Mr. Bridges Goes to Washington

Release Date: 9/26/2011

When he traveled this summer to Washington D.C. to study at the Public Policy Institute, Cory Bridges wasn't sure what to expect. "I've been in Clarksville my whole life," he said, "and to be able to go to a place like that? I didn't think I'd enjoy it before I went, being from here, but I see now that I love it that much more because I'm from here."

Bridges was one of a handful of students who went to Washington this summer to study and intern there through the sponsorship of the U of O's Academic Enrichment Fund. The purpose of the Academic Enrichment Fund is to offer competitive grants to students in support of their research or creative projects, professional preparation through internships, and study abroad

"Applying was rigorous," Bridges said. "You had to come up with your budget and your personal statement, and it's hard sometimes to talk about yourself, but all in all it wasn't too bad. Figuring the budget was a challenge. I had plenty of money I needed while I was there, but it was hard to project what all I'd need for two months. I'm glad it all worked out so well."

Cory Bridges at Georgetown University.

Cory Bridges, a senior English major, spent part of summer 2011 at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.

The Georgetown Public Policy Institute is a leading public policy program affiliated with Georgetown University. GPPI offers master's degrees in public policy and policy management as well as administers several professional certificate programs and boasts five affiliated research institutes. Ozarks students have participated in its programs for several years.

"We had the option of taking six or nine hours for course credit," Bridges said. "I decided on nine because I figured I ought to take advantage of the opportunity. One class was 'Comparative Political Economic Systems,' and Dr. Benjamin Powell, who taught it, actually came here recently to talk about sweatshops."

Bridges also took a course on "Transformation of American Politics." He said the course covered the topic "from the beginning to now, how everything's changed up. It was an eye opener to see how things have changed in ways the Founding Fathers probably wouldn't have enjoyed."

Bridges' third course was an internship seminar. "We read a book, Charles Peters' How Washington Really Works," he said. "The class, and the book, gave us the ins and outs on what to expect during our time in Washington, the aspects of Washington culture that no one's really used to, unless they've experienced it. It was an inside look at everything."

He said the most surprising discovery of his summer was the amount of networking that happens on Capitol Hill. "It was a big topic especially in that internship seminar," Bridges said, "because the class was also a course on how to succeed in Washington, how it works. Over and over they stressed that you must know people. It really hit me hard that it's not what you know, it's who you know. It seemed to me that it should be based on what you know, but I realize now you can't get into those positions unless you network. That was maybe the most difficult aspect for me to grasp. I still feel a person's success should be based on knowledge, but I guess that's just the way the world works, especially in Washington. You don't get anywhere alone; you have to know someone. Everyone I talked to said that's how it was. It was an interesting realization."

Bridges' background as an English major proved extremely beneficial for his coursework. "At first I thought being an English major, rather than, say, political science, might work against me," he said. "I think I was one of two English majors out of the 160 students there. Everyone else was in political science, public policy, etc. It was slightly overwhelming at the outset, taking three classes, and I wondered if I was ready for this."

However, his trepidation quickly passed. "The thing is," he said, "we had to write papers, and the paper-writing requirement really started crippling some of my classmates halfway through, because they knew what they wanted to say, but their comparative lack of writing background got in their way. If you'd just show up for the classes and read the assignments, then nothing was too hard to comprehend, so once I got a firm grasp on the free market, or whatever we were studying, my English degree really paid off. Especially the work I've done with Dr. Strain, who's molded me into being able to write. That made the difference in a B-paper and an A-paper with them. It takes a lot longer to learn to write well than to cover course material, and that writing skill will never go away."

Bridges said his former military experience as an infantryman in the U.S. Army, and his ability to write well, both paid off during his internship. "Being a veteran, I was fortunate to be able to work with an organization called We Honor Veterans, a branch of the Department of Defense," Bridges said. "They deal with WWII and Vietnam-era vets. I've never personally had any problems being a veteran in terms of representation or my benefits, but the group I interned with said a huge problem is that the older vets often have life-threatening illnesses or are in hospice situations, that sort of thing, but have little or no representation to make sure they get their benefits or to make sure their benefits are passed on. I noticed this that a lot of times; for example when veterans passed on they wouldn't even be recognized as veterans, because no one remembered anymore."

Part of Bridges' work with We Honor Veterans was helping bring some of these cases to the forefront, and making sure the families of such veterans received appropriate help. "It was great to get a new perspective there, just as I did experiencing the big city life of Washington," he said. "It's not all butterflies and rainbows. There are definitely problems with the system. It was good to be helping."

Bridges said the people at We Honor Veterans were excited to have an English major, rather than the more typical political science majors. "As a result," he said, "they allowed me to create a four-week, fully online course, based on five books they supplied me, for them to offer to their partners - they have partnerships with hospitals or hospice organizations which deal mainly with the older veterans, and they had me write a crash course in what to expect from veterans that age, dealing with end of life issues, for example. I was able to create everything from the syllabus to all the assignments to the reading prompts - they let me have full control of the whole project, which they're launching this fall, actually. So I felt accomplished at the end of the day. English is such a versatile major to have."

What did he think of Georgetown itself? "I might be shooting a little high to want to go to law school at Georgetown," Bridges said, "but if I could I'd go back in a heart beat. That's at the top of the top of my list. Everything about it was great. The place is steeped in history. The campus itself is amazing. I loved it so much."