Hilltop-on-the-Hill is a signature program
within the political communication track of SMU’s Corporate Communication and Public Affairs (CCPA) that annually takes students to Washington DC.
Lasting five days for one-hour course credit, Hilltop is a way to introduce students to career opportunities in Washington D.C. while highlighting the many ways communication plays a vital role in our nation’s capital.
Following is an interview with Chris Salinas, Senior Lecturer with SMU CCPA. Salinas helps manage the Hilltop-on-the-Hill program.
Q: How is this more than a tourist trip to D.C.?
I’ve been to Washington D.C. many times, but traveling with SMU students on the Hilltop-on-the-Hill program lets me see it with fresh eyes. This program provides a guided tour of the most powerful city in the world with fresh takes from some of the most interesting people in the city. Even students who are from the Washington D.C. area find new things to do and see in the District.
Q: How would you describe the benefits the students see from the program?
Since we travel in the Fall, layers are an apt way to think about Hilltop-on-the-Hill. The lowest level is the DC Metro. While we do take the Metro to all locations, it is also metaphorical. Students learn to navigate the streets and transit systems as well as how to navigate professional settings. What do you wear when going to a meeting with a former US Ambassador? How do I meet new people at our alumni happy hour? What questions should I ask our US Congressman? One of the greatest things about Hilltop-on-the-Hill is not only the exposure to people and places but also our commitment to teaching the appropriate way to do those things.
Q: So this student trip is all work? Is there any play?
Before the hustle involved in meeting the movers and shakers, we take time to visit monuments and museums as a group. This year we began on a misty morning at Arlington National Cemetery. After paying our respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we ate lunch at the Newseum and walked to the Lincoln Memorial. Working our way down from Arlington National Cemetery gives the impression of zooming into the city from above. The best parts of this touristy adventure are the professors who offer snap-lectures on monuments big and small.
Q: What do you do and who do you meet?
The final layer of our journey was the people that we meet. Some of them are power brokers, and some of them are first week interns, but all of them have something to share. We met with a constitutional lawyer who has argued in Federal court, and an investigative journalist at the Institute for Public Integrity. We got to see how one of the largest Democratic research firms puts together and executes an influence campaign.
At APCO Worldwide, we were invited to hear from an alumna who works at one of the largest public relations firms in the world and a former US Ambassador to India. These examples are a mere snapshot of the opportunities we had on our latest Hilltop-on-the-Hill. Needless to say, if you want to work in Washington DC, in politics, or in public relations, this program has something to offer you.
As I reflect on our 2017 visit, I am proud of what our former students have been able to accomplish. I am proud to be a part of a program that creates such great leaders. Every year we hear from our hosts that they remember being in the same spot as our students. It is a program that truly embodies the SMU slogan, “World Changers Shaped Here.”
CCPA’s Hilltop-on-the-Hill program is funded through the generous support of alumnus Douglas Bauer. The Bauer endowment makes it possible to provide resources to students who demonstrate a willingness and desire to do the work required for admission. Southwest Airlines, for the past several years, has generously sponsored student flights to DC.