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School is in session at Hillsdale College’s Steve and Amy Van Andel Graduate School of Gov­ernment in Wash­ington, D.C., where stu­dents in its first class hope to deepen their knowledge of gov­ernment on nights and weekends as they work at full-time jobs during the day.

Vice Pres­ident of Wash­ington Oper­a­tions and Dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of Gov­ernment Matthew Spalding said he is pleased with how the inau­gural semester and classes have started.  

“I think they have gone extremely well. We have a good first round of stu­dents,” Spalding said. 

This semester includes 15 stu­dents. The program plans to admit new stu­dents every spring and fall. Spalding said there has already been a lot of interest and he antic­i­pates growth. 

“It’s off to a great start,” he said. “There is a very clear and open field here in D.C. There are lots of master’s degrees around town but this one is very dif­ferent.” 

Dif­ferent from yet com­ple­mentary to the Van Andel Graduate School of States­manship on Hillsdale’s campus in Michigan, the Steve and Amy Van Andel Graduate School of Gov­ernment has core classes that focus on three areas: political thought and culture, American pol­itics, and state­craft. 

These required courses, along with other elec­tives — such as “Delib­er­ation and Leg­is­lation” with Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R‑AR)  and “Con­tem­porary Lib­er­alism and its Policies” with Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Pol­itics Kevin Slack — make up a 36-credit-hour program. 

Offering classes in the evenings and on Sat­urdays throughout the spring, fall, and summer semesters, Hillsdale esti­mates that it should take two-and-a-half to three years to com­plete the program, depending on the rigor of each individual’s schedule. 

This semester, the graduate school is offering five classes: “The Art of Gov­ernment” with Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn, “American Founding and the Con­sti­tution” taught by Spalding, “Modern Political Thought and Culture” with Director of Aca­demic Pro­grams and Worsham Teaching Fellow Matthew Mehan, “Con­tem­porary Lib­er­alism and Its Policies” with Slack, and “Delib­er­ation and Leg­is­lation” with Cotton. 

While Spalding and Mehan’s classes are part of the core and meet weekly, the program allows for one-credit classes, like those offered by Arnn, Cotton, and Slack this semester. 

These one-credit courses are gen­erally scheduled to meet on a couple of sep­arate weekends. Setting up elective, one-credit courses this way allows for special guests like sen­ators, judges, or other public offi­cials to teach courses, as well as encourage pro­fessors from Hillsdale’s Michigan campus to come and teach in D.C. 

The program is designed for working pro­fes­sionals, such as gov­ernment staffers and law­makers, jour­nalists and media pro­fes­sionals, lawyers, think-tank ana­lysts, and domestic and foreign- policy experts.  

Steve Schaefer is a student at the graduate school and also a lawyer at the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Ser­vices, where he works on con­science and reli­gious freedom issues. 

Though Schaefer is already a lawyer, he wanted to attend Hillsdale’s graduate school because of its mission and ded­i­cation to the American founding. 

“I wanted to go to a college that I could trust to do what it says it will do —provide me the oppor­tunity to learn from knowl­edgeable pro­fessors and class­mates who are ded­i­cated to the ideas of the American founding, and who want to learn-in-order-to-lead,” Schaefer said in an email. “As an attorney, and former high school U.S. gov­ernment teacher, Hillsdale pro­vides the edu­cation that I always wanted, and quite frankly, everyone should receive to be an informed American citizen.” 

Schaefer is taking all four classes offered this semester. He said he’s enjoying his coursework and finding it chal­lenging. 

“The most chal­lenging aspect of the courses is to reject the pre­vailing modern nar­ra­tives sur­rounding history and his­torical figures, and to learn about his­torical figures and their deci­sions from exam­ining what they actually thought in the context of the times that they lived,” he said. 

Schaefer is also learning to balance his rig­orous schedule of four courses and a full-time job. “It’s all about the maxim that my high school teachers told me and I ignored — ‘use your time wisely,’” Schaefer said. “Reading during com­mutes is a good idea. I have a history of being a glutton for pun­ishment, and went to law school at night, while teaching full-time. I am really good at doing things this way.” 

But even though the studies may be demanding, many of the stu­dents are enjoying them so far. Schaefer has also enjoyed the envi­ronment and focus of the program. 

“I have a passion for learning about the ideas and people who influ­enced the cre­ation of America, and it is clear that the pro­fessors and stu­dents are devoted to the same endeavor — reviving the virtues essential for self-gov­ernment and hap­piness in America,” he said. 

As the graduate stu­dents in D.C. start their studies and con­tinue in their jobs, they are looking to the future and what they will be able to do with the edu­cation Hillsdale’s pro­viding them. 

Schaefer wants to use his edu­cation for leading and edu­cating those around him. 

“I want to use my edu­cation to lead, and to educate others,” Schaefer said. “Everyone is a teacher — in word and deed.”