As James Dean enters his senior year at Lubbock Christian University, the Honors College student and Chap golfer looks back on a Washington D.C. experience interning at the CATO Institute.
The university can also boast Dean was one of three undergraduates out of 30 chosen for CATO internships and the other two were from major top research universities – which further illustrates LCU’s growing academic prowess.
Dean sat down recently to discuss his internship, time in Washington, what he learned and what he wants to do after wrapping up his economics degree.
Mr. Dean goes to Washington
Several of Dean’s professors suggested he participate in the LCU Washington program. When he found out about the opportunity with Cato, he was more interested.
“It’s slightly more academic and the nitty-gritty of government stuff and more in-depth stuff I’m interested in,” he said of the conservative/libertarian think tank.
He worked for Cato scholar Michael Tanner and did research on welfare and entitlement policies – but mostly focused on welfare.
“My scholar is doing a book on poverty. I would read articles every day and look at different candidate positions on how to reform these policies,” said Dean.
Tanner also writes a weekly column for the National Review and Dean would help him with research.
Dr. Stacy Patty, director of LCU’s Honors College and LCU Washington Program, said Dean sought out Cato himself.
“It’s the number 15 in the world in term of think tanks,” said Patty. He added of Dean’s placement, “It speaks highly of him and LCU. We target students who we think can eventually compete for prestigious top-tier graduate fellowships.”
What he learned
His biggest takeaway was how little consensus there is in America on what to do about welfare and other entitlement programs.
“Entitlements contribute most to national debt, but there’s little consensus from right and left on how to affect debt and make programs sustainable for the long term. There’s a lack of dialogue between people. When they hear of someone’s political leaning, they discount it instead of discussing it critically from both sides,” he said. “People don’t tend to realize people have a heart for the poor but just want to accomplish things in a different way.”
He also studied how there are things that tend to keep people in poverty. For example:
- The role family structure plays, sometimes a generation or two later
- Where a person grows up and how it affects their income and their children’s income
- Education, especially in poorer neighborhoods
- The friends you make
Dean said sometimes just one positive influence can make the difference for someone breaking the cycle of poverty in their life.
Living in D.C.
Dean, who grew up in Lubbock, had never been to the nation’s capital. He kept a regular blog about his adventures in D.C. and at Cato.
“It was big, I was shocked how big it was,” he said. “I loved the culture of the city and not everything has to do with government. There were not many Chick-fil-As, but everywhere you went to eat was good, but different.”
Dean said friendships he made at his internship and at The Washington Center, where interns stayed and took classes, from around the country and world were important.
“A lot of these were people from different cultures and viewpoints, but everything we did was fun,” he said. “I had Belgian food – one of my roommates was from Belgium – and it was absolutely fantastic.”
As he learned about different cultures, he also dealt with stereotypes about Texas from students from other countries.
“They view it as the Wild West to a certain extent,” explained Dean. “They thought I had a gun with me, asked if I rode a horse, and thought I talked funny.”
And what about the name?
Was he named after the famous actor?
No – James is a Dean family name shared by his dad and granddad, saying he gets the question often.
“But I’ve learned to turn into the skid,” he said, explaining he dressed up as the iconic actor at a Halloween party when he was in D.C.
Dean sees himself going to graduate school and getting a doctorate in economics. He said his experiences in D.C. give him hope for the future.
Read James Dean’s Washington D.C. blog, “The Rational Exuberance”