Maria Lombardi '15

This past spring, I had the unbelievable opportunity to study off-campus at American University as part of their Washington Semester Program. I chose the Law and Justice program and it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. Three days a week I had classes for my academic seminar, which focused on topics covering the whole spectrum of justice related issues. We explored local, state, and federal law enforcement issues, the various court systems and the challenges they face, and correctional institutions and their effects on American society. One of the best parts of my coursework for this seminar was its hands-on aspect. As a class we travelled to elite organizations and places, such as DEA Headquarters, the Office of the Attorney General, and even one of the oldest prisons in America.

Although it is extremely difficult to narrow down my experiences to the most unforgettable, I would say that meeting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is something I will remember for the rest of my life. My class was invited to a private tour of the Supreme Courtfollowed by an exclusive meeting with the Justice herself. Justice Ginsburg spoke on a variety of matters, such as past Supreme Court cases and her experiences as a female Justice. As a political science student with a love of the Supreme Court and the law, this was probably the most surreal moment I have ever had.

My class was also lucky enough to get the chance to go to Quantico, Virginia to visit the FBI Academy. Agents from the Behavioral Science Unit (BRIU) spoke with us about their work within the agency and gave us a tour of the grounds, including the running trail from the iconic movie Silence of the Lambs. However, the coolest part of the trip was probably when I was chosen to use the FBI’s virtual reality simulation trainer. Three of the other students and I suited up in sensors, were given a training gun, and then thrown into a virtual simulation trainer. Three other students and I suited up in sensors, were given a training gun, and then thrown into a virtual scenario that many agents would experience when apprehending suspects. I was the only one in my group to not get shot and successfully complete the mission! Being able to use advanced technology that only the FBI has access to was an absolutely incredible once in a lifetime experience.

When I was not attending my seminar classes or on class trips, I interned twice a week at the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) as an investigative intern. OPC is an independent D.C. government agency that receives, investigates, and resolves complaints of misconduct filed against Metropolitan Police Department officers. I was responsible for assisting investigations by collecting and reviewing evidence, sitting in on interviews with citizens and police officers, and helping to draft recommendations for the U.S. Attorney’s Office on how to proceed with investigations. The cases I worked on were all different; some dealt with issues of discrimination and bias while others could have allegations of physical assault. An average day could include questioning witness officers, completing intakes of new cases, and going out in the field to meet with complainants. Another awesome component of my internship was that I had the opportunity to go on ride-alongs with MPD officers and MPD Harbor Patrol. This gave me insight into what D.C. police officers face every day in their line of work and showed me sides of D.C. many visitors do not typically witness.

The Washington Semester Program was a remarkable experience because of the amazing academic and career opportunities that it provided me with and the diverse people I met. My seminar professor, Beatrix Siman Zakhari, was so intelligent, caring, and enthusiastic that she made each class exhilarating and exciting to attend. Similarly, the students I was exposed to were from all over the world - my roommate was from Norway! This program instilled within me a larger global understanding and facilitated friendships that I know I will have for a lifetime. I still talk to some of the students in my seminar every day! The four months I spent in the nation’s capital are filled with memories that I will cherish forever.