Rep. Adrian Smith worked to balance his time between serving in Congress and teaching a course at George Washington University this spring.
For student David Spanton, an Army Congressional fellow who works in the office of Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the class was a chance to hear directly from a lawmaker.
“When the Congressman spoke, folks were pretty quiet,” he said. “But he would open it up to questions and never give the final answer. He’d just say, ‘This is how I view it from where I sit,’ and then it was absolutely open for questions. It was a very informal dialogue, and it was unbelievable access to a Congressman to ask what you wanted.”
Smith said he and Shapiro designed the course with that interactive aspect in mind.
“The course was discussion-based, and intentionally so because we thought this approach would be best to give the students a better understanding of the influences and pressures on a Member of Congress,” Smith wrote. “We wanted it to be practical, not theoretical.”
From the start, Boyer said his Capitol Hill professors impressed him with their emphasis on maintaining a nonpartisan environment.
“Within the first 10 minutes of the first class, they both said, ‘We’re not here to lecture you on the Republican Party’s ideals or sell you on policy positions. This is intended to be a nonpartisan class. If you ever think it’s not nonpartisan, let us know,’” said Boyer, who is pursuing a master’s degree in legislative affairs. “And they stuck to that far better than a lot of other Members would have. I personally never got any type of feeling they were leaning one way or the other at all.”
Smith and Shapiro’s commitment to their students often went beyond the classroom, Boyer added.
“When class would adjourn, Adrian would stick around and talk to anyone, whether it was stuff related to the reading or someone saying, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a job,’” Boyer said. “Jeff and Adrian have really gone to bat for a couple of people, and they stay in touch with people as well. It’s a very big benefit from taking that class and in getting that kind of access, especially for students that didn’t already have jobs.”
The class, Shapiro said, offered a chance for him to mentor a group of students who are on the fast track to Hill careers.
“One of the most fulfilling things for me was getting to know the students,” he wrote in an email. “Many of them are at the early stages of what I am confident will be successful careers on the Hill. Having the opportunity to sit down with them in my office or over coffee to walk through their professional goals and what I could do to help them was really rewarding for me.”
For students, the class was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I’m from a small town in central Illinois — I hadn’t been to D.C. until two-and-a-half years ago. To go from never being in Washington and then two years later, I’m in a class at GW with a Congressman is just unbelievable,” said Spanton, a U.S. Army captain pursuing his master’s degree in legislative affairs. “It’s something I’ll take with me for years.”
Billet said the university hopes to offer the course again.