IOP Director Talks Transition to Virtual Events, Uncertainty Of Summer Programs


Mark D. Gearan ’78, director of the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, said in a Tuesday interview that the IOP is working to transition its extensive programming to an online model.

In addition to putting its popular JFK Jr. Forums online as “Fast Forums,” the IOP is also switching its Resident Fellows program to an online version dubbed “Fellows and Headlines.” The program traditionally invites six “prominent public servants” to mentor and host events for undergraduates. In the online program, fellows will instead talk politics and service over Zoom conference calls. Fellows will also occasionally do question-and-answer sessions on the IOP’s Instagram account.

Gearan said he and his colleagues knew they wanted to continue the IOP’s offerings while remaining flexible as they responded to the disruption of students being asked to leave campus to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

One goal was to “maintain a sense of community among our students.” Another was “to provide opportunities for students to continue their engagement in civic life, politics, and public service,” according to Gearan.


“We said at the beginning, we need to be flexible and nimble in our efforts,” he said.

Other student-led IOP programs, like the Harvard Political Union, the Campaigns and Advocacy Program, and the Harvard Votes Challenge, will also continue with virtual programming.

“It is a different format. There's nothing like face-to-face and the intimacy of study groups or being live at the JFK Jr. Forum here,” he said. “But I think — given the importance of the issues that we're talking about, given our students’ real interests in civic and political life — this is our approach to maximizing the opportunities they have to engage in these questions.”

Gearan said those at the IOP were “very pleased” with attendance at the inaugural “Fast Forum.”

As of Tuesday, around 300 people had RSVP'd for the upcoming “Fast Forum” with NBC White House correspondent Peter M. Alexander on Thursday, according to IOP spokesperson Kelsey A. Donohue.

“We are getting a lot of admitted students, so students who are members of the Class of 2024,” Donohue said of those planning to attend. “Which I think is a great way that we've seen that the virtual format allows for different populations of the Harvard community to engage.”

Gearan added that the IOP is “very much looking forward” to participating in the Virtual Visitas to welcome the Class of 2024.

“We're right in the midst of thinking through how we can best deliver that opportunity to show prospective students, newly admitted students, how they can find a home for their civic and political interests when they hopefully arrive at Harvard,” he said.

Gearan also said the IOP has yet to make a final decision on the organization’s plentiful summer opportunities, including its popular Director’s Internships or the Summer in Washington Program

“We don't have final decisions both from the University as well as with some of the partners that we’re working with,” he said. “We have been in touch with our partners, as they’re thinking through it as well. But guidance from the College — we expect it to be forthcoming on some of these questions, so we’re awaiting that, as well.”

—Staff writer Sixiao Yu can be reached at