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Identifying and Developing Leaders

My own life is the result of our Constitution, which allowed the son of enslaved Americans to seize the opportunity for personal, economic, and political freedom. The American Enterprise Institute promotes the timeless values that break chains and create opportunities. No one is better poised to engage with all segments of society than AEI. I am honored to make it my go-to organization for expert policy reference and leadership. . . . As AEI’s 500th Leadership Network member, I am pleased to be associated with an exceptional team equipped to meet America’s greatest policy challenges.” 

Leonardo Smith, 2018 Leadership Network Summit Participant

A core component of AEI’s mission has always been to lead leaders. Since AEI’s founding, our empirical work on our nation’s greatest policy challenges has served to educate policymakers, business executives, scholars, and journalists. Over the past decade, AEI has made a concerted effort to expand its outreach to leaders beyond Washington, DC, reaching college students and professionals across the country.

AEI offers a continuum of programs designed to educate and build meaningful relationships with young leaders who will someday represent their generation as policymakers, thought leaders, and influencers of all kind, as well as with current professionals across a variety of sectors. Through their experience in AEI’s programs, these leaders are not just exposed to AEI scholars’ ideas. They engage with these ideas and implement them—often gaining a greater appreciation for the ideas while practicing respectful discourse and intellectual rigor. They become force multipliers for our work and for the principle that a competition of ideas is essential to learning.


Young People at AEI

Internship Program

AEI’s Internship Program attracts some of the nation’s finest young minds and is remarkably competitive. Each year, AEI has more than 5,000 individual applicants (among undergraduates, recent college graduates, and graduate students) for about 180 unpaid internships. That equals an average acceptance rate of 3.6 percent, which is more competitive than admissions into Ivy League schools.

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2018 AEI Summer Honors Program.

Interns hail from some of the nation’s most competitive colleges and universities. In the 2017–18 academic year, representatives from AEI’s Talent Development team made 30 recruiting visits to DC-area-schools and 43 trips to top-tier schools outside the DC region. AEI also hosted student groups from 20 colleges and universities.

The highly selective program provides terrific learning experiences and valuable support to AEI’s research, outreach, and business functions. Interns’ primary responsibilities are highly substantive, with minimal administrative work.Interns also enjoy special programming that includes policy lectures, career advice, and professional development workshops. Beginning in summer 2019, the program will offer need-based scholarships to interns.

To learn more, visit aei.org/internships.

AEI’s Talent Development team has official recruiting partnerships with:

• Columbia University Employer Partnership Program
• Harvard University Impact Fellows
• Princeton HireTigers Career Advocate Program
• University of Chicago Kimpton Fellows Program
• University of Virginia Batten School

Research Assistants

Over the past four years, nearly 50 former interns have become full-time employees at AEI, dedicating their careers to the pursuit of human liberty and flourishing. AEI research assistants bring a wealth of talent to their jobs — from econometric modeling to fluency in Farsi. (Sixteen different languages are spoken fluently at AEI.)

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Katherine Zimmerman was an outstanding AEI research assistant and developed into a highly respected AEI research fellow at just 30 years old. She testifies before Congress, writes for top national outlets, appears on national news programs, and corresponds with military leadership.

AEI is a launchpad for high-level careers in a variety of sectors. Recent research assistant departures include four staff members of the Council of Economic Advisers, the White House editor-in-chief for digital properties, analysts in the Defense Intelligence Agency, the top speechwriter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Ph.D. candidates at Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.


AEI Academic Programs

AEI’s Academic Programs cultivates young leaders to stand with us at the vanguard of the free enterprise movement, fighting to defend human dignity, expand human potential, and build a freer and safer world. The program targets not just the true believers but also intellectually curious and persuadable students who have not been exposed to free enterprise ideas or to AEI’s mission and ethos.

The program’s student Executive Councils are comprised of up to six handpicked students per campus, currently totaling 376 members on 106 campuses across the United States. During the 2017–18 academic year, these students organized over 300 events reaching more than 20,000 students. Many of those event attendees make up AEI’s broader student network, which currently totals more than 7,300 students and provides access to curated AEI scholarship, job opportunities, and more.

Every year, AEI holds three major student summits both in DC and on partner campuses, featuring AEI scholars and other leading thinkers. These events attract student Executive Council leaders to explore ideas and share strategies for how to spread the free enterprise message to their peers on their campuses. AEI also hosts intensive seminars at our headquarters in Washington, DC, such as Weekend Honors Programs and the Summer Honors Program, which offer immersive experiences on major policy issues taught by AEI scholars.

AEI Summer Honors Program

AEI’s Summer Honors Program brings top students from college campuses across the country each June to AEI’s headquarters. The 2018 cohort of 229 students was selected from our largest-ever application pool of nearly 1,150. The program consisted of weeklong, in-depth seminars, such as “Staying Calm in Unsafe Spaces” with Charles Murray and “The Constitution: Original Meanings and Modern Times” with John Yoo. Other speakers included Arthur Brooks, Robert Doar, and Nicholas Eberstadt, as well as Mary Kissel (Wall Street Journal), Bill Kristol (Weekly Standard), Yuval Levin (Ethics & Public Policy Center), and Walter Russell Mead (Hudson Institute). Students also participated in site visits around Washington, DC.

This year, for the first time, 10 exceptional students were selected for the Summer Honors Academy (SHA), an intensive, monthlong experience that allowed the students to take multiple policy courses. SHA students all participated in a foundational course with Gary Schmitt titled “Pericles’ Athens: Politics, Philosophy, and Society of the First Great Democracy.” They also had private lunches with high-profile speakers, conducted a war game designed by AEI’s foreign policy scholars, and ran a policy simulation with Robert Doar.

2018 Cohort Profile

3.78 average GPA

37% self-identified as moderate or liberal
28% self -identified as leaning conservative
24% self -identified as strongly conservative

2018 Exit Survey Results

58% said their views on at least one public policy issue changed because of their time at AEI.

95% feel more prepared to make an impact on the public policy debate in this country.

63% rated the program a 10 out of 10 and 90% an 8 or higher in achieving its mission of instilling participants with a passion for intellectual rigor and the competition of ideas.

Recent Summer Honors Program Alumni

2 Forbes 30 Under 30 selectees
2 Truman scholars
2 Rhodes scholars
4 Fulbright scholars
1 Schwarzman scholar

To learn more, visit aei.org/academic programs.


AEI Leadership Network

Founded just four years ago, the AEI Leadership Network is an exclusive policy education and professional development program for state-based, mid-career executives in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Involvement in the Leadership Network begins with participation in an intensive three-day summit and continues with programming throughout the year.

Importantly, the AEI Leadership Network is not simply reaching out to “true believers” who are already convinced about the efficacy of free enterprise. Rather, we include leaders from diverse personal, professional, and ideological backgrounds who are interested in nonpartisan arguments for increasing opportunity and strengthening free enterprise and who have had nowhere to turn for this work. This is the most diverse project AEI has ever undertaken.

In 2018, the AEI Leadership Network hosted two national cohorts in Washington, DC, one in April and one in September. It also hosted its second regional summit in Chicago on October 17–19. The Chicago summit attracted 211 leaders from 29 states, and 50 percent of the attendees were women. A select group of attendees from the Chicago event were invited to join the national Leadership Network.

This year also marked several other notable firsts for this program: One Leadership Network member was elected to the US Congress, and another was appointed to serve as Missouri’s attorney general.

More than 600 leaders from 40 states across the country are now part of this group. AEI Leadership Network members hold diverse opinions on politics and policy but share a deeply held commitment and willingness to engage in the competition of ideas, and they are intrigued by arguments about how free enterprise can ensure human flourishing through earned success.

AEI Leadership Network Post-Summit Survey Data, 2014–18

98% would recommend this program to their peers.

97% are more likely to get involved with and stay in touch with AEI in the future.

93% found the intellectual content of the summit to be valuable to their work.

89% would like to help AEI spread our mission principles in their community.

88% have a better understanding of the principles of freedom, opportunity, and free enterprise.

These data are aggregated from the responses to exit surveys across the Leadership Network’s eight cohorts todate. The exit survey has an average response rate of 87 percent across all cohorts.

To learn more, visit aei.org/feature/leadership-network.

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