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Appalachian’s Senior Scholars Explore Politics in Washington, D.C.

ISSinDC_t.jpgBOONE—Venturing beyond the usual museum sightseeing, members of Appalachian State University’s lifelong learning program, the Institute for Senior Scholars, recently studied the political side of Washington, D.C.

The three-day trip to the nation’s capital in October was based on an ISS political science lecture series that focused on culture and politics in the United States and the Middle East. The lectures were taught by Dr. Phillip Ardoin and Dr. Curtis Ryan, both professors in Appalachian’s Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice. The lecture series was funded in part by contributions made to the Institute for Senior Scholars Fund in memory of Polly Dunne, one of the founding members of ISS.

Ardoin and Ryan accompanied the Senior Scholars on the trip and arranged meetings with officials representing organizations that work on international and domestic public policy.


Members of the Institute for Senior Scholars at Appalachian State University and two university faculty members visited Washington, D.C., as part of a program on culture and politics in the United States and the Middle East. Making the trip were June Mann, right, Ruth Williams, Greg Lanier, Patricia Kyle, Dr. Phillip Ardoin and Dr. Curtis Ryan from the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice, Leota Cloyed, ISS Director Ann Kelly, Keith Cloyed and Jackie Flood. (Photo courtesy of the Institute for Senior Scholars)

The group met with Todd Poole, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx. Poole, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Appalachian, talked with the group about his role in Rep. Foxx’s office. Rep. Foxx also visited with the Senior Scholars and shared some of her thoughts on national policy. A staffer from Foxx’s office led a tour of the U.S. Capital, which included an opportunity to view the House chamber. The group watched as Niki Tsongas, widow of former Rep. Paul Tsongas, was sworn in as the newest member of the congressional delegation from Massachusetts.

The Senior Scholars also met with Al Garesché, legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Garesché discussed his role in Sen. Dole’s office and what work generally is done by legislative aides. The group had a brief meeting with Sen. Dole.

Looking at another aspect of how policy is shaped, the participants met with Miles Lackey, director of federal relations for the UNC university system. Lackey explained how he represents the interests of the system with the U.S. Congress and other federal agencies.

The Senior Scholars explored Middle Eastern politics and policy while visiting the Jordanian Embassy. A Jordanian staff member presented an overview of Jordan, and participants learned about Jordan’s geography, economy, culture and religion. The group also viewed a display on the ancient city of Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The next stop was the office of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), a nonprofit organization that provides information on the Middle East that is not available from mainstream news sources. Chris Toensing, MERIP’s executive director, spoke with the group about political, economic and humanitarian concerns in the Middle East.

Ardoin and Ryan were enthusiastic about working with the Senior Scholars. “Interacting with the Senior Scholars is great fun and a wonderful learning experience for the participants and for the faculty,” said Ardoin. He further explained, “Their experiences and views regarding politics provided me with insights which are difficult to attain from text books. It was also refreshing to see their excitement in visiting our nation’s capital. With all of the cynicism in American politics today, it is rewarding to spend time with individuals who are excited and passionate about our government.”

“The Senior Scholars were quite excited about their trip,” said Ann Kelly, director of ISS. “They appreciated this opportunity to explore aspects of our nation’s capital that are not usually available to the public. Phillip and Curtis worked hard to provide them with a meaningful experience.”

Even the time spent traveling in the university van was a learning opportunity. ISS member June Mann noted, “Our discussions continued as we traveled between sites, great restaurants and points of interest.” Mann further explained participants’ perspective, saying “Our vanload of learners felt fortunate for these experiences and appreciative of all the time and work that went into this project. I am a news junkie anyway, but now I have a better frame of reference as I hear our national news.”

Offered through Appalachian’s Office of Conferences and Institutes, ISS is a noncredit, lifelong learning program designed for retired or semi-retired residents of the High Country. Besides paying a membership fee to join, the only requirement is a love of learning.

The current ISS membership year runs through Aug. 14, 2008. The fee to join for the remainder of the year is $130. For more information, contact Kelly at (828) 262-6690 or, or visit