January 20, 2017 | Matt Kucinski

Students made a stop at ABC News and met with 2014 Calvin grad Ryan Struyk.

During three weeks of January, Calvin students take a break from the semester-load of classes to focus in on one course. It’s known as interim, and it allows students to dive deeper into an area in their discipline or to explore another area of interest.

Abigail Schutte, a senior political science major from Kansas City, Kansas, is taking “Democratic Transition: The 2017 Presidential Inauguration” taught by Doug Koopman, a political science professor at Calvin College. While Schutte has become quite familiar with all things politics during her time at Calvin (in 2016, she helped organize the Paul B. Henry Institute’s Challenges for the Next President series), this course taught in Washington, D.C., has brought her to the epicenter of American politics at the height of the political season.

What is it like being in D.C. at this moment?

It’s very interesting. We’ve had great opportunities to talk to a lot of people—think tanks, congressmen, people who lose their job today because they are part of the Obama administration. It’s super interesting, not only the democratic transition in general, but this one in particular as there’s a little more tension than anticipated. A lot of us are taking a scholarly approach to being here, taking it all in, learning about the process in general, and this election.

How are you seeing this presidential transition differently being that you are in D.C.?

We’ve been really blessed with our leaders, and our alumni have been amazing. It is really cool to be behind the scenes of it all. We were able to talk to Huizenga and Walberg, both reps in Michigan about what this means for them, their constituencies, what it means for them as Republican congressman. We met with an Obama appointee who loses her job tomorrow, seen what that’s like. You forget that hundreds of people lose their jobs tomorrow. And we’re meeting with people who are getting brand new jobs and are excited for the next four years. Interesting to see those experiences. We’re fortunate to get the inside scoop, it’s humanizing the process a bit.

What’s been the highlight of Interim so far?

Yesterday and today we got to meet with members of think tanks—yesterday with American Enterprise Institute and today with the Center for American Progress. Both had different political leanings, interesting to talk to both groups and see their vision for the country, see that they really have a heart for policy and are passionate. They want what’s best for this country. It’s nice to see this in a divisive time, great to see people on both sides doing great research, working within the new reality.

Anything surprised you?

I think honestly I was expecting it to be a little more intense. I think that everyone has come to terms with what’s going to happen tomorrow. I expected a little more excitement on one side of the aisle and disappointment on the other. Everyone’s been great about the future. I expected a little more tension between left and right, but everyone’s been really gracious to us students and those in the city that are visiting. It’s been very humbling to see those who might not want this result being eager to help, and help us learn.

How do you see this class aligning with Calvin’s mission?

We’re learning how to work through institutions and government systems to still be agents of renewal, agents of hope. Our alums have cool jobs, and they see these jobs as opportunities to be agents of renewal and that looks different for each person. It’s fascinating to hear their stories, how they see their jobs. And we, as students, are seeing how we can work through these existing systems to bring about change and hope. I can’t say enough good things about our alumni here.

All access

Calvin College alumni working in the political arena in Washington, D.C. provided students with access to members of Congress, like Bill Huizenga and Tim Walberg; think tanks, like R Street, American Enterprise Institute and the Center for American Progress; political reporters, like E.J. Dionne and David Brooks. The class also met with young alumni to learn more about the transition to living and working in D.C.

The class also witnessed a confirmation hearing before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee of the U.S. Senate, watched a broadcast of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and toured numerous D.C. institutions as well.

On Friday, January 20, the class will take part in various inauguration-related activities.

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