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As Chairman Archer was preparing to retire from Congress, he began to think about what he wanted to do with his legacy. He looked over his accomplishments while in public service and felt that he wanted to continue to build on a program he began as a freshman representative-an internship program that helped expose high school students from his district to Washington, D.C. The high school program had been a very successful endeavor that allowed one representative student from each high school in the district to visit Washington over spring break and take back lessons learned to their classes back home. Over the course of the 30 years that this program ran, the Chairman watched student attitudes toward government shift and change, but inevitably he was able to give these students an experience in noble public service.
Chairman Archer felt that there could be a way to build upon this idea. He partnered with his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, and specifically with the College of Communication and the UT System Office of Federal Relations to create the Archer Center in Washington, D.C. This Center was to be the D.C. home of all academic programs and experiential learning for students, staff, faculty, and alumni from the various campuses of the UT System. Over the course of the first two years, Chairman Archer helped to raise an endowment that would provide seed funding for a full time staff member and a basic budget for the first programs. Chairman Archer made a generous donation as he closed out his campaign fund. Additionally, Conoco Phillips, Marathon Oil, the McGovern Foundation, El Paso Energy, and others helped to provide for the initial endowment.
In January 2001, just as Chairman Archer was shifting out of his life in public service and back to the private sector for the first time in 40 years, the inaugural class of the Bill Archer Fellowship Program arrived in Washington, D.C. This group of 10 students from the Austin campus helped to pave the way for their successors, of which there have been nearly 450 to date. The Archer Fellows participate in a semester-long experiential learning program that allows each to work in a full-time internship and attend three courses thereby continuing to work towards graduation. Archer Fellows have worked at the White House, on the Hill, in various agencies and non-profits, in international organizations, and in governmental arms of private sector entities. The University of Texas at El Paso joined the program in 2001. The Dallas and Arlington campuses followed quickly in 2002.
During the summer of 2001, the Archer Center and the Lyndon Baines Johnson School for Public Affairs partnered to provide the first Summer Speakers Series. Through this weekly program, LBJ interns and Archer alumni could come together for intellectual and career development sessions with noted experts throughout Washington, D.C. These 2-hour sessions allowed participants unusual access to individuals such as Susan Rice, Sidney Weintraub, and Henry Gandy. The Summer Speakers Series has continued each summer since 2001. In 2004, the program was expanded to include D.C.-based alumni of the LBJ School as the Washington Area LBJ Alumni Organization reemerged as a strong social and professional group.
In the spring of 2003, the Archer Fellow Alumni Association was founded as a group that could provide networking and social opportunities for alumni of the Bill Archer Fellowship Program. Members also work to provide support for recruitment and marketing. The alumni have their own newsletter and listserve and put on their first fundraiser, a tribute to Chairman Archer in Austin, TX in October of 2003.
In Spring 2004, the Archer Center partnered with the D.C. Texas Exes and the UT Austin College of Communication to create the Welcome to the Beltway Seminar. This 4-day crash course in D.C. allowed students with an interest in careers at the intersection of politics and communication the chance to learn from lobbyists, Hill professionals, White House staff, print and broadcast journalists, and individuals in international organizations. This program will allow the Archer Center to provide D.C. opportunities for still more students while strengthening ties with other D.C.-based Texas organizations, such as the D.C. Texas Exes and the Washington Area LBJ Alumni Organization.
The Archer Center is thriving in Washington and continuing to build out its portfolio of programs. The future awaits us. We hope to continue to grow and provide a bigger home for all individuals traveling to D.C. and still more opportunities for living, learning, and working in our nation's Capital.