By Samantha Crawford
When junior Matthew Howell went to Washington for the fall semester, he knew he would get closer to the inner workings of the federal government. He just didn’t know how close.
“I spent time with Debo [Adegbile],” he said. “Senator [Patrick] Leahy showed me his family pictures. He spent real time with me.”
Adegbile is now President Obama’s nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. He is controversial because he once represented convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is the most senior member of the Senate, having served since 1975. H e is now third in line to succeed to the presidency, after the vice president and the speaker of the House.
“It was amazing to have this opportunity,” Howell said. “It felt great to be a part of something bigger than myself.”
Howell is a political science major from Flemington, N.J., who participated in the Washington Semester Program offered at American University.
Six Rider students have completed the program thus far. Currently, a seventh student is participating.
Students have not only learned “about the institutions and actors who run the nation, but will also build upon their existing social networks by making lifelong friends from around the nation and globe,” said Dr. Michael Brogan, assistant professor of political science. “These relationships will help students not only in the near-term, but also as they progress in their careers as they keep in contact with other program alumni.”
Howell gathered materials and research to assist nominees to possible judicial positions who were appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Howell holds high respect for Adegbile for his courage to stand up for controversial issues that are important to him. Some would not sacrifice themselves for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case and the defense of the Voting Rights Act in the South. Howell was inspired because Adegbile didn’t care about monetary contributions, only the cause itself.
When he interned for Leahy, chair of the Judiciary Committee, the senator was very friendly to Howell and had genuine conversations with him. The senator even mentioned his Hollywood appearance in The Dark Knight with the infamous Joker.
Howell said he has not only learned about political science in relation to real-world politics, but also attained insights into the kind of person he wants to be. Adegbile and Leahy were not like others Howell has interned with before. They reinforced the idea to be kind and sincere to those surrounding them, whether or not they are on their social or economic level.
The Washington Semester Program gave Howell so much beyond what a book could, he said. It made him realize what kind of person he wants to be.
For more info about the Washington Semester Program, visit http://www.rider.edu/academics/colleges-schools/claes/liberal-arts-programs/political-science/washington-semester-program