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Les Aspin Center celebrates 25 years in Washington

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Marquette’s Les Aspin Center for Government in Washington D.C. inaugurated a new award for its distinguished alumni at the center’s 25th anniversary dinner held Thursday at the Willard Hotel.

Patrick Souders, 1991 Marquette graduate and chief of staff in the office of Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), became the first recipient of the award at the event. Souders attended Les Aspin in the summer of 1990, when he interned for then-Congressman Durbin.

“It’s an incredible honor,” Souders said. “As I sat (at the dinner), I thought of a dozen people who are more deserving than I am. It’s a very humbling experience.”

“We decided to establish the distinguished alumnus award to recognize our alumni who are demonstrating the Les Aspin Center mission in their careers and lives,” said Meghan Lefeber, assistant director at Les Aspin. “Pat Souders is a perfect example of such a commitment to public service.”

The event attracted about 220 people, including Marquette’s Board of Trustees. This was the first time the board met outside of Milwaukee, which was planned in honor of the anniversary.

About 75 Les Aspin alumni from around the country traveled to the event to join the celebration.

“There are enthusiastic alumni at the center, some who just graduated and others who attended it about 22 years ago like me,” Souders said. “The alumni are very active and engaged to make Les Aspin the premier program in Washington.”

Chris Murray, coordinator of student affairs at the center, said the best part of the event was catching up with past students.

“I got to see several students who I hadn’t seen in years as well as some who had just moved out to D.C.,” Murray said in an email. “The excitement that they are bringing to their work and how it reflects their experience at the Aspin Center is very meaningful.”

Annie Shuey, junior in the College of Communication and student at Les Aspin, attended the event along with the rest of her classmates. She said she appreciated meeting the alumni of the program.

“A lot of them have really cool jobs now and were super interesting to talk to,” Shuey said.

Murray also said the event was helpful because it gave university administrators the opportunity to see how the center operates.

“Because the Center is not on campus, a lot of people in positions of leadership only hear about it second hand,” Murray said. “This event allowed them to talk with our students and alums and get a tangible sense of what happens at the center.”

The Les Aspin program has provided more than 2,000 students with internships in congressional, executive branch, nonprofit, corporate and journalistic offices since it began through the efforts of the Rev. Timothy O’Brien in 1984.

The program was offered only during the summer until 1994, when O’Brien persuaded former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin to come to Marquette as a faculty member. As a result of the initiative, the program expanded to a full semester. It was named after Aspin following his death in May 1995.

Murray said the center has plans to remain engaged with alumni, many of whom are beginning to attain leadership positions in public service. He said these connections will provide an example for current students to aspire to.

“The next 25 years will hopefully be a continuation of the work we’ve been doing — emphasizing Jesuit values centered on public service and leadership,” Murray said. “We will continue to seek new opportunities for students in terms of internships and coursework, especially as we continue to reach out to students of diverse majors and interests.”

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