The Philosophy, Politics and the Public honors program is for students who exhibit passion as well as academic achievement. Handpicked for the program, they have a purpose that sometimes they don’t even know about. But the faculty know how to spot leaders, and they’re the ones for whom the program brings out the best.
“Our kids’ SAT scores are good, but I’m more interested in the kid who is going to benefit from the program,” says Paul Colella, the philosophy professor who was tapped by Michael Graham, SJ, to start the program 10 years ago. “I have sympathy for the kids who want to be here and who want this education—kids with passion. There are so many. I’m so proud of all of them.”
Since its founding 10 years ago, the honors program is accomplishing its goal of helping students rediscover the heart of politics by preparing them “to do policy and operate where private and public interests intersect,” Colella says.
Now the faculty is focused on building the curriculum for the new master’s program—Private Interests and Public Good. Like the undergraduate program, it’s anchored in the philosophical tradition of the Jesuits.
The curriculum for undergraduates is not for the faint of heart: sequenced courses in ethical theory, history, economics, philosophy and political science with a focus on the political process, democratic institutions and the public sphere. A senior-year capstone course and research thesis wrap up the undergraduate program.
But it’s also loaded with extras: study abroad in Paris and Brussels, a DC trip to study current legislative issues with stakeholders on Capitol Hill, well-placed internships and a network of politically connected professionals and alumni.
As the program launches into its second decade, Xavier magazine connected with some of the program’s alumni to learn how the PPP experience changed their lives and how they, in turn, are changing the lives of others. Here are their stories.
[divider] Michael Kulas ’09 [/divider]
Mike Kulas graduated from Xavier in May 2009 with degrees in history and Philosophy, Politics and the Public. Since then, he’s served his country’s government in two sometimes opposing fields: tracking the Taliban and drug shipments as an Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan, and studying potential unfunded mandates as a Congressional Budget Office intern.
He credits his PPP professors for giving him a framework for critical thinking that taught him how to evaluate public policy from a more human perspective and to approach issues from many viewpoints.
Rather than looking merely at black-and-white cost-benefit analyses, he prefers an analytical approach: “Let’s really analyze this. Who’s benefitting, how are they benefitting, what are the costs, and why?”
As an Army ROTC graduate, Kulas was assigned to work with Army Rangers and the Afghan army in Helmand Province from September 2012 to February 2013. In a region that produces abundant opium and was partly ruled by a Taliban “shadow government,” he helped the Rangers locate persons of interest so investigators could determine their ties to enemy forces.
Before the soldiers started their searches, Kulas and others would tell them how many IEDs (improvised explosive devices) had detonated in recent years on roads they might travel or the likely presence of snipers.
“I feel confident saying that my time there had an impact on disrupting counterproductive activity,” he says. “I think we disrupted some potential insurgent activity, some potential Taliban activity, and some potential movement of illegal contraband.”
In the fall of 2013, he began a Master’s in Public Policy at Georgetown University and interned in the Congressional Budget Office, where he evaluated whether proposed bills would place unfunded mandates on state or local governments. He says his PPP experience already has opened doors: Last summer, he interned with Deloitte Consulting, which offered him full-time employment after he graduates in May. “When you put that on a resumé, it makes you stand out.”
[divider] Erin McDermott ’07 [/divider]
Consultant, Deloitte Consulting, Washington, DC
Some students come to Xavier knowing they want to study politics and philosophy in a way that emphasizes public policy. Erin McDermott’s path was more circuitous.
As a member of the University Scholars program her freshman year, she shared housing with PPP students in the honors block, though she had no clear idea what she wanted to study. Program founder Paul Colella saw her potential and worked to convince her to join PPP. He and the program’s “addictive” appeal finally swayed her.
It was a good move. Her sophomore year coincided with President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, and an internship with the Hamilton County Republican Party led to work supporting presidential appearances. She also met elected officials such as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The next summer she interned with Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Xavier alumnus who had just become House Majority Leader.
“I experienced a lot of policy and people and politics at its highest level. It was just a great summer,” McDermott says.
Before she graduated, McDermott landed a job in the Department of Education, where she worked on the No Child Left Behind Act and education policy. After Bush left office, she pursued a joint MBA/MA in government from Johns Hopkins University.
Now a management consultant for Deloitte, McDermott works with federal agencies and non-profits. She credits her PPP professors with teaching her how to think critically, write clearly, work well with others and network.
“The PPP program set me up to come work in Washington,” she says. “I can understand a lot of different perspectives and I don’t take things personally. It’s such a critical thing to be able to set up challenging meetings and integrate different ideas.”
Eight years, two graduate degrees and a few jobs later, McDermott still leans on PPP faculty for advice, friendship and perspective.
“I view them as friends, mentors and teachers,” she says. “This is an incredibly unique program, and I didn’t realize how valuable it was until I left.”
[divider] Chuma Nnawulezi ’15 [/divider]
Chuma Nnawulezi’s experiences as a black American descended from the Igbo people of Nigeria made him curious about how to resolve conflict in his own and the wider world. Teased in high school for being African, by African Americans students, he sought out a Jesuit college with the kind of program that would meet his desire to understand why. At a Xavier scholarship event with philosophy Professor Paul Colella, he learned about the PPP program and knew right away it was for him.
“He put on the first slide and said, ‘PPP is for students who are engaged in society and want to know how foundations were created and how to affect it,’” Nnawulezi says. “I said, that’s me…This program is the best thing about this University because it’s so relevant to how we shape our society. There’s nothing else like it in the US.”
Nnawulezi meets with prospective students who are interested in coming to Xavier. He’s made it his personal goal to increase the number of black, Hispanic and other minority students who not only enroll at Xavier, but also apply to PPP. “I talk to students about pursuing this program if they’re interested in the world and society and changing it.”
While still a junior, however, Nnawulezi became anxious to learn more about the part of the world known as the Global South–Africa, Asia and Latin America. But because Xavier’s academic study abroad programs don’t include those regions, he did his own search and found a semester-long study program in three major cities—Ahmedabad in India, Dakar in Senegal, and Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Only problem was, he had to pay for it himself. But with guidance from PPP co-founder Gene Beaupre, Nnawulezi put together a letter-writing campaign seeking financial support from educational organizations, the Jesuit priest of his church back home in Omaha, and finally from the Kroger Co., whose donation put him over the top of his $25,000 goal.
The trip during spring semester of his junior year was a success. He completed four courses and learned how different—and how similar—people can be in different cultures. His favorite location was Senegal—not too metro but not too backwards, either, a good mix of bucket showers and gelato.
“I’m interested in the clashing of cultures in cities and how we can do better,” he says. “I feel obligated toward black Americans to use my talents to improve their situation. I also feel some obligation toward Africa and the Global South. I needed to have experience to see if these ideas translate internationally.”
His experience overseas just added to the mix of experiences gleaned from PPP. As a sophomore, he worked supporting the campaigns of Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and President Obama in 2012, and he was a research assistant for Professor John Fairfield, analyzing the history of the historically black Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale.
Thinking beyond his graduation in May, he expects these experiences will help him get into grad school, where he wants to study public administration and urban development. He’s set his sights high, applying to Princeton, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.
In April, Nnawulezi learned he was selected to receive a Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Graduate Fellowship, which will support a master’s degree and work experience in international affairs and prepare him for a career as a US Foreign Service Officer representing the United States overseas.
“My career goal is to work for an international NGO and serve historically marginalized populations in the Global South,” Nnawulezi says. “My ideal organization would be UNESCO (United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). They use historical precedent and the need for innovation to increase the quality of life for cities in this part of the world.”
[divider] Rahiel Michael ’13 [/divider]
Before starting her first year at Xavier, Rahiel Michael attended a scholarship event to learn more about her options. What she learned changed her life. Already interested in politics, she was drawn to Professor Paul Colella’s presentation about the PPP program, but she doubted she could get in.
Her mother encouraged her to talk to him, but Michael was too shy. “I hesitated the entire night, and finally I went over and let him know I was interested, and I applied and got in,” Michael says. “Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I sucked it up and that’s the end of that story.”
Tapping into her newly discovered courage, Michael thrived in the PPP program’s close, family feel and group support. For her sophomore internship, she joined the office of Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown handling phone calls and special projects. Her work and self-confidence paid off. Just before she graduated in 2013, Brown’s office offered her a full-time job.
“I graduated on Saturday, and I was in the office on Monday,” she says.
Her new job: Constituent services, working with Ohio veterans and active duty military who have issues with the VA or the federal government.
Between her work in the senator’s office and her PPP experience, Michael developed a talent for sizing up a room and knowing just what to say and how. She’s even planning on graduate school.
“This program broke me out of my shell and made me more confident and smart. It taught me how to write properly and how to advocate for myself,” she says. “I learned so much academically as well as personally.”
[divider] Kevin Hoggatt ’08 [/divider]
For 2008 graduate Kevin Hoggatt, Philosophy, Politics and the Public wasn’t just a major. It was a calling. “It’s the reason I came to Xavier. I was really attracted to the idea of combining philosophy with the practical aspects of enacting public policy. For example, what role do ‘the people’ have in developing public policy?”
For Hoggatt, the program not only expanded his world view but also opened doors. “My junior year, I worked for Rob Portman’s office at the White House when he was the head of the Office of Management and Budget.”
That internship turned into a full-time job and, it appears, a career. Now in his eighth year on staff, Hoggatt’s been named political director of the Portman for Senate re-election campaign.
Success in the PPP program demands focus, dedication and desire—three qualities that aptly describe Hoggatt’s personal philosophy. “Only 15 or 16 students are admitted every year to keep the class sizes small,” he says. “The idea is you’re learning with the same group of students pretty much all the way through your classes.”
And for those who seek the best in themselves and others, the doors of opportunity just continue to open wider and wider. “The PPP program teaches you how to learn and question more in a search for the truth—what is good and what is right. That questioning fits in with the Jesuit ideal and is good for creating an informed citizenry.”
While politics and philosophy can make for a volatile mix, often engendering more cynicism than success, Hoggatt remains true to the original ideals that first brought him to Xavier.
“People like to complain about the state of our government or community, but it’s another thing to work to try to change our world,” he says. “I think most people engaged in public service want to improve their communities and make the world we live and work in a better place.”
[divider] Christopher Hale ’11 [/divider]
Christopher Hale identifies himself as Roman Catholic, not Democrat or Republican. That’s why he can do an internship for President Obama the year after graduating, and then become the voice of Catholicism for young Catholics. His political views skew liberal—and conservative.
“I applied for (the internship) because I wanted to be in DC, and I’m intensely interested in legislative politics, and I got the chance to do that at the White House. It’s the heart of where things happen,” Hale says. “They knew I was interested in the role of faith and public life.”
After the White House internship, Hale stayed on to work for the Obama re-election campaign with a focus on rallying Catholic voters. That experience led to his hiring by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a public policy forum based on Catholic principles. As executive director, he manages daily blog posts and writes regular columns for the Alliance and other online journals including Time magazine, CNN.com and America: The National Catholic Review. He also co-founded Millenial, an online journal for young writers with a Catholic point of view.
He’s become, in short, a voice for Catholic youth today.
“I saw it as an opportunity that despite my young age, I was able to commit to because I had a good sense of the Catholic community and their issues and how to move forward in the current political climate,” he says. “The Catholic perspective in DC is based on moral authority, not the fiscal resources it can offer politicians.”
Topics they address range from caring for the poor to right-to-life issues to health care and immigration.
Hale knows he might not have had this opportunity if not for the PPP program. It taught him how to think but also gave him an avenue for melding his faith with his career goals.
“I was attracted to PPP because it really calls for growth of public intellectualism, to go out in life dedicated to a life of social consequences,” he says. “As a Catholic, PPP was the best way for me to integrate my faith in public life. ”
The most life-changing moments for him were a trip to Rome in the summer of 2010, where they saw Pope Benedict, and a trip to Washington to work on a legislative issue with Ohio members of Congress. “That trip gave me a sense of where I’m called to be and that I want to participate in political life in the US,” he says.
“My hope is to use this great Catholic faith tradition to encourage politicians to focus first on people to make their lives better and less on the horse race issues,” he says. “It’s re-centering politics on what matters.”
READ about another PPP alumna, Betsy Hoover, and WATCH a video about the program.