This year marks the fifth anniversary of the University’s Michigan in Washington program, but the anniversary isn’t a milestone organizers necessarily expected when the program first launched.

The University’s contract with the University of California to lease housing in Washington D.C. only stretched five years, but officials were able to renew the contract last year until 2014 thanks to the sustained success of the program. A fifth anniversary celebration is scheduled in Washington D.C. this weekend.

Michigan in Washington sends approximately 50 University undergraduate students from all majors to intern and take courses in Washington D.C. each semester. While in D.C., students take 12 to 15 credit hours and work in an internship position of their choosing.

Tracey Baetzel, the Michigan in Washington program coordinator, said through the ability to pick their own internships, students are able to create their own path within the program.

“The program is about learning how to make your own reality,” Baetzel said.

Students from all majors and backgrounds can apply to be a part of Michigan in Washington. The University of California houses the students admitted to the program in a residence hall five blocks away from the White House. Program participants write a 25-page research paper and take required classes and electives while in the capital.

Baetzel said that though most associate the program with the political science department, it’s open to students from all majors.

“We’d like to see more students outside of political science do this,” Baetzel said. “There’s a perception that you have to be a ‘straight A’ student, but we’re looking for blended students.”

LSA seniors Kelly Behr and Marianna Golovan met in D.C. during the fall 2009 semester of the program. They said they’re excited to be a part of the fifth anniversary celebration because it will help them build on the relationships they made through the program.

“The five-year reunion is going to be a great opportunity for networking because they are going to have a job panel of those people who have given us internships before,” Behr said.

Golovan said she plans to network at the event as well. She said she values the relationships she has established through the program, adding that she and Behr are now best friends.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn to be a professional while still in college,” Golovan said.

Behr said that the Michigan in Washington program was part of what attracted her to the University.

Public Policy senior Jared Gamelin said he decided to go to D.C. for the winter 2010 semester because it gave him the opportunity to study somewhere else besides campus and was more affordable than studying abroad.

“I was looking for a real-world experience in the field that I want to go in to,” Gamelin said. “You can’t really beat living in D.C.”

Gamelin added that the program provides a great opportunity for students to get what D.C. has to offer while still attending the University.

“Your overall college experience is going to be a lot different when you get to step away from the Ann Arbor bubble,” he said.

Recent University graduate Salim Alchurbaji was Gamelin’s roommate during the winter 2010 semester. He said he decided to apply for the program because he thought it would “be a great stepping stone.”

“It was a great opportunity to kind of get my feet wet in D.C.,” Alchurbaji said. “There’s always opportunities to network and meet people.”

Alchurbaji said one of his favorite experiences of the program was getting the chance to meet one of his role models — Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health an organization that aims to bring social justice in health worldwide — while interning with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. But Farmer was only one of the many public health professionals Alchurbaji said he met as a result of the program.

“I’m plugged into a great network of public health, policy, advocacy, humanitarian relief work and non-profit organizations,” Alchurbaji said.

LSA senior Seth Buchsbaum interned for the Office of Energy and Climate Change in the White House while participating in the program during the winter 2010 semester. He said he’s confident that he will get a job after he graduates because of the connections he made during his time in D.C.

“The vast majority of my work was actually substantive,” Buchsbaum said.

— Jordan Steiger contributed to this report

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