Bruce Wasserstein, who graduated from the University in 1967, has spearheaded a thousand business deals collectively valued at a quarter of a trillion dollars during his career. The most recent issue of Portfolio Magazine described his key strength: He is a generalist. Wasserstein has a wide spectrum of contacts and knowledge across diverse industries, as opposed to investors with “an extensive web of connections” largely limited to a single industry.

In a nation where the majority of education is standardized, it is increasingly useful to become academic generalists like Wasserstein, exploring and discovering ideas across fields rather than limiting our thinking to a single discipline. The University’s Michigan in Washington program is a case study in the innovative intellectual experiences we need as students. Through this program, 20 to 25 students live and work in a world-class city for the fall or winter semester, encountering new points of view and their own hidden passions.

Living in Washington D.C. provides a truly interdisciplinary experience. Our nation’s capital is brimming with rare opportunities and cultural adventures. Students can attend a U.S. Senate hearing in the morning, study in the magnificent reading rooms of the Library of Congress in the afternoon and experience the youthful culture of the Adams Morgan area, as well as a midnight monument tour in the evening. They can wake up on the weekend to a postcard view of the Washington Monument, jog to the new World War II Memorial, visit one of the many ethnic festivals throughout the year and enjoy the campus spirit at Georgetown and George Washington universities. From the Smithsonian to the White House, real world experience complements semester-long research and academic pursuits in the program.

It’s important to explore ideas in new settings. One of the best ways to stay curious about our world is to move to new locations and engage with unique cultures. Uniformity is ancient. Because the 21st century provides infinite opportunities to listen, click, watch and explore, it is increasingly valuable to learn how different people do and see things differently. But most of all, uniformity is un-American. Schools, museums, public forums and kickball games are all outlets that allow us to get out into a world and increase our social capital.

If we understand the ways that other people make choices, the social fabric of this country will strengthen. For example, Washington, D.C. is home to a great variety of people, including world-renowned scholars, celebrated political leaders, passionate artists and performers and, of course, the hundreds of interns who are the backbone of many businesses and bureaucracies. Students come to learn and intern in the nation’s capital from many universities throughout the country, participating in programs like Michigan in Washington. One of the greatest benefits of participating in such programs is getting the chance to meet other college students from around the country who share the desire to make an impact on our generation.

Learning in Washington D.C. also immerses students in the diverse heritage of America. It is one of the best places to study who we are as Americans, how we enact change as a society and where our nation is heading. Textbooks can only teach so much about the complexity of our government and the depth of our democracy; a true personal experience is needed to grasp what it means to be an American.

The World Economic Forum posed a question Thursday: “What Job Should My Child Take in a Globalizing Economy?” The responses collected by The New York Times included offering children a more flexible education to be adaptable and open to all cultures. Participating in a program like Michigan in Washington and the unique perspectives that can be gained from it might offer not only a highly enjoyable semester, but also a payoff in life.

Adam Finkel is an LSA senior. Hayley Kallenberg is an LSA junior. They were participants in the Michigan in Washington program in fall 2007. The deadline for applications is Friday, Feb. 1.

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