GW All Access: Todd Belt of the Graduate School of Political Management

Todd Belt, political management program director, said students will experience the power of GSPM’s elite network even in the online learning environment.

Todd Belt
August 31, 2020

By Tatyana Hopkins

One of the most important aspects of the student experience at the Graduate School of Political Management is students getting to know their peers and building their networks as they emerge as the next generation of political professionals, said Todd Belt, director of the political management program.

For this reason, he said, GSPM’s faculty has emphasized encouraging group work and class discussions, using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and breakout functions, as well as bringing the school’s world-class network of leaders and professionals in politics, public affairs, advocacy and communications into the virtual learning environment.

“There are so many tools that we can use to supplement the one-on-one instruction that will allow students to engage in learning and allow students to interact with our network of alumni [and other political professionals], both in the classroom and outside of the classroom,” Dr. Belt said.  

While Dr. Belt’s applied research project course—which gives students the opportunity to conceive and execute a campaign research and communications report for a mock political client­—calls for a more one-on-one teaching approach, as program director he worked with the school’s faculty to transfer their coursework and course objectives online.

Taking advantage of the virtual classroom format, professors plan to pull in high-level guest speakers that would typically be hard to nail down for in-person lectures.

“One of the great things about being online is we can get some people who otherwise would not be able to talk to our students,” he said.

For example, former Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) spoke to an online class studying redistricting and gerrymandering in the summer.

“How often do you get a governor to come to your class to talk to a small group of students at a very specific seminar,” Dr. Belt said. “Not very.”

The same class also heard a lecture from Don McGahn, former White House counsel and Federal Election Commission chair.

Dr. Belt pointed to “Influencing the Media” as one course that would feature an “all-star” line-up of guests.

The course, which explores the tangled relationship between politics and the media and strategies to win favorable news coverage and end media crises for an issue or candidate, will be co-taught by public affairs professional Robert Engle and acclaimed political commentator Bill Press.

“The GSPM network is very important and attractive to our students and is what really sets GW and the program apart,” Mr. Engle said. “Bill is a member of the GSPM Board of Advisors, and in turn, through his network and contacts, we have a stellar line-up of guest speakers including Johnathan Karl of ABC News; Wesley Lowery of CBS News and 60 Minutes; and Steven Shepard, head of polling for Politico.”

This type of exposure, he said, helps make GSPM a top producer of congressional staff and helps students secure other meaningful jobs in federal agencies, public affairs groups and lobbying and public relations firms.

Some courses, including within the Global Perspective Residencies program, will work to expand GSPM’s network.

“We consider our alumni to be our greatest asset,” said Natalia Dinello, director of the residency program. “Students in our program  have a chance to visit different countries and capitals of the world, and we always engage with our alumni across the globe. But there is also an opportunity to broaden our network under current conditions.”

When the program’s trip to Georgia was canceled, Dr. Dinello and  program coordinator,  Charlsie King, brought Georgia to the students in a four-day virtual conference, where students met with high-ranking officials, including the chairman and deputy speaker of Georgia’s parliament, for intimate conversations about the country’s politics, economy, culture and society.

While exploring the European Union’s history, institutions, politics and  policies, which typically includes a week-long trip to the EU headquarters in Brussels, the online course this fall will rather feature guest speakers throughout the semester.

It is expected that guests will include notable EU experts and officials including those from the European Parliament, Commission and Council as well as the European Union Delegation to the United States.  The program is being arranged with the help from Majbritt Le Coutois, deputy head of press and public diplomacy at the EU Delegation; Felix Klos, expert EU historian; and John Gronski, retired U.S. Army Europe major general and Center for European Policy Analysis fellow.

“Our instructors are doing everything they can to make online learning more fun and an energizing experience for our students,” Dr. Belt said. “We’re trying to diversify the types of activities that students will be engaged in on an ongoing basis in the fall so it won’t be all lectures every single time. We have worked to get students engaged and to keep them engaged.”  

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