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The Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), recently announced Maggie Williams as its new director. The Institute of Politics (IOP) decided to sit down with Williams and learn more about her, what she had planned for the future of the IOP, and what she felt needed to be done to inspire the next generation of leaders to get into politics and change it for the better.
Q: Why did you decide to become the new director of Harvard's Institute of Politics?
Williams: President Kennedy said that the "future of any nation could be measured by the prospects of its youth.” The Institute of Politics was created to help ensure that our country would continue to flourish, led by generations of smart and caring leaders. I came to the IOP because I wanted to be a part of this community and participate in the work of growing our nation’s leaders.
Q: Did your experiences as a Spring 2005 IOP Fellow and IOP Senior Advisory Committee member change your perception of politics?
Williams: My experience as an IOP Fellow didn’t change my perception of politics, but it reassured me that the future of politics was in good hands. The students in my study group, and generally the students I met through IOP activities, were serious, well-informed and interested in serving the public.
Q: How can we fix Washington? What role can young people play?
Williams: First of all, a great deal of Washington works. There are hardworking public servants across the political spectrum who are dedicated to doing their best for the American people. They toil in all three branches of government, advocacy organizations and research institutions. But the spotlight rarely finds these people.
Fundamentally, what seems to be missing in our national politics is a “spirit” of compromise. There should be hard fought battles about policy; sharp words exchanged in debate and persistence in truth telling. But I think what the American people feel is lacking is the spirit of compromise. Every once in a while, they would like to see their leaders be aggressive in finding common ground.
Q: How can the IOP better engage its incredible group of alumni?
Williams: I think in recent years a concerted effort has been made to reach out to alumni. Increasingly, IOP alums are the providers of rich internship experiences for Harvard students. There are a number of IOP alums who serve on the institute’s senior advisory committee — where they work with IOP staff to maintain the high quality of IOP programs and ensure that the IOP resources are used wisely. But more can be done.
Q: As the new Director, what are you most looking foward to?
Williams: My first official day of work.