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    May 29, 2024  
American University Catalog 2020-2021 
American University Catalog 2020-2021 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

SPA General Information

Undergraduate Program Information

Undergraduate students may plan their academic programs to meet personalized learning objectives. Recognizing that a multidisciplinary education is required to meet the ever changing nature of the public affairs profession, advisors encourage students to take courses in other academic units.

Lincoln Scholars Program

The Undergraduate Certificate in Political Thought (Lincoln Scholars) offers students the opportunity to read and discuss classic and contemporary works in politics, philosophy, political economy, and literature in seminar classes and in a context of intellectual and political diversity. Students learn to read difficult texts closely, to have respectful and productive discussions with colleagues who disagree, and to write clearly and effectively, while wrestling with fundamental moral and political controversies. Students take one class a semester or each semester of their first and second years, plus three 1 credit classes that connect them to academic and professional networks beyond American University. Students must apply to the program in order to be admitted and do so before they arrive for their first year at the university (with some exceptions). Classes are supplemented by community lectures, student retreats, and other activities.

Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program

This rigorous program offers students the opportunity to complete the undergraduate degree in three years with a cohort of other motivated and passionate students dedicated to the study of politics, policy and law. The intensive year-round curriculum provides an added emphasis on analytical research and writing as well as enhanced experiential learning programming and faculty mentorship.

Students in the Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program (PPL):

  • Complete the undergraduate degree in three years;
  • Take PPL core requirements as a cohort;
  • Participate in year-round enrichment programs;
  • Pursue summer experiential learning such as internships and an optional study abroad program;
  • Develop advanced research and writing skills;
  • Receive mentorship on academic and career goals;
  • Receive support from program faculty, staff, and SPA alumni with career/internship placement.

SPA Leadership Program

The SPA Advanced Leadership Studies (Undergraduate Certificate)  program, created in 1990, offers students the skills and knowledge required to be effective leaders in public service. Following a competitive application process, students complete the four- year, 15-credit course of study. Creating opportunities for experiencing firsthand how policy is developed and implemented, the program broadens students’ understanding of the nature of politics. To prepare students for lifelong participation in all aspects of public service, the program fosters their leadership, teamwork, negotiating, communications, critical thinking, and organizational skills. Incoming first-year students in the School of Public Affairs are invited to apply to the program. For more information, visit

The Greater Washington Partnership’s SPA Data Analytics and Digital Technology Credential Generalist

School of Public Affairs Pathway is an SPA Certificate program in conjunction with the Greater Washington Partnership (GWP), an organization which seeks to promote economic growth throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area. It is part of an alliance of university and business leaders who have come together to take action to strengthen the Capital Region and position the region as a leading global hub for innovation. The Digital Technology Generalist (Undergraduate Certificate) [SPA]  is designed for students seeking to acquire digital technology skills required by employers across a broad range of professions. Topics covered by this certificate include: Career & Professional Exploration and Development, Basic Statistics, Intermediate Statistics, Statistical Programming in R, Political or Justice Research, and Cybersecurity Risk Management.

Community-Based Research

The 15-18 credit Community-Based Research (Undergraduate Certificate)  program is for students who are interested in applying community-based research methodology and social science research methods to community-based settings domestically or internationally. Community-Based Research is an orientation based on the philosophy that research to inform solutions for a pressing community problem should involve the community. In this certificate program, students learn to collaborate with community partners to conduct research aimed at meeting community-identified needs. Students apply what they have learned in a final independent capstone project. For more information, visit

SPA Honors 

The SPA Honors  program provides SPA students with outstanding academic records the opportunity to earn school-based honors. SPA students in this highly selective honors program take rigorous courses in public affairs; conduct an original research project mentored by two faculty members; and participate in SPA Honors program activities.

Graduate Program Information

The graduate degree programs in the School of Public Affairs serve a number of diverse educational needs. Most of our master’s programs educate students for specific professional careers in government and other nonprofit organizations at local, state, and national levels. These programs emphasize managerial, analytical, and conceptual skills necessary for professional success and leadership in public service. Others provide students with a general understanding of the academic disciplines related to public affairs. Doctoral programs are designed to prepare qualified individuals for professional appointments in teaching and scholarly research, and are offered in Political Science (PhD) , Public Administration and Policy (PhD) , and Justice, Law and Criminology (PhD) .

Special Opportunities


The school encourages qualified students to work for course credit as interns in governmental, political, non-profit, and private organizations. These internships are designed to give students practical involvement in political processes or action programs. For example, a student might work for a member of Congress, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Justice, or for other organizations directly concerned with public policy.

Independent Study

The School of Public Affairs encourages students to engage in independent study projects related to their fields of interest. These projects include reading, research, and field work in the Washington, DC area arranged directly with a faculty member.

Study Abroad

AU Abroad offers the opportunity for students to study abroad and gain full American University course credit. All students are encouraged to learn and work in another culture. Students may spend a semester or year at prestigious universities in over 40 countries, spanning six continents. In addition, international study tours led by faculty members are offered during semester breaks and summer sessions. For more information and a full listing of AU Abroad programs, go to

Educational Resources

Computer-aided instruction and research are encouraged and facilitated by a variety of technical resources. The university operates quantitative teaching and research laboratories to introduce students to the use of computers, statistics, and mathematical methods in social research and management applications. These labs are staffed with graduate assistants who tutor new users and provide professional consulting to experienced users. SPA also has several “bring your own device” classrooms with expanded wireless bandwidth to enable computer-based instruction.

Honorary Societies

The school recognizes both academic and professional achievement by students and alumni through membership in national honorary societies.

Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society, founded in 1920, is open to selected undergraduates and graduate students. Undergraduates must meet certain criteria but need not be political science majors. Graduate students must be pursuing a degree in political science.

Alpha Phi Sigma is the national honor society for criminal justice. It recognizes scholastic excellence by undergraduate and graduate students in the justice field. Sigma Phi Omega, the university’s prelaw honor society, is open to all qualified undergraduate students, sophomore and above.

Pi Alpha Alpha is the national honorary society for public affairs and administration. The School of Public Affairs has one of the 18 charter chapters. Graduate students completing their programs are invited to join if they meet the academic standards set by the chapter.

Undergraduate majors are also eligible for Phi Beta Kappa.

Career and Professional Opportunities

A public affairs education prepares students for a variety of careers. Graduates serve public, non-profit, and private organizations where they assist in creating, analyzing, and/or implementing policy alternatives. Some teach public administration, political science, justice, public policy, and related courses at universities, colleges, or secondary schools. Others seek opportunities in private sector professions not formally related to their degree programs. Alumni are serving as city managers, lawyers, management analysts, investigators, legislative assistants, lobbyists, budget or systems analysts, newspaper editors, research associates, professors, policy analysts, and appointed and elected government officials.

Centers and Institutes

Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies

Founded in 1979, the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies (CCPS) ( has become a focus of research and training in the Department of Government . A unique institution, the center brings together scholars, students, public officials, journalists, and leaders in public and private organizations to study Congress and the presidency through scholarly forums, colloquiums, and seminars on current topics. The Center founded and organizes the Campaign Management Institute, the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute, the European Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute in Brussels, and numerous weekend workshops on campaigning and lobbying. CCPS also publishes the scholarly journal Congress and the Presidency.

The center’s many activities provide an opportunity for graduate students to work on research projects, assist with publications, and gain valuable practical and scholarly experience.

Campaign Management Institute

This innovative institute was designed by the school’s faculty, together with leading Democratic and Republican political managers and campaign consultants to serve as a foundation for students, campaign workers, political activists, and legislative staffers interested in campaign management.

The institute’s intensive program covers campaign organization, strategy, research, fundraising, polling, paid media, earned media, general management, targeting, campaign law and ethics, computer technology, and get-out-the-vote initiatives. Through this program, many students have found placement in national, state, and local campaigns as well as in survey research and campaign management firms.

Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute

Modeled on the Campaign Management Institute, the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute (PAAI) provides students with an intensive two-week exploration into the art and craft of the lobbying profession. The format allows students to become immersed in the strategies and tactics of organized interests attempting to influence the federal policy-making outcomes and processes. In addition to the applied aspects of the lobbying profession, lobbying is placed in a more theoretical perspective by linking the real world of political influence with the issues of democratic political representation. Several weekend workshops on topics such as “Lobbying and Ethics,” “Use of Social Media in Issue Campaigns,” and “Managing Lobbying Campaigns” are offered throughout the year. The European Public Affairs and Institute is a continuation of PAAI and organized to study lobbying in the European Union in Brussels every June.

Women & Politics Institute

The Women & Politics Institute is dedicated to closing the gender gap in political leadership. The Institute provides young women with academic and practical training that encourages them to become involved in the political process and facilitates research that enhances an understanding of the challenges women face in the political arena. The Institute’s location in Washington, DC allows students and faculty access to the resources of the nation’s capital. Through workshops, seminars, and internships, participants have outstanding opportunities to pursue the study of women in politics and public policy.

Center for Environmental Policy

The purpose of the Center for Environmental Policy (CEP) is to evaluate and improve the capacity for environmental governance in the United States. CEP’s work focuses on three themes: environmental innovation, partnerships and collaboration, and new and emerging challenges. The Center applies these themes to environmental issues in many ways. It sponsors lectures and programs to promote exchanges of ideas, experience, and research; convenes dialogue sessions for engaging varied interests and experts; and conducts research on how different institutional approaches, policy strategies, collaborative models, and implementation tools affect environmental outcomes. Focusing on its themes, the Center for Environmental Policy aims to improve the nation’s ability to address these challenges through effective governance.

Metropolitan Policy Center

The Metropolitan Policy Center (MPC) was created in the Fall of 2014 within the School of Public Affairs  at American University (AU). MPC serves as the metropolitan and urban research hub on AU’s campus. MPC’s mission is to create knowledge and propose solutions to our 21st century metropolitan and urban challenges. The insights gained through the Center are disseminated to policy makers, think tanks, foundations, nonprofits, community groups and academic and mainstream media outlets.

Center for Data Science

The mission of the Center for Data Science is to provide American University with the technical, managerial, and institutional resources to aid research and grant development focused on the production, analysis, and storage of 21st Century data types. This mission means generating long-term federal and foundation grant support to build computational and human resources, as well as acting as a conduit for data-centered pedagogical and promotional activities.

Political Theory Institute

The Political Theory Institute aims to encourage the serious study of the great questions of political theory and to show how political theory illuminates current controversies and issues. American University has a vibrant tradition of political debate about issues of the day, but behind every practical controversy lies deeper disagreements about justice, the good society, and human nature. PTI fosters reflection about these issues through the political theory concentration in the Political Science (BA) ; a longstanding series of 8-10 lectures every year; a 1-credit hour class that accompanies the lecture and that allows students to meet and converse with our guest lecturers; various other public events on issues of the day; and a contest for the Best Undergraduate Essay on Classical Liberalism, which is held in the spring semester of every year and comes with a $500 prize.

Justice Programs Office

The Justice Programs Office (JPO) of the School of Public Affairs  (SPA) at American University was established in 1989 to carry out the SPA’s mission to apply the tools of scholarship and professionalism to the design, management, and evaluation of public programs. Since its establishment, the JPO has been providing technical assistance, research, training, policy development, and program evaluation services to government agencies and organizations throughout the U.S. and internationally to promote the application of relevant research findings and professional standards to the operations of justice system and related agencies. Projects address policy, program, resource, and operational issues relating to the administration.

Washington Institute of Public Affairs Research

The Washington Institute of Public Affairs Research serves as a bridge between the academic and policy worlds, advancing scholarly research that addresses pressing issues and concerns. The Institute helps SPA researchers organize and support research projects and promotes collaborative work, effectively putting the lessons of academic research into practice.

SPA Analytics and Management Institute

The SPA  Analytics and Management Institute (SAMI) was created to further prepare SPA graduate students by sharing practical, cutting-edge skills to work in and lead multidisciplinary teams after graduation. The institute brings leading experts from outside and inside of academia to offer students a variety of skills including mapping, compliance with regulations, creating effective presentations, policy writing for a general audience, media skills, and writing blog posts. SAMI was designed to help students develop an innovative mindset for a changing world.