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Midcareer Students from Mexico Converge on DC to Explore US Political Systems and Policymaking

February 7, 2023

Just a few short weeks after the 118th U.S. Congress convened in Washington, D.C., the Maxwell School welcomed 23 midcareer students from Mexico City’s Universidad Panamericana to the nation’s capital to gain a firsthand perspective on U.S. government, politics and policymaking just steps away from where the action happens. The program, which ran Jan. 23-27, was titled “U.S. Government and Politics: Policy and Decision Making” and offered participants an overview of U.S. political institutions, elections and federal systems; and touched on some of the most fractious issues facing U.S. policymakers today, including guns, immigration and the role of media.

Maxwell political science professor Grant Reeher, faculty lead for the annual program and director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute, describes it as “a crash course” in American politics for graduate students who represent Mexico’s current and future leaders across both the public and private sectors. “The students come in with a lot of prior knowledge of the American system, but they don’t have a good sense of what makes us ‘tick’ as Americans, politically,” Reeher says. “A deep discussion of that forms the foundation of the course, which we then build on in various substantive ways, employing subject experts and leading practitioners. I think they leave with a better understanding of our political psyche.”

This is the eighth year Maxwell has hosted the training program in partnership with Universidad Panamericana, where the student participants are working toward an M.A. in government and public policy. Guest presenters this year spanned both sides of the political aisle, including former U.S. Reps. John Katko and Ann Marie Buerkle, both Republicans; and Gerry Petrella ’05 B.A. (Hist/PSc), policy director for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, among others.

Margaret Lane, assistant director of Executive Education for the Maxwell School, says diversity of representation is fully intentional. “The program content is really good at providing different vantage points,” Lane says. “It’s not pushing any one side. It is very nonpartisan.”

In fact, Reeher and Lane both cite the presentations by the veteran lawmakers and their staff as a highlight of the week, exploding stereotypes and underscoring the ongoing possibilities for bipartisanship.

Program participant Jaime Casas Alemán Azcárraga comes from a long line of public servants and political leaders in Mexico. He says the program not only gave him a better historical understanding of how the U.S. formed its own political system but also emphasized for him the importance of other countries adapting those systems in a way that suits their own customs and culture. “The American founding fathers worked in a new way to organize this new country, but unfortunately it has been copied in cultures that are different,” he says. “Customs and traditions can be similar, but they are not the same, and it is important to adapt rules and laws to every country. This program is rich enough for us to take back home a handful of ideas to help us think about what can be enhanced in our own country.”

Elvira Daniel, a lawyer and former public servant in Mexico, says the program has helped her better understand the kind of thinking and data that shape and inform U.S. policymaking. She says the seminar “has become a starting point for me to look into comprehensive comparative studies on political and legal systems in Mexico and the U.S.—what are our common grounds, where do we agree, and how can we get a better understanding of the good of our two countries.”

Lane says the program does much the same for Maxwell faculty and staff participants. “The program is just a great opportunity for us to learn from each other,” she says. “There is a lot of dialogue and a lively energy in the discussions, and that gives us another lens to look at these issues. It really exemplifies what Maxwell is all about—that no issue is ever singular in focus. It’s a great interdisciplinary learning opportunity for all of us.”

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