Students at the center
How the Miller Center is influencing the next generation of leaders
The Miller Center helps students—and their instructors—engage with presidential history and American politics. A key part of our mission is to fill expanding minds with ideas about how presidencies of the past can help shape those of the future.
“Students who work at the Miller Center are bright and focused,” said Director and CEO William Antholis. “We help them develop real-world experience, leadership skills, and selfconfidence. Some go on to become government leaders, others become journalists or scholars themselves. One day we may even capture some of their voices through our oral history program.”
Here are nine ways the Miller Center has a positive impact on students of all ages:
‘THE PRESIDENCY’ SECTION OF MILLERCENTER.ORG
Students from middle school through college rely on millercenter.org for comprehensive information about the U.S. presidency. They navigate our scholarly essays and presidential timelines to prepare for civics tests, U.S. history AP exams, and political science term papers.
Last year, “The Presidency” section of the Center’s website drew more than eight million unique page views—the most of any section on the site. Given the site’s value to students and teachers, it’s no surprise that those numbers spike dramatically from September to May—the start and end of the school year for most American students.
“We know teachers point students to our resources,” said Sheila Blackford, managing editor of “The Presidency” section of the website. “In Google searches about particular presidents, we’re always in the top two to five results. And we curate our resources to reflect that demand.”
LEONARD D. SCHAEFFER FELLOWS IN GOVERNMENT SERVICE
The brainchild of Leonard Schaeffer, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Health Education and Welfare (now Health and Human Services) and former CEO at WellPoint (now Anthem), this program matches undergraduates from five universities—the University of Virginia, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of California–Berkeley, and the University of Southern California—with elected officials and government agencies for intensive summer internships.
“The unique collaboration with UVA’s Miller Center, the Center for Politics, and the Career Center incorporates a commitment to advancing democratic institutions,” Schaeffer said. “We identify fellows with leadership potential and offer internships that inspire an interest in public service, better public policy, and engaged citizenship.”
Miller Center Schaeffer Fellows have interned in the U.S. Departments of State and Justice, the U.S. House, and other federal agencies; in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; and in state and local government offices across Virginia and the District of Columbia. They also have worked at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services—an office designed by none other than Leonard Schaeffer when he was assistant secretary.
The Miller Center partners with the UVA Career Center to recruit, select, and match fellows based on their future career interests. Alternatively, students find their own internships. In either case, the Schaeffer Fellows program provides them the financial support necessary to work for 40 hours each week. This cost-of-living stipend is what enables many students to take a nonpaying government internship.
“This program takes the internship opportunity and elevates it through networking, mentoring, and professional development,” said Matthew Slagley, who interned as a fellow in 2019 with the Virginia State Police. After graduating from UVA, he landed a full-time job in the same office.
THE GILDER LEHRMAN INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN HISTORY
“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” This quotation from President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address is what has inspired Miller Center Director of Presidential Studies Barbara Perry to support history teachers and their students throughout her career. For the past 15 years, she has taught courses through the Gilder Lehrman Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting American history to the general public, with a special focus on K–12 educators.
Perry recently led a course, “Presidential leadership at historic crossroads: From the Founding to current challenges.” Part of an online, accredited master’s program through Gettysburg College that is designed to be flexible and affordable for teachers, the class included about 280 teachers in the summer and fall semesters of 2022.
“I use the essays and information on millercenter.org as assigned reading,” Perry said. “Teachers tell me that they rely on the Miller Center’s presidential resources with their students. This translates into so many young people, across the nation, turning to the outstanding, informative content that we produce.”
UVA DEMOCRACY BIENNIAL FELLOWS
“We are helping to teach the next generation of citizens about democratic practice,” said Miller Center Professor Marc Selverstone, who collaborated with the UVA Center for Liberal Arts to create the UVA Democracy Biennial Fellows program—an effort that works with educators to develop civics curricula for secondaryschool classrooms across Virginia.
This program was inspired by the 2021 UVA Democracy Biennial event, an ambitious two-day conference sponsored by UVA’s Karsh Institute of Democracy and the Miller Center. As part of the schedule, middle and high school teachers from across the Commonwealth were invited to attend.
Five of those teachers reconvened in fall 2022 as the inaugural class of Biennial Fellows, exchanging ideas and workshopping new teaching materials covering social and economic mobility, systemic reform, and the relationship between capitalism and democracy.
“We hear about the challenges of teaching in the current political environment—as well as getting students to express their thoughts,” said Selverstone, who worked with colleagues Stefanie Georgakis Abbott and Alfred Reaves IV on the project. “It’s been gratifying to hear educators describe the workshop as motivational and effective.”
The next UVA Democracy Biennial will take place at UVA in October 2023.
It was summer 2020. Students were unsure about their summer job prospects because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Miller Center and other units at UVA responded quickly with a first-of-its-kind, virtual, public sector summer internship program—teaming up with UVA’s Center for Politics, the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the Weldon Cooper Center, the Democracy Initiative (now the Karsh Institute of Democracy), the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and the Career Center.
Named for the impact participants will have on public policy extending into the 22nd century, the program continues today with a hybrid of virtual and in-person work at one of the participating UVA units.
Those who have been assigned to the Miller Center have helped mine presidential oral history transcripts for a project on the George H. W. Bush administration. Last summer, one intern assisted the Center’s new Project on Democracy and Capitalism, and another researched the history of the Miller Center’s 19th-century building, known as the Faulkner House.
Students also have had the opportunity to engage with policy makers, journalists, and other thought leaders, including CBS News Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan, former UVA and NFL football player Tiki Barber, and former director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs.
ANSELMI FAMILY INTERNSHIP
One UVA undergraduate is chosen each year to be a paid research assistant for Miller Center Director William Antholis. Students spend their days researching, writing briefs, drafting remarks for Antholis, and providing administrative assistance. The program was made possible by a generous gift in 2019 from the Anselmi family, whose twin sons, Nick and Luke, also were Miller Center interns.
“One of our recent Anselmi interns managed an entire seminar series, including invitations, correspondence, and schedules, communicating with top economic policy experts across the country,” said Rick Willis, executive assistant and special advisor to Antholis. “She anticipated faculty questions, supplied answers and solutions, and did so professionally. What a success story.”
The benefits go both ways. “The students learn from being around all of us and we learn from being around them,” Willis added. “The Miller Center team is a passionate group that focuses on what public service has been and what it could be.”
UVA undergraduates sign up for other paid internships across the Center. We seek out students who can work independently, have a positive attitude, and display strong written and verbal communication skills. Interest in history and politics are a plus.
“The undergrads get to see how a team works, how the Center works— to see that their role affects everyone’s performance,” said Mike Greco, director of information technology, who hires several interns each semester for his department. “There are also some intangibles that they bring us. They give me hope for the future.”
Some of our most visible interns are the students who greet visitors at the front desk. “I ask them, ‘Where are you from? What is something new you’ve learned since you arrived at UVA?’” said Alfred Reaves IV, faculty and program coordinator, who manages the students at the front desk. “Talking to them in this way models how they can collaborate with all kinds of people. It’s important, for them and for us, to take the time to connect as human beings first.”
Other undergraduate interns generate first-draft transcripts of secret tapes from the White House (mostly from the JFK, LBJ, and Nixon administrations) for the Presidential Recordings Program. They put on headphones, listen intently, and type what they hear—generating raw materials that are further refined by Miller Center faculty and staff.
“This work represents the first real job for some—their first opportunity to show up on time, interact in an office setting, and present themselves as professionals,” said Keri Matthews, associate editor. “Since many interns work for us across multiple years, it can be especially rewarding to watch them become seasoned, poised, and ready for full-time employment after graduation.”
Some of the text excerpts they create help visitors to millercenter.org simultaneously listen to voices from the past and read the words being spoken. “The perennial ‘cool factor’ of listening to the secret White House tapes as a fly on the wall, being privy to the unvarnished thoughts of the country’s most senior officials, can never be underestimated,” Matthews said.
The Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program hires graduate students to provide research support for the detailed briefing books that are produced ahead of every oral history interview, with the goal of prompting memories for the person being interviewed and helping the interviewers themselves prepare. Graduate fellows identify key issues using public statements, past news coverage, and scholarly sources, suggesting questions to use during the interview process. Typically, graduate fellows also produce a few briefing books of their own each semester. The Presidential Oral History Program may produce more than 100 briefing books for each project. “So we need their help,” said Bryan Craig, senior researcher. “Their incredibly meticulous work sets them apart because only a few places in the country do what the Miller Center does. It’s not unusual for our fellows to be asked in job interviews about their time at the Miller Center.” UVA’S INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS ORGANIZATION As part of the Miller Center’s outreach, students are encouraged to enter an annual essay competition to promote undergraduate research in foreign affairs. This is done in partnership with UVA’s prestigious International Relations Organization (IRO), a student-run nonprofit founded in the 1970s that seeks to spread awareness of American foreign policy and the role of the U.S. presidency in international affairs. The essay competition is open to all UVA undergraduates, with the winner receiving a cash prize, an honorary luncheon at the Miller Center, and publication of the essay in the Virginia Journal of International Affairs, the IRO’s undergraduate research journal. The 2020 essay contest prompted students to select the most pressing foreign policy challenge facing then President Donald Trump. They were instructed to use a historical example or case study as context, analyzing lessons learned and how the Trump administration should address the issue moving forward. In 2021, applicants were asked to provide insights on President Joe Biden’s memorable declaration at his inaugural address: “America is back.” Should future American foreign policy embrace multilateralism or take a more unilateral approach? In 2022, they were asked what the president’s top foreign policy priority should be in the coming year.