U of I officials seek more presence in nation's capital

U of I officials seek more presence in nation's capital

The Treasury. The Capitol. The White House.

Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C., is a far cry from Pennsylvania Avenue, Urbana.

"Washington, D.C., is home to so many agencies – governmental and nongovernmental – that affect the world," said University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman.

UI administrators and faculty want the university to have more of a presence in the nation's capital, a city home to Embassy Row, the National Academies, governmental agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, not to mention a few think tanks and lobbyists.

In recent years, a handful of UI students have spent time in Washington, D.C., as art scholars or part of civic leadership programs.

That's about to change.

Not only has the UI recently announced a new academic art program – Illinois at The Phillips Collection, a partnership with the modern art museum, The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. – it is working on several other projects that will expand the university's presence in the city.

Administrators envision establishing a branch research office in the nation's capital as well as a study-abroad type of program in which as many as 100 students per semester will live, work and learn in the capital.

"We want to put an Illinois imprint on this program," said Peter Nardulli, UI professor and head of the political science department. "We're not going to send (students) to D.C. to work a copier machine. We'll screen the students, find out what it is they want to do there. We'll tailor it to the student's interest," he said.

A student could be working in a congressman's office, with a lobbying firm or in the Justice Department.

The program is just getting started. This fall, 12 students will live and work in D.C., holding down internships with various governmental and nongovernmental agencies. By the spring, the number of participants will increase to 30. By next January, organizers hope to have a full-time person in D.C. managing the program.

Herman said the university would like to expand the program to offer education credits for the students. The UI could do this by offering online UI courses or partnering with another university.

While Nardulli focuses on sending students to Washington, D.C., Charles Zukoski, the UI's vice chancellor for research, wants to send more faculty there.

The most recent draft of the UI's strategic plan calls for creating a branch research office in D.C. where administrators and faculty would be able to connect the UI's scholarly agendas with those of the federal funding agencies.

"What we're interested in is making agencies more aware of the quality of science we do here," Zukoski said. To do that, "you make it easy for agencies to learn about you," he said.

A university and its faculty can influence the national science and research agenda by sitting on scientific advisory boards.

A university can also shape the agenda simply by having people in Washington, where they literally walk the halls of government and related buildings, Zukoski said. They would visit agencies, offer presentations on UI projects and discuss research ideas and programs.

The key word is "engage."

Herman envisions one day having an Illinois building in Washington where both initiatives would be housed. It would be a place where students could live and study, visiting scholars could lecture, and UI staff could maintain offices.

But as these are new initiatives, it will take several more years for them to be up and running, Herman said. And there are a number of issues to be addressed, including examining financial needs and resources and student housing needs.

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