Rocky's First-Year Fellows Tune In to D.C. 'Magic'

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Civic training in Washington provides a gateway to summer public policy internships.

Rockefeller Center first-year fellows
The 2024 Rockefeller Center first-year fellows gather in the studios of CNN before meeting with lead anchor and Dartmouth trustee Jake Tapper ’91. (Photo by Taylor Pichette)

When the first-year fellows at the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy talk about their week of civic skills training in Washington, D.C., this month, the CNN studio is at the top of many highlight lists.

“We got to see Jake Tapper’s studio and the ‘magic wall’ where election results pour in on election night,” says Will Nelson ’27, a first-year fellow who is interning this summer for Democrats serving on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. “After watching so many election nights on CNN, Dartmouth gave me a way to experience such an important setting up close.”

“They brought it out and plugged it in for us,” says Margaret de la Fuente ’27, who is interning at the Department of Education. “You could select any of the recent elections. So we were looking at 2020. We also looked at the midterm elections in 2022, and we were able to zoom in on our own districts and see the vote count, which was really cool.”

Tapper ’91, the lead anchor at CNN and a Dartmouth trustee, is one of scores of connected alumni in Washington who provide advice, insight, and internships to participants in the Rockefeller Center’s First-Year Fellows Program.

Annie Kuster with students outside the Capitol
Rep. Annie Kuster ’78, D-N.H., meets with students from the First-Year Fellows Program on the steps of the Capitol. (Photo by Bob Coates)

The program provides civic skills training sessions during the spring term and a week of training in D.C. before placing the fellows in internships over the summer with members of Congress, federal agencies, and the private sector. This year, 20 first-year students were selected for the program.

“The week in D.C. provided an incredible opportunity for the Rockefeller Center’s students, including visits with distinguished alumni at the Department of Justice, Google, CNN, multiple U.S. Senate offices, multiple U.S. House offices, the Congressional Budget Office, Penta Group, and the Court of Federal Claims, among others, and even a stop at the annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park,” says Herschel Nachlis, associate director and senior policy fellow at the Rockefeller Center, and faculty director of the First-Year Fellows Program.

One long-time centerpiece of the civic training week is Capitol Hill Day, when the fellows have face-to-face meetings with lawmakers, many of them Dartmouth alumni, in their offices and tour the halls of the House and Senate. 

“Another highlight for me was Capitol Hill Day, when we got to meet with several alumni who are serving in Congress right now,” says de la Fuente. “We met with Rep. Alex Mooney ’93, R-W.V., and with staff in the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ’88, D-N.Y., and we also met Rep. Annie Kuster ’78, D-N.H., right on the steps of the Capitol.”

In addition to Mooney, Gillibrand, and Kuster, some of the fellows had the opportunity to meet with Rep. Thomas Kean ’90, R-N.J., and Rep. Sean Casten, Thayer ’98 , D-Ill.

Other trips included visits to the Congressional Budget Office, the Court of Federal Claims, and the Department of Justice.

“When we toured the Department of Justice,” says Nelson, “I was particularly taken by how each of the attorneys described leading a life of public service rather than taking the jobs that made the most money. They told us to do what we think is right—even if it’s not easy. After the visit, I am even more empowered to pursue law school after Dartmouth and try to defend ‘the little guy.’”

The week of civic skills training, which drew on the experience of Rockefeller Center program officer Taylor Pichette, who lived and worked in the nation’s capital for more than a decade before moving to Dartmouth, also included class time in a space at the National Press Club. The classes focused on subjects including professional communication, policy entrepreneurship, and D.C. networking, often led by recent Dartmouth grads who are working in Washington. And the week wrapped up with a reception attended by dozens of alumni, some just starting their careers and others who have reached the heights of public policy and private-sector service over decades. The event was hosted by the Penta Group, a business, policy, and communications consulting group based in Washington, whose president is Matt McDonald ’00.

“That our alumni come together in such force to mentor and train the next generation of policy leaders, and welcome them with open arms in Washington, D.C., shows just how dedicated and incredible Rockefeller Center and Dartmouth alumni are,” says Nachlis. “We hope to build on this foundation by expanding Rockefeller and Dartmouth’s presence in our nation’s capital over the coming years.”