a woman comes out of a set of glass doors
Called to Be: Learning & Discovery

Title:Destination: DC

Author: Bhriana Smith
Date Published: April 29, 2023

One semester at Georgetown’s immersive innovation hub downtown can make all the difference.

When Thais Borges (C’22) participated in Georgetown’s Capitol Applied Learning Labs (CALL) program during the fall of her senior year, she was still trying to figure out what path her career could take. With pre-law ambitions in mind, she signed up for a class entitled U.S. Law Theory and Practice taught by Andrew Caffey, an adjunct professor and practicing attorney in Maryland.

“Professor Caffey provided us with a lens into the legal experience by connecting our class with both practicing attorneys and others with law degrees,” she says. “Being able to speak with them and learn from their experiences allowed me to reassess my academic journey.”

a building at sunset in a city
Photo: Georgetown University

Meeting these professionals helped Borges release some of the pressure she had put on herself about next steps after completing her bachelor’s degree.

“I started to breathe a little better when I realized I could have a successful law career without going to law school immediately after graduation,” she recalls.

Like many CALL students, Borges came away empowered to make different choices than the ones she had planned. She also learned more about how her identity and values are formed in part by her surroundings.

A new perspective

One of the things that sets Georgetown apart is the university’s location in the nation’s capital. In Washington, DC, there are numerous opportunities to observe, learn from, and even participate in federal and local governments, as well as organizations focused on issues ranging from social conflict to global health to the future of the planet.

Yet for some students, the logistics of an internship can be challenging. Many of the positions are unpaid, occur during standard class times, and are difficult to reach from the Hilltop via public transportation.

DC is the only place where you can be a citizen on both the local and national level….We want students to think about what it means to be a citizen, to engage with a city or town, and take that ideology to wherever they go after Georgetown.

— Abigail Lewis

Aligned with a longstanding commitment to removing the barriers to education, Georgetown launched the trailblazing CALL program in Fall 2019. A local immersion program akin to a study abroad experience, CALL offers undergraduate students the opportunity to live and work in downtown DC for a semester. Open to all majors, it is a unique way to integrate traditional and applied learning.

Students spend 20-30 hours per week in carefully selected internships based on their field of interest. To complement their work experience, students spend 10 hours a week in a combination of classroom learning and group activities that explore the city as a community. Because the students live together on one floor of a new Georgetown dormitory downtown, they get to know each other as a cohort, too.

a lobby space
The new Georgetown buildings include student residences as well as classroom and meeting spaces. Photo: Sam Levitan

“DC is the only place where you can be a citizen on both the local and national level,” notes Abigail Lewis, found- ing director of the CALL. “We want students to think about what it means to be a citizen, to engage with a city or town, and take that ideology to wherever they go after Georgetown.”

By integrating internship experiences and professional development courses into academic work, the CALL offers Georgetown’s undergraduates something they can’t find elsewhere.

“One of the ways to assist students in their transition from life as a student to life as a working professional is with professional experience,” says Lewis.

The program is part of an ever-growing experiential learning ecosystem, challenging students to delve deeper into the idea of cura personalis—care of the whole person—not just as a Georgetown student, but also as members of a broader community.

Georgetown flags on pillars
CALL students live in Georgetown’s new building right in the heart of the city at 55 H Street in NW Washington. Photo: Sam Levitan

Every semester CALL students explore different themes. The Spring 2023 semester has four, in addition to a student-customized option: social impact and activism; environment and sustainability; pre-law; and community organizing through the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, an initiative that develops creative strategies and innovative public policy to improve workers’ lives.

Coursework is structured to adhere to the themes. This semester, there is an interdisciplinary course called Food, Farming, and Technology that explores global food insecurity, and another course called DC Latinx History that analyzes the impact of changing U.S. immigration policy on immigrants in the local area.

In addition to the courses, workshops are offered in practical topics, like Life Negotiations and Professional Writing. Some take on more weighty subjects, such as a workshop that explores the question Why Is the Health-care System so Hard to Fix?

The value of applied learning

The idea for the CALL was born in 2018 at the Red House, Georgetown’s incubator for curriculum transformation. Led by Randy Bass, the university’s vice president for strategic education initiatives, the Red House works to expand high-impact educational practices at Georgetown, confront systemic injustice, and ensure cura personalis is prioritized in students’ educational experiences.

The program is designed to serve students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, especially those who might not otherwise be able to participate in an off-campus learning experience.

Susannah McGowan, director of curriculum transformation initiatives at the Red House, meets frequently with university stakeholders to determine needs for innovation and curriculum change.

“We are really trying to define what an experiential undergraduate education looks like,” notes McGowan.

“In our work with the CALL, we are learning how to leverage DC’s resources to connect students with what’s happening in the city and around the world.”

McGowan and Lewis collaborate to map out the CALL’s course offerings, including working with instructors on various types of assessments to support student learning.

a rectangular building with windows
Apartments include single occupancy bedrooms with kitchens and in-unit washers and dryers. There’s even a penthouse-level fitness and community center. Photo: Sam Levitan

“We’re going beyond the typical classroom essay here,” says McGowan. “We focus on assessments that help students demonstrate what they’ve learned, and what impact that learning might have on their next choices—either in their academic career or their professional one.”

The program works with the Cawley Career Education Center to help secure and maximize DC-area internships. Each student is required to participate in a four-credit internship. Add in the extra seminars, and most students end up with 12-15 credits for the semester.

Margaret Wu (C’24) completed her internship at the White House’s Office of Management and Administration, but for her, the experience in CALL’s classrooms was just as valuable. She was able to connect with other students, which deepened both learning and the sense of community.

“Because CALL has small classes, I was really able to engage with my classmates and hear their personal stories,” she notes. “I learned what their internships were like, what they believe in, and what is important to them.” McGowan notes that the program’s partners in the Cawley Center offer coaching to help students shape their professional goals around what they value.

“Part of experiential learning involves understanding the questions you need to ask yourself periodically about your purpose,” McGowan adds.

‘Out and about in the city’

During their time in the program, students are encouraged to explore the city as their personal classroom, allowing them to engage with DC in new and exciting ways.

The experience is different for each student. One may intern for a private consulting firm, another at an educational technology organization, still another at the White House, but at the end of the day, they all come together to share their experiences and learn from one another.

Part of experiential learning involves understanding the questions you need to ask yourself periodically about your purpose.

— Susannah McGowan

The CALL courses are usually taught downtown—either at 500 First Street NW or at the School for Continuing Studies—but some students opt to take a class on the Hilltop.

“It’s really impactful for the students to navigate between downtown and main campus,” McGowan notes. “You learn so much when you’re out and about in the city.”

This past year, the CALL—which has expanded from six students in its initial cohort to more than 75 students in the 2022-2023 academic year—opened its new student dormitory at 55 H Street NW. The building, centrally located in downtown DC near Georgetown’s Capitol Campus, features state-of-the-art study and lounge areas, along with indoor and outdoor classrooms. The CALL undergrads share the dormitory space with Georgetown graduate and law students.

“Being in-person downtown taught me how to immerse in a new community,” shares Ashly Paulino (C’20, G’21), a first-generation college student who was also a part of Georgetown’s Community Scholars Program. Before participating in the CALL, she rarely had reason to travel beyond the Hilltop.

For Paulino and others, the CALL has been a game- changer. The program is designed to serve students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, especially those who might not otherwise be able to participate in an off-campus learning experience. An ongoing partnership with the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP) has helped the program’s visibility and growth. Through the CALL, GSP students, many of whom are first-generation college students, are able to accept unpaid internships without incurring financial hardship.

people work at a long table
CALL students participate in local activities and classroom discussions that explore the city as a community. Photo By: Phil Humnicky

Philanthropy has also had an impact. Thanks to a gift from John Idol, father of Christina Idol (C’14) and former member of the Board of Directors, Board of Regents, and College Board of Advisors, the Idol Family Summer Fellowship Program helps students with limited financial means receive housing and other stipends, enabling them to accept unpaid internships—even during the COVID-19 crisis. The program supports 16 new students each summer, reinforcing the idea that an internship during college should be available to all, not a privilege for a few.

Innovation and collaboration

The CALL curriculum challenges students’ understanding of the world by encouraging them to take what they know and apply it to field work.

“We take the best practices of how humans learn,” notes McGowan. “Interaction plays a major role in learning, but so does understanding who you are and where you are in a given moment.”

Along with its internship focus, the CALL highlights practical applications. For example, the program’s How to Frame a Legal Argument course is taught using an active case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

Partnerships with other university programs offer additional experiential learning opportunities for students. The Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI), led by founding director Marc Howard, is one of the CALL’s earliest established partnerships. Through this collaboration, CALL students participate in the Prisons and Punishments course, where undergraduate and incarcerated students learn together.

“Sharing a classroom with incarcerated students and hearing stories directly from them emphasized the importance of putting justice-impacted people at the center of conversations regarding the criminal justice system,” says Borges.

The Prisons and Punishment class, like all courses under the CALL umbrella, encourages students to challenge their perceptions of societal issues and the roles they play in them.

In addition to the PJI partnership, the CALL recently launched a collaboration with Georgetown’s Earth Commons Institute for students eager to explore the environment and sustainability field. Students learn about the local and global ecosystem, develop insight into environmental policy and changemaking, and network with DC-based environmental organizations.

Making an impact

Borges’ experience downtown during her time in the CALL made her think about what role she wanted to play in her own community upon graduation.

“I learned to look at social injustices on a wider scale—a national level,” says Borges, who remembers a feeling of heaviness when seeing an encampment of unhoused people on her commute to her internship. “I was busy being a student while they were busy trying to survive.”

Borges entered the CALL with law school ambitions, but left the program with a desire to serve her home community of Bronx, New York. She is currently working for a nonprofit in New York City, with plans to attend law school in the future.

“It’s one thing to know something is a problem—it’s another to see it,” she says. “CALL gave me an unexpected paradigm shift.”

The Capitol Applied Learning Labs (CALL) is one of the many ways Georgetown is shaping the future of teaching, research, and learning, and becoming the university we are called to be. Learn more at calledtobe.georgetown.edu.

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