What constitutes a classroom? For Archer Fellows, the classroom is the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian and the top of the Washington Monument. The classroom transcends physical spaces — the classroom is 2 a.m. conversations on living room floors and it is a vibrant GroupMe that is abuzz with political (and non-political) insights and jokes. Education that transcends the traditional classroom facilitates constant curiosity and learning. The Archer Fellowship Program, founded in 2001 by former Congressman Bill Archer, creates a space for experiential learning by bringing together UT students for a semester of living, learning and interning in Washington, DC. Each semester, 40 students are selected from across the nine participating UT System schools for a semester in the nation’s capitol. I am grateful to have served as an Archer Fellow last fall where I constantly had the opportunity to learn from my peers in the program, from my work with the United Nations and from the city itself.
The Archer Fellowship Program houses students in historic townhouses minutes away from the Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol. The opportunity to live and take classes with students from attending different UT System schools is a unique one. Despite attending schools within the same University system, students from across the various UT campuses typically have little academic interaction. As an Archer Fellow, I got to hear perspectives from students attending UT Pan American and UT-Brownsville on the merging of the two schools and learn about the culture and traditions of nine different UT System schools that were represented.
The Archer houses quickly become a microcosm of D.C. itself, with students interning at the White House, the Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol, government agencies, think tanks, NGOs, IGOS and in the private sector. Household and traditional classroom conversations with Fellows interning at these various organizations served as a model for understanding how different stakeholders in DC work together to examine issues and solve problems.
During my semester as an Archer Fellow, I worked at the United Nations Information Center, one of 63 United Nations Information Centers around the world, each dedicated to serving as a resource to the country within which it is located. The mission of the United Nations Information Center in Washington is to serve as a focal point for UN news and information for the US government, NGOs, civil-society organizations and the American people. I was specifically working on outreach by developing a pilot project that frames the world’s news through the lens of the UN and consolidates various UN initiatives into one easy-to-read email product. I also designed and delivered presentations on the UN’s work to colleges in and around D.C. and performed research on issues like South Sudan and the Post-2015 Goals.
The city of Washington served as a space for learning in itself. One Archer course, “Historical Memory and the Building of Washington,” took us to the very spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech and had students deliver lines from that speech to the class. In this course, we visited memorials and museums across the city and learned how to examine our own humanity in the context of the political and social realities that we (and the monuments) reside within.
Like many programs where students spend time away from their home universities, participation in the Archer Fellowship Program comes with a certain level of privilege. Many students in the program expressed frustration with the higher cost of living in D.C. (in terms of food, housing and transportation) and noted that there was a subtle divide between those who could more easily afford to live in D.C. and pursue primarily unpaid fulltime internships and those who could not. An explicit acknowledgement of this divide, along with an increase in financial support for students hoping to pursue learning away from their home universities, can help mitigate this issue going forward.
The Archer Fellowship Program reconceptualizes traditional notions of classrooms by emphasizing the opportunity for learning that is contained within each moment. As I begin my spring semester back on the 40 Acres, I will remember that classrooms can be created within all of the spaces that I occupy and that it is important to contextualize my learning in the real world.
Kumar is a Plan II junior from Austin.