Political Management Updates Curriculum

Graduate program changes and expanded alumni outreach to enhance master’s, certificate tracks.

political management
GSPM Director Mark Kennedy lecturing during a political management course.
March 19, 2014

By James Irwin

The Graduate School of Political Management will make changes to courses that will enhance the Political Management master’s program and several certificate programs beginning in the fall 2014 semester.

The curriculum revisions—which include combining classes, introducing more digital- and data-focused topics and increasing engagement opportunities for alumni—are designed to ensure relevance, enhance rigor and eliminate redundancy, Political Management Program Director Lara Brown said.

“We really looked at the political management master’s program and three certificate programs: campaign strategy, digital politics and community advocacy,” Dr. Brown said. “We realized it was time to refresh courses and realign content with many of the changes we’ve seen taking place in the political space over the past couple of years.”

Some political fields, like digital campaiging, evolve constantly, said David Payne, M.A. ’04, who works at VOX Global and teaches "Digital Advertising and Action" in the political management program.

“I’m a digital campaigner, and I would be committing malpractice if I wasn’t evolving constantly to keep up with new trends and opportunities in digital public affairs and grassroots campaigning,” he said.

Digital communication, including new topics on creating media and then leveraging platforms, represents one area of change for GSPM. International emphasis, through classes like “Campaigns Around the World,” will introduce students to political systems in foreign countries Data-driven learning is another area of emphasis. GSPM, the Department of Political Science  and the School of Media and Public Affairs recently subscribed to Catalist, which compiles and stores voter data. GW will have access to a 1 percent sample of U.S. voters and more than 600 fields of data.

“That allows our students to create probabilistic models, explore voter targeting and outreach, and dive into data fields to understand how political consulting firms and candidates are identifying, targeting and working to connect with individual voters,” Dr. Brown said. “They can do their own experiment testing, which is, more and more, the practice within campaigns.”

GSPM began the curriculum refresh by assembling a working group of around 40 alumni, students, full-time and adjunct faculty and administrators. The group identified relevant practices in the field and application methods in the classroom. After a review process over the winter, the proposed changes were approved by the Office of the Provost last week.

The result, Dr. Brown said, is a program with a stronger foundation and classes with more extensive syllabi. Students, she said, won’t just receive outtakes from specific campaigns, but also a grounding in the political science of what works and what doesn’t.

“In a business school, one must learn some economics before jumping into a case study on how to grow a business,” she said. “The same is true in politics. You must understand some of the general dynamics so you can build a relevant and formidable strategy.”

Alumni participation, Dr. Brown said, has been invaluable. Not only have they provided ideas, but they’ll also play a role in the classroom as guest lecturers, mentors and content creators.

“It’s fantastic and precisely the right thing to do in this field,” Mr. Payne said. “The other day in my class, Corey Owens, M.P.S. ’08, the head of global public policy at Uber, visited to present about his company’s cutting-edge digital advocacy efforts. He’s working to make the Uber business model more widely accepted in some of America’s and the world’s largest cities, and Corey is a perfect example of a graduate presenting relevant, applied political skills to GSPM students.”

A large portion of GSPM graduates work in Washington—about 600 political management alumni, out of the nearly 900 GSPM alumni living in the mid-Atlantic region, are in the D.C. metro area. The close proximity to GW, and to each other, has helped create a strong network among graduates.

“We have four graduates at Vox Global alone,” Mr. Payne said. “We believe so highly in their skills we hire them. Bringing alumni into the classroom is a great way to motivate and transfer involvement out of the classroom and into our professional network, where we hire, recommend and share opportunities with each other.”