Ms. De Lara Goes to Washington

Washington DC: US National Archives


When Michelle (De Lara) Ibarra arrived in the nation’s capital, the sweltering heat registered in the 90s. The air was heavy — not just with a humidity that promised rain — but also with an incessant buzz about a certain former White House intern. If nothing else, things would be interesting in Washington, D.C.

Ibarra ’99 was then a junior at USD, majoring in political science and minoring in international relations and sociology. She was the one of the first students from the university to participate in a student program at the Washington Center, a nonprofit organization that serves hundreds of schools across the nation and around the world, providing internships and academic seminars in virtually every field.

Michelle (De Lara) Ibarra '99“I was proud to represent my university, to work for a well-known agency and to make a difference in the world,” says Ibarra, thinking back on her experience in the fall of 1998. “I loved my time in D.C.”

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Noelle Norton was then an assistant faculty member in the political science department and served as USD’s first faculty advisor for the Washington Center Program. She says it’s been an invaluable component to the student experience.

“The USD educational model really emphasizes experiential learning — and for political science majors, that very often includes work in Washington, D.C., where both domestic and international policy is made,” Norton says.

Since Ibarra’s trip, USD has sent thousands of students to the Washington Center. Aside from the 14-week semester program, the university has expanded the offerings to include a nine-week program in the summer and a two-week program during the January intersession.

Mike Williams, chair of the political science department, says students who went through the program have gone on to work at the White House, as Congressional aides, as lawyers in the executive branch, as political consultants or political campaign managers, and in the intelligence community for the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Back then, Ibarra had dreams of joining those ranks by becoming an FBI agent.

Her semester-long duties were with the National Training and Technical Assistance Partnership program, which helps train newly hired officers with law enforcement and other crime prevention agencies. “Assisting communities with crime prevention was a perfect fit,” says Ibarra, who now works as a senior paralegal at an immigration law firm.

Ibarra lived in an apartment in Rosslyn, Va., north of Arlington National Cemetery and directly across the Potomac River from Georgetown. Every day, she rode the Metro two stops from Rosslyn, under the Potomac to the Farragut West station in downtown D.C. From her office at 17th and K, she researched and helped produce brochures about public safety, attended manager-training conferences and participated in conference calls, brainstorming sessions and roundtable discussions.

When she wasn’t working, Ibarra immersed herself in everything D.C. had to offer, but of course, the news of the day was everywhere. “Thinking back during my time in D.C., the hot topic was the Kenneth Star report and President Clinton’s impeachment,” she recalls. “There was a lot of buzz going on about that.”

Ibarra saw every branch of the government in action. She witnessed the realities of politics — the negotiations, the quid pro quo. But what stuck with her the most was a grand sense of pride.

“You can’t help but feel patriotic when you’re there,” she says. “There’s so much history. I loved walking down the streets and seeing Capitol Hill or the White House. I loved knowing that everyone there was doing what they could to bring about a change for the people of this country. It was inspiring. It’s something I’ll never forget.” — Krystn Shrieve