Professor Gets a Charge Out of Seeing His Students Succeed in D.C.

Anthony Moretti interviews Dennis Plane, Juniata College

Dennis Plane remembers the day quite well.

A student walked into his office in the fall semester unsure of what to do once he graduated the following spring. Plane suggested the student, who was a political science major, consider a program through The Washington Center.

“He took the lessons they teach you here, including how to network,” and before graduation had rolled around that student had a job with the Pennsylvania state legislature. He spent a few years moving up the ranks before opting to begin law school.

For Plane, an assistant professor of politics at Juniata College, The Washington Center’s commitment to experiential education is an opportunity every student should take advantage of during their undergraduate years.

As faculty, “we want students to have a full understanding of how how things work…[and being here] helps students make that transition from college to the professional world,” Plane said.

As Plane sees it, the “academic material” students learn in the college classroom blends with the “hands-on experience” they get in programs like those offered by TWC.

Whenever he is in Washington, Plane always checks in on his former students who are working here. He said he often hears the same message from them.

“They tell me [The Washington Center] is what gave them the courage to come to D.C.” and find their professional place.

Beginning last week and continuing through Friday, more than 350 students from across the country are taking part in TWC’s Inauguration ‘17 seminar. The program’s theme is “Elevating Political Discourse,” something desperately needed after the bruising 2016 political season. The program concludes with students having the chance to attend the inauguration of Donald Trump.

Plane is one of the faculty for this program; it’s his third time serving in that role, though he’s also been involved in other TWC programs in the past. He called any presidential inauguration “the essence of democracy.”

A range of emotions was evident across America’s college campuses during the fall semester. Plane said he never saw outright hostility on the Juniata campus, but “anxiety” was the one word he thought best described how the students felt leading up to the election. Plane complimented the students for their “civility,” especially knowing that students on other campuses were not treating others the same way.

The students channeled their emotions into voting. Plane said that the highest-ever percentage of Juniata students voted in November.

More than one-dozen Juniata students have accompanied Plane to Washington. After watching “the essence of democracy” on Friday, they will return home. And based on what they have experienced here, they will have learned skills that will allow them to ensure civility remains evident on their campus.

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