Student Adventures Around The World

Ana & Laurel, Hilltop on the Hill

SMU frequently sends students to "Hilltop on the Hill", an intensive weeklong program sponsored by the Division of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs and designed to provide opportunities to learn from and network with a variety of communications and political professionals in Washington, D.C. Laurel and Ana blogged about their experiences there the week of Oct. 8, 2006.

Laurel and Ana's Recommended Links


Ana is senior double major in corporate communications and markets and culture. She is originally from Houston and is an intern in the SMU Office of Public Affairs. See Ana's slide show.

Oct. 11, 2006

Last day
The last day which was a travel day for Hilltop on the Hill. Laurel, Ashleigh and I all had later flights.

We decided to spend the day at the Spy Museum that opened up the summer of 2002. We heard a lot of mix reviews about it, some saying it wasn’t that great and others saying it was worth going to. When we got there, we were all definitely on a sugar high and were excited to see what was inside the museum. The museum was filled with statistics about spies, famous people who were spies and the interesting tools they used when spying. After the museum we were all a little scared of everything we learned inside, and I think we all decided that the life of a spy was not for us.

After the museum, we went to grab a quick bite, and Laurel and Ashleigh got to have their last taste of crab cakes before leaving D.C. We then all went to H&M (the greatest store ever!) and had a look around. It was time for Ashleigh and Laurel to leave, but I still had a couple of hours before my flight.

Lost — sort of
I decided to walk around Lafayette Square and before I knew it I lost my self in the city. Well, I wasn’t really lost because D.C. is based on a grid, so it is not hard to get back to where you need to go. I walked by the Department of Treasury and I wanted to go inside but was not granted access. I wasn’t used to that considering that with SMU we were granted access to the White House and Department of State.

As I took some last minute pictures of the city, I quickly realized that I had 20 minutes to make it back to my hotel and catch a cab to Union Station.

As I power walked through D.C. I got to my hotel, grabbed my bag and hailed a Lincoln town car to take me to Union Station. Once there, I had no idea where I needed to go, so I just started to follow the crowd that was sprinting towards something. I found the ticket office and was able to get a train ticket, ten minutes before my train was leaving.

Luck was with me
Again I had no idea where to go, so I took another chance on the sprinting crowd. Luckily, I followed the right crowd and I started to sprint down to find an empty car. I looked at my ticket hoping it would give me some insight on where to sit when I realized I bought a coach ticket, so I ran back up to the coach class car. As I franticly tried to drag my luggage through the narrow aisle, knocking elbows left and right, I finally found a seat for the 30 minute ride to Baltimore Airport to catch my flight back to Dallas.

Oct. 10, 2006

Can you believe . . .
“Can you believe that was Wolf Blitzer”
“Wow, he’s really short”

“Look at me! I am double fisting complimentary cookies”

“It is getting personal in these elevators”

“I can’t believe you bought us pizza. We are starving”
“If you ever run, I might just vote Republican for the first time”
“It doesn’t take much to get my vote, just free pizza”

“Yes, I’ll have an Icebreakers Sours”

“That’s what I need on this trip! A segue so I can segue around”

“No, sorry I really don’t speak German”

This is what I got out of D.C., no just kidding, but these quotes are just a few of the craziest things we said due to the lack of food in our system.

Last Day
Our last day of D.C. was just as busy as the first two. We started off the morning at the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation where we got to talk to VP Larry Soler. I really liked hearing about the organization and all the advances in technology, as well as stem cell research, which would really help in possibly finding a cure.

After the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, we went to the Department of Education, where we talked with a former football buddy of Prof. Schill and two SMU alumni. It was interesting to hear Mr. Butler’s take on the education problem that is facing our nation. I personally am not for the “No Child Left Behind” Act, but it was interesting and surprising to hear how hard of a problem it is to solve the education gap. It made me want to get involved and help solve one of our countries greater problems.

Meeting a legend
We then stopped by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) where we met a legend in the PR world, Rich Hood, also known as the javelin catcher. We especially loved the EPA, because alumnus Michael Dorf bought us pizza and soda. It was the first time we ate since 7 a.m. Pizza never tasted so good! We looked like a pack of wolfs who had not eaten in months.

After the EPA, we were given some free time to walk around Capital Hill, but we first had to stop by our senators’ or representatives’ office and discuss an issue that we felt was important. Since they were all back at home for the midterm elections, we spoke with their office managers.

First, I was in the wrong building and couldn’t find the State of Texas office but did happen to find every other state's office. Then, I realized I was not in the senators’ building. After finally making it to the senators’ building, I thought it was interesting that to get to my senator’s office on the 2nd floor — the floor I was already on — I had to ride an elevator to the third floor walk a few, and by few I mean five steps, and get on another elevator and ride that one down to the 2nd floor.

Ready to explore
After talking with the office manager of Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s office, I was ready to explore Capital Hill. My friend, Melissa, and I walked around the Library of Congress which is truly an amazing building. Before we knew it, it was time to hitch a cab to the Department of State.

As we waited outside of the Department of State for the rest of the group, I noticed a familiar face walk out of the building. Prof. Kirk waved her hand and looked at us and asked if we knew who that was. By that point my jaw dropped and I yelled, “That’s Wolf Blizter!” I am pretty sure he heard me as he jumped in the standard important people car of Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Navigator. We met with Gordon Johndroe, director of the Office of Strategic Communications and Planning, Bureau of Public Affairs. Before working at the State Department, he was press secretary for First Lady, Mrs. Bush. It was a great and rare opportunity that we got to experience everything we did and actually met with Mr. Johndroe.

Now that our responsibilities were officially over, a few of us decided to go and experience the night life of D.C. The night started off, when my feet wouldn’t fit in my heels, not to mention there was no way of wearing heels after walking 3 full straight days in them. So I had to change into another outfit and sported my SMU flip flops. To no surprise, the rest of the group was also wearing flip flops out. We headed to Dupont Circle to eat at Thaiphoon, a fairly inexpensive but so amazing Thai restaurant. We left the restaurant with our mouths on fire and our bellies full.

And now for The Tombs
Since, I spent a summer at Georgetown a few years ago, I told the girls about a great restaurant/bar called The Tombs near Georgetown University. We were excited to experience the D.C. lifestyle in comparison to Dallas night life. As we sat around the vintage crew theme restaurant we noticed a very relaxed college-age crowd. One of the workers, Lauren came to take our orders and we asked her if this was the place to be tonight. She told us, “yeah, Tuesday night everyone comes here, it's country night tonight!”

We all started laughing and she looked at us and we told her we are from Texas, and country night is every night. As the night progressed we met three people who knew someone that went to SMU. It really is a small world. My roommate on the trip, Melissa, came to meet us and while the other girls left, she and I stayed. We spent the rest of the night meeting German navy and army officers who were on tour in the U.S. visiting West Point, Annapolis and the D.C. area on military training and war efforts. While they unsuccessfully tried to teach us German, we talk about the recent events in North Korea and the World Cup, of course. The night ended early for Melissa and me because after no sleep, food deprivation and the pain of walking any short distant we knew it was time for bed.

I loved this trip! I know I complained about everything, but overall it was an amazing experience.

Don't skip this trip
Every student in CCPA should really consider this trip. It was not just amazing for the networking opportunities and the amazing important people we met in D.C., but for me a great experience because of the knowledge and inside information we gained from people who are successful and are doing what we want to do in the future. I also enjoyed seeing my professors outside of the classroom. I know it is cheesy, but it is true. Our professors are really our biggest cheerleaders who are out there to help make you successful. I love knowing that and actually experiencing it first hand.

Oct. 9, 2006

Up Before Dawn
Movin' on up, to Capital Hill! (I know, it doesn’t sound as good as the Jefferson’s moving to the east side), but I tried.

After getting up at 6:30 a.m., which is really 5:30 a.m. for us central timers, walking so far that I literally wanted to chop my feet off and not being able to eat till after 7:30 p.m., this program has led me to realize that I want to live in D.C.

I highly recommend this program for CCPA and journalism majors. Although I was completely famished all day and seeing double of everything, I got to see first hand what one can accomplish after graduating from SMU. It is amazing how many young alumni are living in the city and succeeding so quickly.

Meeting John McConnell
As my entire body is hurting I am going to write this blog because I had that great of a day today, and I want to share it with you all. We started out our day meeting with John McConnell, senior speechwriter for the President and Vice President. I really enjoyed hearing about the behind the scenes of the White House. Mr. McConnell is the only speechwriter that bounces back and forth between the president and the vice president. I really enjoyed hearing his experiences and how he got his start working with President Bush when he was the governor of Texas to now working with him in Washington, D.C.

After the White House we went to talk to Quinn Gillespie & Associates, which is a top public affairs firm. There we met with Managing Director Rick Powell and Julie Carney, both SMU alumni. Democratic White House veteran Jack Quinn and Ed Gillepsie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, created Quinn Gillespie & Associates. I really enjoyed hearing what Powell had to say about the upcoming elections and the advice he gave us on how to get started working in Washington, D.C.

We spent the rest of the day running, hailing cabs and jumping in and out of metro stops as we maneuvered our way through the city. Another part of the day that I really enjoyed, was visiting the Republican National Committee (RNC). At RNC we were able to talk to Tracey Schmitt, national press secretary and it was great to hear how they respond to current event or backlash the White House might receive.

Vegetable Empanadas
The day ended with an alumni reception at a restaurant called Ceiba. No, we didn’t get to eat there, but we had amazing appetizers. I think I speak from everyone as we all tried to balance listening attentively to the amazing alumni in D.C. and stuffing our faces with crab cakes and vegetable empanadas (sooo good). It was extremely reassuring to see the accomplishments of the SMU alumni and hear how they got their start.

Now I need to go back to my room and write thank you letters, and I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Oct. 8, 2006

First Day
It is 10:36 p.m. and the end of the first day of Hilltop is here. The day started early for me, at 4:30 a.m. to be exact. I decided to take a cab to DFW for my 6:30 a.m. flight to Baltimore with Alex L., a senior CCPA major and professor Kirk and Schill. I decided to take a power nap in the cab, but my cab driver didn't agree with me. I was napping for 10 minutes when I was awakened by my cab driver, yelling "See that building over there?" I shot up and responded, "No sir, I need to go to DFW," thinking he thought I wanted to go there.

He replied, "No, that building is a DNA testing facility, FACT! I know because I dropped a guy off there and he told me." I responded with a slight sarcastic/intrigued tone "Oh really, I didn't not know we had one of those here."

Again I decided to get a little shut eye before arriving to DFW, when the cab driver yelled, "New York Island!" I woke up and responded, "No I am going to D.C." He yelled, New York Island about two more times when I finally said, "Oh, Manhattan island, yes I've heard of it." He then replied "FACT! New York City fits inside this airport, FACT! You can look it up!" I again in a sarcastic/intrigued tone replied, "Oh yeah, must be a big airport then."

Turbulence - Need I Say More
The flight to Baltimore was not much better. There was a lot of turbulence and I couldn't not take a nap without having to wake up and put my seatbelt on due to the captain's orders. As we proceeded to land, Lost, the TV show, ran through my head because it was a bit of a rough landing.

Alex, Prof. Schill, Prof. Kirk and I shared a cab to D.C. — all of us were really excited, especially because of the nice weather and the beautiful multi-colored leaves. We arrived at our hotel but our rooms were not going to be ready for a few hours. After two trips to CVS, Quiznos and a Starbucks run, I was ready for our first adventure as a group. We started out with the "Monumental Crawl," and by the end we were all crawling.

We walked through the beautiful historic Willard Hotel, where the term lobbyist was coined. Inside the hotel, I felt like we were in a time machine because of all the amazing artifacts around us. We then spent the day at the Mall, where Prof. Schill and Prof. Kirk gave an interesting and insightful lecture on monuments. I finally got to see the World War II memorial, which was breathtaking. But what was more amazing was a veteran who served both in the Pacific and Atlantic, he was there during Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima. As we sat there listening to one of the greatest American heroes, he looked at us and told us we were great Americans for coming and seeing the memorial.

Seeing the Memorials
We then walked through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial which touched us all. After that we proceeded through the Lincoln Memorial, one of my favorites and we stood where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. We also visited the Women's Vietnam Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.

After a long day of walking through the mall, we went to the famous Old Ebbitts Grill to meet with the 30 and under influential SMU alumni. It was reassuring to see how the CCPA program really prepares the students for the real world and what amazing things our alumni are doing. I was amazed at how fast their careers have grown since graduating only a few years ago.

Oct. 6, 2006

I am looking forward to "Hilltop on the Hill." I know it is only a week away, but I view it as four essays, a paper and a midterm that I have to get done before I can leave. I decided to go to D.C. for my fall break because I am interested in finding out what opportunities are available for communication majors. The last time I was in D.C. was February 2006 and I was stuck there a few extra days do to the tremendous blizzard that hit the city. I am excited for this coming weekend because the weather is supposed to be beautiful!


Laurel is a senior Corporate Communications major from Dallas. An intern in the SMU Office of Public Affairs, she also has family who live in the Washington, D.C., area. See Laurel's slide show.

Oct. 12, 2006

Start with a (free) Starbucks
The best way to start your day is with Starbucks giving you free coffee. After that, nothing can go wrong.

On Tuesday, we saw a different side of politics with a visit to the Government Affairs office of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. An SMU alumna works there and it was refreshing to see people working for a good cause.

The afternoon was spent walking around Capitol Hill taking with our representatives (really their staffers since most people are out campaigning). Despite all my visits to DC, I had never visited any of my elected officials. After the long trip to find their offices, involving taking elevators from the second floor to the . . . second floor, inadvertently going through dozens of metal detectors, and accidentally finding Kay Bailey Hutchison's office, I've come to the conclusion that members of Congress don't want to be found.

Do you know who that is?
After meeting up with Steven, Anna, and Melissa, we all grabbed a cab to the State Department. While standing outside, two men came out and walked towards the street. Anna suddenly says, "Isn't that---" at which point we all realize that CNN's Wolf Blitzer is passing by us. We all stood there staring at him until his Escalade drove away. Our one brush with a famous person.

The State Department is a fascinating building. The building is plain, so you could easily walk by it without noticing. We then met with the Director of Strategic Communications, Gordon Johndroe. He was responsible for setting up the press department for Homeland Security when it was newly formed. I think we all want to work at the State Department now; we just need to work on learning another language.

The State Department marked the end of our organized events. We all gathered at the hotel to talk about the highlights of the trip. Then we had the night to ourselves in DC.

Out on the town
Ana, Katie, Ashleigh, and I cabbed it to Dupont Circle, an eclectic part of DC full of shops and restaurants. We ate at Thaiphoon, an amazing Thai restaurant that was decorated for Halloween. We then headed to The Tombs in Georgetown, a popular hangout for college students.

A word of advice about traveling by cab in DC: make sure your cab driver knows how to travel outside his "zone," or else your trip will take twice as long and result in disgruntled passengers.

It was country music night at The Tombs, which Brian and Lauren (our new friends who work there) thought was perfect for us Texas girls. However, I am the opposite of a Texas girl when it comes to music taste, so I spent a lot of time saying, "Wasn't this song just on? They all sound the same to me!"

Any fans of the movie The Exorcist out there? The movie was filmed in Georgetown, and the staircase that play an important part at the end of the movie was right by The Tombs, so what better time to visit them, even if it was midnight?

I spy . . .
Wednesday was a day on our own in D.C. Ashleigh, Ana and I went to The International Spy Museum, which just opened. It was full of tools spies used (sunglasses with cameras), famous people who were spies (Julia Child??), and statistics about spies today (there are 10,000 in D.C. alone). Spies have the image of being sneaky, but they really play an integral part of protecting our country.

After that, we grabbed lunch (my last chance to have crab cakes), and stopped at H&M, one of my favorite stores. Then it was time for us to make the hour-long cab ride to Baltimore and fly back to Dallas.

Things I learned in DC:

  1. If a cab driver is hassling you, just speak Russian and he will drive away quickly.
  2. The free cookies in the lobby of your hotel are meant to be eaten, don't feel bad about taking two.
  3. Keep everyone's business card. Everyone's.
  4. If a cab driver says he'll take you to the ATM, make sure it's one that works.
  5. If you're sitting at the Washington Monument after midnight, the police will think you're up to no good and drive past you with their lights flashing.
  6. Batteries are sold everywhere.
  7. Pay attention to weather reports, not what the weather is "supposed to be like" in October.
  8. Always have your ID ready.
  9. Always have a Metro card with money on it.
  10. Don't wear heels. Just don't.
  11. Everyone you meet will know someone you know.
  12. People think its cute to be from Texas.
  13. Don't worry about looking like a tourist. No matter what you do, the natives know you don't live there.

What now? It's back to class for me. And keeping in contact with the people I met. Hopefully I'll end up there someday!

Oct. 10, 2006

Walking is the Main Mode
"Ask me if I showered today . . . I didn't," This pretty much describes the exhaustion we're all feeling from this trip (by the way, that quote wasn't from me). Walking is the main mode of travel in D.C., and I think that Dr. Scholl's must do a booming business here (I wasn't even wearing heels). I have lost all faith in cab drivers as the one time we took a cab yesterday resulted in us being late for an appointment and stopping and asking another driver for directions.

Yesterday was a day full of protein bars and meeting after meeting. Since I'm obsessed with "The West Wing", our morning meeting with one of Bush's speechwriters was amazing. He's always on call for the president and has great lines and quotes just floating around his head.

My dream job would be press secretary for the President. Imagine how much I freaked out on the inside when I found out the guy sitting across the table from me was President Clinton's press secretary for two years. Joe Lockhart is an amazing individual with more accomplishments than I can list. Meeting him was quite the experience.

We Want to Live Here
Now that we've all spent two days in DC, we're getting bit by "the bug" that all of the alumni described. We want to live here now, we just have to figure out the logistics. Everyone makes it sound easy, but I know its going to be a lot of work. All of the SMU alum success stories are encouraging. Networking at a reception with the alums last night was beneficial, and I realized how much those conversation skills learned during sorority recruitment come in handy in the working world.

After a day full of hors d'ourves, it was nice to eat at a real restaurant. We trekked down to Chinatown to eat at . . . Clyde's. Not the local fare, but like a Fridays, and we just wanted real food. Then Ashleigh, Steven and I went on a nighttime monument tour (which required riding the Metro at 11 p.m., not for the faint of heart). D.C. is such a beautiful city 24 hours a day, I can't imagine living here permanently. I would be distracted.

More later!!

Oct. 9, 2006

Kodak Moment
"Look, an albino squirrel!" I didn't really think that I would run down the street past the Department of the Interior to get a picture of an albino squirrel, but when you're running on little sleep anything is amusing.

Yesterday was our "monument crawl", but we did more than just take pictures and read about the wars they were memorializing. We looked at what the design of the monuments were saying and what kind of statement, if any, they were trying to make. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, always a moving place, was one of the focuses of our study. People left different items for their relatives who died over thirty years ago, everything from wreaths to a school picture of a child to a baseball cap that read "Freedom isn't free, a vet died for it". Even though none of us were alive when the war occurred, we still felt the sadness and the effect that war had on the country. We didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked at the monuments, which is why I plan to go back tonight for a nighttime tour.

Alumni Meet
Last night we had the chance to meet with SMU alumni who live in DC and talk with them about the road to working in DC and the variety of jobs available for people wanting to get started in this busy city. The main piece of advice that I gathered was to be diverse in your interests and always look for new opportunities.

Ashleigh and I grabbed dinner at the top of Hotel Washington where they have a rooftop restaurant. It has great views of the Washington Monument, White House, and the Lincoln Memorial. I tried to take pictures, so we'll see if they come out.

Today its off to the White House and the Republican National Committee, among other things. Can't wait!

Oct. 8, 2006

Safely in DC now.
After an hour delay for our flight, an hour taxi ride from the Baltimore airport to DC (during which we saw a car flip over), Ashleigh and I made it to American University, where we were staying with our friend, Michelle, who transferred there from SMU this year. Being on another college campus was a surreal experience. Every residence hall had a front desk and you had to show your ID to get past it. Since AU is a residential campus, people live on campus for most of their college career, which accounts for the large halls to house all of them. Parking is limited there, so most students take the AU shuttle which drops them off at a Metro station (DC's subway system).

The Zagat never lies
Once we found Michelle, we ventured to the Metro to take us to the heart of DC to eat at a DC landmark: Ben's Chili Bowl. Its located on U Street, not the best part of town, and you would easily pass right by it if it weren't for the crowd of people outside. The staff there is so efficient that they get your order exactly right, even though you have to yell it to them to be heard over the noise. The food doesn't disappoint either, there's a reason its rated in the Zagat guide.

Death by Suitcase
This morning Ashleigh and I navigated the Metro on our own with two suitcases, a video camera, and a tripod. Half the time we looked like we were on candid camera (my suitcase fell over on countless escalators) and were slowing down other travelers. But we made it to our hotel, which is 2 blocks from the White House. We're just waiting for our room to get ready so we can shower and look presentable, and then its time for our "monument crawl" and the educational part of the trip to begin (can't wait!!)

Oct. 6, 2006

Since I have family that lives ten minutes from Washington, DC, numerous vacations with my parents took place in our nation’s capital. I was dragged to Smithsonian museums when I was younger and later begged my parents to go to the National Museum of American History “one more time” (I can never get enough of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers). I’ve seen the Hope Diamond, Ford’s Theater, walked around the Mall, and watched pandas eat bamboo at the National Zoo. But I’ve never been to DC for the reason that it exists: politics. That’s where Hilltop on the Hill comes in.

Corporate Communications and Public Affairs students have the opportunity to travel to DC with professors to learn the ins and outs of media and politics through a program called Hilltop on the Hill. Not only is it a great learning experience, but it’s a great networking opportunity. Since the average age of Capitol Hill staffers is 24, we all have the chance to make connections with employers recruiting people just like us. Add in one of my favorite cities in the world, and I was sold.

Paging President Bartlett
I’ll admit I first became interested in politics because of The West Wing. The behind-the-scenes look at an administration was fascinating to me, although I realize that the Bush Administration may be slightly different without Aaron Sorkin’s genius writing skills. This summer, I interned at a public policy consulting firm which allowed me to gain more insight into politics and everything that goes into policy changes. Since my passion lies in crisis management, I think DC might be the perfect place for me.

Oct. 5, 2006

I’m someone who packs for a trip days in advance. Yet here I am, going home tomorrow before I head to DC, and my suitcase isn’t even in my room. This week has been a whirlwind of 10-page midterms, tests, meetings, and, of course, a new episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Now it’s crunch time. We received our tentative schedule for DC, readings to complete before we arrive (we are getting class credit after all), and rules for the trip. We’re meeting at our hotel on Sunday and starting off with a “monument crawl” before meeting up with SMU alumni. My friend Ashleigh and I are flying to DC a day early to meet up with a friend of ours who goes to American University and see the sights of the city. We haven’t really planned out what we want to do, I guess we’ll decide when we get there!!