The policy process is complex and much like many sports, easier to learn when you are involved in the action taking place. Students from the School of Education’s EPPL 601 Educational Policy: Development & Analysis course and several visiting international students had the opportunity to experience the policy process live during a course-related trip to Washington D.C. in October. Pamela Eddy, professor and department chair of Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership, took students to the nation’s capital for a full day of dialogue with individuals supporting policy making and revision.
The trip started at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) headquarters where the students met with Margaret Millar, senior program director of state leadership to talk about issues facing K-12 public education across the nation. Marie O’Hara, associate director of state policy and implementation of Achieve, continued this conversation sharing insights on nationwide efforts to support students’ college and career readiness after high school graduation. The class also had opportunities to hear about current policy initiatives in higher education from Emily Miller, associate vice president for policy with the Association of American Universities.
During a working lunch session, the group was able to discuss the impact that branding and marketing can have on educational policy success with Steven Lovern ’13, M.Ed. ’17, senior account executive at SimpsonScarborough. Lovern also shared the impact that his William & Mary experience has had on his employment opportunities and work in Washington, D.C.
For the afternoon session, the group headed to Capitol Hill and meetings with personnel from three congressional offices. They were first greeted by Jacque Chevalier Mosely, director of education policy with the office of Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia’s 3rd District. This discussion included the mechanics of how committees get and use information to help their congressman, the committee, and the House of Representatives work towards creating new policy or revising and re-authorizing existing legislation.
“Many of the people we met involved in educational policy making did have experience in education,” said Jen Harnish, a second year doctoral student in K-12 Administration. “Policies no longer came across as something ‘someone’ in D.C. decides, and it was eye-opening to hear their perspectives.”
Next, the policy course participants joined Karishma Merchant, senior education policy advisor frp, the offices of Senator Tim Kaine. Merchant shared insights on how the senators work to support education in their own states as well as across the nation with PK-12 and higher education through legislation and funding initiatives.
Fujun Xiao, a visiting scholar in higher education reflected, “The legislative personnel we met generously shared a lot of practical policy affairs and affirmed my perceptions that policymakers are dutifully dedicated to their work.”
Finally, the group joined Austin Walton, legislative assistant from the office of Congressman Rob Wittman, of Virginia’s 1st District.
“This trip was a valuable experience,” said Jingjing Liu, first year Ph.D. student in Higher Education. “It advanced my understanding of the importance of building an effective pipeline for communication and coalition-building in navigating the political landscape.”
The sojourn to Washington, D.C. has become a rite of passage for doctoral students in the class. Eddy reflected, “At the end of this daylong event, students are tired from waking before dawn to catch the train, walking the hill, and processing so much information. Yet, time and time again, I hear from students that this is the most memorable part of the policy class.”
Providing opportunities to students for authentic learning to put learned theory into practical use is a cornerstone of the doctoral program, and the trip to Washington, DC to see policy first-hand helps meet this goal.