By Katharine Webster
Jessica Kergo will get to witness Donald Trump’s inauguration firsthand — and is already learning more about Trump and his Cabinet picks, thanks to a unique educational program in Washington.
“The campaign is only the surface. It will be good to learn more in-depth about their platform and their agenda,” she says. “And I’ve never really explored D.C., so that will be fun.”
Kergo, a sophomore honors student double-majoring in political science and English, is one of five UMass Lowell students taking a two-week course on the transition of power at The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (TWC) this month.
“Can We Elevate Political Discourse?” examines the election and the incoming administration’s policies on immigration, climate change and the environment, trade and the economy, racial equity, foreign relations and national security.
The students are earning three credits while living and studying with college students from around the country. They’re also touring museums and monuments and performing community service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The trip culminates with the inauguration on Jan. 20, thanks to tickets provided by U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, whose district includes Lowell and Lawrence.
As many as 15 to 20 UML students each year spend a semester interning and learning at TWC in Washington, and the university sends several students to the center’s Democratic and Republican convention programs every four years. But Francis Talty, assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, says this is the first time students have asked to attend the inauguration seminar. The college is paying part of the cost with dean’s scholarships.
“The students really put this together themselves,” Talty says. “The campaign was intense, so students felt a vested interest.”
Sophomore David Todisco, a political science major and passionate Clinton volunteer, was stunned when his candidate lost the Electoral College despite winning the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes. When he applied for the inauguration seminar, he thought he’d be celebrating the historic installation of the first woman president. Now he’s hoping to better understand Trump’s supporters and the role of the Electoral College.
Kergo, who leans right, campaigned for former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, but voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson for president. An intern with the nonprofit Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, she’s interested in budget and economic issues as well as Trump’s plans for national security.
“My biggest concern right now is how well the country is prepared to defend itself against terrorism,” she says.
An estimated 800,000 to 1 million Trump supporters are expected at the inauguration, along with a substantial number of protesters.
Adeja Crearer, an aspiring broadcast journalist, brought her video camera to Washington. She’s working on a documentary about race for her Honors College capstone project.
“I want to interview people about race relations, police brutality and affirmative action under our first African-American president and what they expect under Donald Trump,” she says.
Crearer, an English (journalism) major with minors in political science and digital media, has taken full advantage of the university’s partnership with TWC. She spent a semester there in fall 2015 studying and interning in political journalism, and she attended TWC’s Democratic convention seminar last summer in Philadelphia, where she interviewed delegates, members of Black Men for Bernie and protesters. Now she hopes to find and interview some Muslim and black Trump supporters to get their points of view.
“I’m hoping to tie it together with my findings from the convention and try to make sense of the entire 2016 election.”
Also attending were Amie Bonsaint of Peabody and Pamela Martinez of Miami. Both are political science majors and aspiring lawyers.