Rocky Training Program Hits It Out of the Park in D.C.

The Rockefeller Center's First Year Fellows civic skills training program returned to Washington this year, giving students a chance to get in-person advice from prominent alumni in government and media.

Among the people the fellows met were CNN anchor Jake Tapper '91, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand '88, D-N.Y.; and U.S. Reps. Ann McLane Kuster '78, D-N.H. and Alex Mooney '93, R-W.V., before the start of their two-month internships in the nation's capital.

The group also landed tickets to the Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Stadium where, along with President Joe Biden and a crowd of nearly 20,000, they watched the Republicans rout the Democrats, 16-6. (The annual event raised a record $1.8 million for Washington-area charities.)

The civic skills training program, a requirement for all First Year Fellows before they start their eight-week public policy internships in Washington, had gone online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The return to in-person networking in Washington was invigorating for the students, faculty, and staff of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy, which has run the program for more than a decade, says Rockefeller Center Associate Director Herschel Nachlis, a research assistant professor of government and faculty director of the First Year Fellows program.

"Perhaps the best part of the Center's First Year Fellows civic skills training trip to DC is seeing generous alumni share their wisdom and experience with a group of excited and brilliant students," says Nachlis.

"Many of these conversations begin with a bit of a star-struck quality when students first meet prominent elected officials, journalists, policymakers, and civic leaders. But they quickly become deeply substantive, and also personal," he says.

In addition to meeting with lawmakers and other prominent alumni, and participating in training sessions with Rocky staff members Laura Hemlock and Taylor Pichette, who also organized the week of events, the 20 first-year fellows attended communications and professional skills workshops run by alumni who work in Congressional offices, nonprofits, and journalism.

During the week of civic skills training in mid-June, the group also sat in on debates and roll call votes in the U.S. House, visited the Congressional Budget Office (where Dartmouth Professor Carrie Colla '01 recently served as director of health analysis), attended a networking reception with an all-star lineup of Washington alumni, found time for a visit to the National Zoo, and made it out to the ballgame.

"Being on the ground in D.C. also brings many sometimes-unanticipated delights," says Nachlis. "For example, as we were walking across Capitol Hill from the House office buildings to the Senate office buildings, we ran into Vermont's own Sen. Peter Welch, who stopped to talk to the group for a few minutes."

The program also finalizes housing for the fellows during the week before the students begin their public policy internships. The public policy assignments this year, which run through August, include internships in Kuster and Gillibrand's offices, and at the Brookings Institution, the League of Conservation Voters, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, among other placements.

Senior Fellow Ron Shaiko, who is retiring after more than 20 years at Dartmouth, made his last trip to Washington with the civic skills training program. Shaiko, who helped found the First Year Fellows program in 2007, has run the civic skills training program since its inception.

"A highlight of this year's annual alumni reception was when alumni spoke with touching tributes to Professor Shaiko," Nachlis says. "He was central to establishing the First Year Fellows program, and we endeavor to sustain and build on the remarkable foundation he set."