A top administrator at Patrick Henry College has been tapped to help lead the U.S. State Department's efforts to spread democracy around the world.

Paul Bonicelli has been dean of academic affairs at the Christian college in Purcellville since it opened in 2000. He said Friday that he had been named deputy assistant administrator in charge of democracy programs at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Bonicelli declined to comment further on the position until the agency's formal announcement. Patrick Henry, however, publicized the move last week, calling the job a "senior level position with the Bush administration in foreign policy."

Bonicelli's selection is significant for the small school because it was founded with the goal of helping academically gifted Christian students, many home-schooled, reach positions of influence in society, particularly through government service.

Patrick Henry touts its proximity to Washington power centers, and many of its graduates and students have landed internships in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Michael Kiser, a spokesman for the school, said students will have a chance to see Bonicelli put some of his ideas about democracy and limited government to practical use by watching him in his new job.

"I've heard Paul talk abstractly about these issues," Kiser said, noting that Bonicelli and another professor have been holding a seminar on government for Patrick Henry staff members for the past few months. "Now, suddenly, he's able to put those things into practice . . . with the weight and might of the State Department behind him. It's pretty cool."

Bonicelli has served in the federal government before, working as a staff member on the House Committee on International Relations.

Kiser said Bonicelli has been a driving force behind the academic program at Patrick Henry, where most of the 240 students are government majors. He will remain an adjunct professor at the school, Kiser said.

Marian Sanders, a history professor and associate dean of academic affairs at the school, has been named acting dean of academic affairs.

Sanders also has been at the school since it was founded. She said she interviewed for the job while the school's first building, Founder's Hall, was being framed. At the time, she was an assistant professor at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, which was approaching its 100th anniversary, and friends asked her why she would risk such a move.

"I was so firmly convinced of the mission of the place," she said. "It was the idea that they truly believed in academic excellence . . . the idea that Christians can be involved, they can have a place at the table and they can express their ideas."