjoy great Mexican food in the fish market, we also met House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a small street!”

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