Professor Mendoza-Botelho provides keynote address at the CSCU Faculty Research & Creative Activity Conference (RAC)

By Alyssa Wessner

Professor Mendoza-Botelho delivering his keynote address at the CSCU Research Conference

Political Science Professor Martín Mendoza-Botelho was honored as one of the keynote speakers at the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) Faculty Research and Creative Activity Conference (RAC). The conference was held at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) in New Haven on May 4. This conference gathered a large number of scholars representing all the CSCU institutions. Dr. Mendoza was also distinguished as recipient of a research grant that allowed him to continue his ongoing research into the notion of the “Welfare State”. Dr. Mendoza-Botelho solely represented Eastern Connecticut State University among the panel of four keynote speakers.

Originating from Bolivia, as a now esteemed professor with many accolades, Dr. Mendoza-Botelho’s current research focuses on the efforts of several countries to improve social conditions through the expansion of social services and the welfare state. His work includes comparative research in several countries, including Norway, known for the success of its Welfare State, seen as many as a model for welfare provision. Dr. Mendoza-Botelho also continues his focus on Latin America, as this region is the center of most of his current and past research interests. His earned research grant provided him a good foundation for further research in the upcoming academic year. Being honored as keynote speaker and grant recipient has encouraged and supported the continuation of this very important area of inquiry.

Eastern polisci student Demitra Kourtzidis (’19) Represents Connecticut on Capitol Hill

By Jordan Corey

Eastern Connecticut State University student Demitra Kourtzidis ’19 of East Hampton was one of two researchers from Connecticut who presented their projects at the highly selective Posters on the Hill (POH) research conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on April 30. The annual event featured 60 representatives from colleges and universities across the nation. Eastern has represented Connecticut eight out of the past 12 years.

Kourtzidis, a political science major, presented her research poster titled “What Drives Criminal Justice Reform: A Qualitative Analysis of the Policymaking Process in Massachusetts, Oregon and Louisiana.” Her research was completed under the supervision of political science Professor Courtney Broscious.

Demitra (center) showing her work to Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney (right) supported by her mentor Professor Courtney Broscious (left)

Each spring, the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) hosts the poster session during which a select group of undergraduate students present their research to members of Congress and other invited guests. CUR works to ensure that legislators have a clear understanding of research and education programs that they fund. The organization also encourages participants to discuss the benefits of undergraduate research with their state’s representatives.

Demitra heading to the U.S. Capitol (in the back) to inform lawmakers about scientific evidence regarding justice reform in selected states. 

Kourtzidis met with Rep. Joe Courtney and a legislative aide to Sen. Chris Murphy. “We talked about the important role that research has played in the quality of my education and about my project itself, an analysis of criminal justice reform efforts,” she said. “We are lucky to have representatives who value higher education and see the clear need for change in our criminal justice systems.”

At POH, Kourtzidis received encouraging feedback from audience members, including professors, students and a legislative aide to Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “Everyone was surprised by the extent to which monied interests and law enforcement agencies impacted criminal justice reform in my cases. This topic is understudied in political science, so it was nice to find out that other scholars value work on this subject.”

Kourtzidis’ study focuses on Massachusetts, Oregon and Louisiana – where incarceration rates, political landscapes and population composition vary widely – to determine the conditions under which each reform effort succeeded. “Louisiana’s reform was modest, because certain economic stakeholders have a lot of power over criminal justice legislation in the state,” explained Kourtzidis. “Oklahoma surpassed them as the state with the highest incarceration rate, but that was already projected to happen without the reform legislation.

“Oregon’s reform has been more successful, but their final reform bill was much more restrictive than the original legislation. They now have the 17th-lowest incarceration rate in the country. Massachusetts went from having the second-lowest incarceration rate to having the lowest incarceration rate. Their reform made some necessary changes, but created new punitive policy. Last year, they underwent another reform effort with fair results.”

Kourtzidis feels that presenting her thesis at the conference was both fun and gratifying. “It was the culmination of so many months of work,” she said. “I was happy to share something that I cared so much about with other people.”

 

Eastern geography students cited in Senator Chris Murphy’s report

On May 6, 2019 Senator Chris Murphy released a report on food and housing insecurity among college and university students. Senator Murphy cites research that Eastern students conducted in Professor Patrick Vitale’s Geography of Food class. The report notes that given the lack of uniform data, students are collecting their own research on food insecurity on Connecticut campuses. This report cites that 35% of surveyed Eastern students reported limited access to nutritious food in 2018 (in fact, the Geography of Food report shows that 44% of surveyed Eastern students had limited access to nutritious food).In his report Senator Murphy calls on Congress to take a number of measures to meet the basic needs of college and university students. These include: increasing the maximum Pell grant, improving student access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), requiring the Department of Education to collect data on basic needs security, and expanding the federal work-study program.

 

Read Senator Murphy’s report here: https://www.murphy.senate.gov/download/basic-needs-insecurity-report

Click here to read the Report from Geography of Food.

 

 

My Fulbright experience in the Czech Republic

By Quanece Williams (Class of 2017)

August 26th 2017 represents a transformative day in my life. It was on that day that I boarded a one-way flight to the Czech Republic, where I would live and teach English for 10 months as a Fulbright Grantee. Although I was afraid of stepping into the unknown, I suppressed my fear. I recognized that I’d been given a unique opportunity to engage in the global world, which is something I’ve always yearned for. With this mentality, I was ready to accept any and all challenges that would come my way.  

ECSU Polisci graduate ’17 and U.S. Fulbright Student Ambassador Quanece Williams posing in front of historical Saint Wenceslas Cathedral in Olomouc, Czech Republic.

Retrospectively, I underestimated the degree to which I would be challenged. Not being able to speak or read Czech presented an immediate struggle, particularly because it is rare to find English speakers outside of Prague, which was not my placement city. It meant that I would have to heavily rely on technology to bridge the gap with almost every interaction I had. Furthermore, it made it difficult to do mundane things like go to a restaurant or to travel with ease.  

The most pervasive issue I faced was learning to navigate a homogenous country as a Black woman. It didn’t take long for me to realize that being there evoked confusion, hostility, curiosity, and most notably, it evoked fear. For many, I was the first Black person they’d ever seen, which often led to uncomfortable and inappropriate conversations and interactions with me because of my identity. Although at times it was difficult for me to understand the origin of this sentiment, I didn’t let that dictate my experience. I took advantage of the opportunity I had to travel both within and outside of the Czech Republic and to learn from the very students I was there to teach.  

My students were undoubtedly the highlight of my time in the Czech Republic and the reason I stayed when I felt isolated. I taught English at a chemistry and logistics high school in Olomouc, located 3.5 hours from Prague by train. As I taught my students, they served as my unofficial guides and navigated me through the history of their country, from Czechoslovakia to the Velvet Revolution. I also learned about the framework through which they view the world, their culture and traditions (it is worth looking up how they celebrate Easter).

Not only do I reflect on the positive relationships I fostered with my students, but also on the ones I built outside of the classroom. Taking modern and jazz classes with a talented group of young women provided an escape. I must admit that it was difficult at first because I couldn’t understand the instructors, but somehow it connected me to home. It was also useful because it helped me learn Czech numbers: pět (five), šest (six), sedm (seven), osm (eight). I eventually decided to take Czech language classes at Palacký University because I was aware that if Dobrý den (hello) and the four numbers I knew were the only words I had in my arsenal, I would constantly feel the burden of being unable to connect with people. 

I lived in the Czech Republic in a time where the sociopolitical climate was turbulent.  Apart from grappling with decades of repression under insensitive communistic regimes, the country was struggling with how the European Refugee Crisis would affect them as a nation. This tension engendered a level of introspection that prompted Czech citizens to access their values, while simultaneously causing an intergenerational rift. During this time, I was also able to witness my students’ political activism, as they engaged in dialogue surrounding the presidential election where many voted for the first time.

Choosing to live abroad was the most challenging and necessary decision I’ve made to date. I was able to critique the world around me, juxtapose cultures and communities, and analyze what it means to be a global citizen. Eastern certainly prepared me with these tools on an academic level, but there is nothing compared to experiencing it firsthand. I am fortunate for the opportunity I was given because I learned to navigate the world in new ways and from this, I experienced growth. Above all, I learned to not be paralyzed by fear, because once you step out of that fear, your opportunities are endless.

 

Eastern again in Posters on the Hill in Washington DC with Demitra Kourtzidis (’19)

By Alyssa Wessner

The Political Science, Geography and Philosophy (PPG) Department is proud to announce the participation of polisci student Demitra Kourtzidis (’19) to the Posters on the Hill conference on Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. This prestigious event is organized by the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). Students compete nationally with an acceptance rate of only 10%. Eastern has been represented in the last 8 out of the 13 Posters on the Hill conferences and for the past 4 consecutive years. Recent Political Science students who presented their work were Tess Candler, Kayla Giordano, and Sabreena Croteau. Moreover, Eastern is the only university in the state that has represented Connecticut this many times.

This academic year has truly been rewarding for Demitra. She has been working very hard on her research investigating criminal justice reforms. Last year, Demitra presented her research titled, “State Policy Impacts on Imprisonment in Louisiana,” at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Kennesaw, Georgia. In January, Demitra attended the Southern Political Science Association Annual Conference in Austin, Texas with one of her mentors, Dr. Courtney Broscious. Her thesis received great feedback from the conference attendees. Demitra will continue presenting her work in April at Posters on the Hill, in company of Dr. Broscious.

Eastern polisci student Demitra Kourtzidis (’19) ready to engage in a discussion on the policy impacts of imprisonment in Louisiana at NCUR last year.

Their time at the conference will certainly be busy as they have many goals to accomplish. Half of the day is devoted to the presentations of undergraduate research. Dimitra will be presenting her work in the U.S. Congress for House Representatives in the Ray Burn House Office Building. The other half of the day will be spent lobbying and promoting awareness in the her area of interest, justice reforms. Last year, Dr. Broscious and Tess Candler met with House Rep. Joe Courtney. This year, Demitra and Dr. Broscious expect to meet with Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy along with Rep. Joe Courtney. Demitra is ready for this event and as she explains: “I look forward to presenting my thesis alongside undergraduates from around the country and meeting with members of Congress to show them the value of undergraduate research. I’m really grateful that Eastern has given me the opportunity to go to conferences like this, and to my thesis mentor, Dr. Broscious, for her unwavering support in this process.” Eastern is extremely proud of the accomplishments of Demitra and grateful to the efforts of her mentor Dr. Broscious.

Discussing walls

By Mary Greenwell

Polisci student Mary Greenwell

Walking into my first meeting with many established members of the Political Science department was without a doubt very daunting as a young student beginning my experience with the program. And of course, with such a heavy topic it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and under-prepared in the face of experts. We were fortunate enough to get an inside look at Dr. David Frye’s books Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick, a historical account of one of modern politics most volatile topics. It’s no surprise that in a room of political thinkers the concept turned towards boarder walls and how they have played a role throughout history to shape cultures inside and outside. What was the most interesting, was Dr. Frye’s opinion on the political climate. After many questions from the audience and members of the department, he explained that he is purely a historian, he looks at facts to tell a story of the past rather than predict the future. Political Science often contains only the facts that people want to see, those who wanted a wall saw how the wall is beneficial, those who don’t saw how they failed. Dr. Frye’s book was manipulated and interpreted in many different directions, but at the end of the day it is purely just a historical account of when and where border walls have prospered. Even in such a heightened political climate it is important to remember the roots of the things we fight for, security and safety. That is why walls are built, and sometimes why walls are broken down. Although the conversation was about walls, I feel that this event was an eye opening and border breaking experience for myself becoming involved in the Political Science community at Eastern. I highly recommend anyone interested make an effort to attend a night of Pizza and Politics.

Dr. David Frye (left) and the student panel addressing the Pizza and Politics audience and discussing the effects on walls on history.

Polisci student Morgane Russell receives the prestigious MLK Distinguished Service Award

By Dwight Bachman

Political Science major Morgane Russell ’19; Isabel Logan, assistant professor of social work; and Leah Ralls, president of the NAACP Windham/Willimantic Branch, received Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Awards at Eastern Connecticut State University’s annual award reception on Feb. 27.

In her sophomore and junior years, Russell was president of the Black Student Union, a role in which she saw that she needed to gain more knowledge of policies affecting minority populations. As a result, she changed her major from Business Administration to Political Science. Russell is currently the president of the campus NAACP chapter and an intern in the Connecticut General Assembly. As she gains first-hand experience in the legislative process, she is learning more about public policy. She aspires to serve as a legislative representative while gaining insight into issues affecting marginalized communities around her.

“Morgane is a team player who carries out all of her duties professionally and with high quality and distinction,” said Stacey Close, associate vice president of equity and diversity. “She took the lead on organizing numerous major diversity programs within our office and off campus . . . Morgane is the embodiment of a peaceful agape warrior for justice!”

Logan’s passion for issues of social justice and equality began in 1996, when she was a social worker for the Connecticut Division of Public Defender Services in the New Haven Superior Court and Superior Court for Juvenile Matters at Hartford. In 2001, American University selected her to assist with the development of the cultural competency curricula for drug court professionals.

Logan’s research has led to policy implementation and a continued cultural competence movement within the Connecticut Judicial System. She also assisted the Connecticut Court Support Service Division with the development of its cultural competence curriculum.

Polisci student Morgane Russell ’19 (right) proudly receives the MLK award with her fellow honorees, Isabel Logan (middle, front) Assistant Professor of Social Work and Leah Ralls (left), President of the NAACP Windham/Willimantic Branch. In the back, the keynote speaker, documentary producer Keith Beauchamp, shares the happy moment.

“Dr. Logan’s support of restorative justice mirrors the message of Dr. King,” said Eunice Matthews-Armstead, professor of social work and program coordinator of Eastern’s Social Work Program. “She is an organizer, teacher, leader and consummate fighter for justice, freedom and equality.”

Ralls is a social worker for the State of Connecticut, Public Defender Division. She started her career working in a local substance abuse agency helping people deal with homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness and other chronic medical conditions. She now works with the same population but in a legal environment, where the consequences are greater for clients because they are facing incarceration.

Ralls has a passion for advocating for those less fortunate in the community. As president of the NAACP Windham/Willimantic Branch, she brings that same compassion and energy in fighting for civil rights. In her remarks, Ralls thanked members of the local NAACP branch for their activism, and said Dr. King had the “tenacity to help those who were voiceless.”

Three years ago, the branch was in reactivation status and needed 50 active members to reestablish operations. Under Rall’s leadership, the branch has grown to more than 120 members. She and branch members have worked hard to start a conversation and increase awareness and appreciation of Black History and civil rights in the local community. “In the past two years, under the leadership of Mrs. Ralls, our NAACP Windham/Willimantic Branch has run community conversations on race and addressed individual and institutional examples of racism in our area with a combination of education and legal action,” said Cassandra Martineau, university assistant in Eastern’s Pride Center. “She has worked with community leaders, schools and other institutions to raise awareness of racial disparity, helping ex-inmates find employment, and brought African American History to schools and libraries in the area.”

Keith Beauchamp, producer of the documentary “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” delivered the keynote address. He is the executive producer and host of Investigation Discovery’s crime reality series, “The Injustice Files” and the producer of the upcoming feature film “Till.” Till was a 14-year-old African American teenager from Chicago visiting family in Mississippi in 1955 when he was brutally murdered by two white men for allegedly flirting with one of the men’s wife. The two men were acquitted of the murder, yet the truth behind Till’s death was largely left untold. Based in part on Beauchamp’s powerful film, the U.S. Department of Justice re-opened the 50-year-old murder case on May 10, 2004. While a Mississippi grand jury ultimately decided not to indict other suspects in the case, Beauchamp’s film reestablished Emmett Till’s story as a potent reminder of the need to fight racism and injustice at every turn.

“Racial issues are deeply embedded in the American lifestyle,” said Beauchamp. He called Martin Luther King Jr. a “gentle warrior,” and said Dr. King “left us with a vision of what this country can become. Regardless of our skill set, we are obligated to use it to uphold the legacy of Dr. King.”

Eastern President Elsa Núñez opened the ceremonies, noting current racial tensions in the nation and encouraging the audience to “stand tall as Dr. King did, confronting every instance when a person or a group people acts out their prejudice and bigotry.”

“Human beings are inevitably connected, no matter how hard someone may try to separate us. That is why the truth and power found in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. can touch each of us and lift our hearts up together. Let us never forget Dr. King’s message – that each person in this world deserves to live in a just, caring society, and that we can never let violence, bigotry, and inhumanity prevail.”

She concluded, “Let me end with this passage from Dr. King: ‘I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.’”

PhD life at The Ohio State

By Erin Drouin (Class of ’16)

There’s a chance if you’re reading this, you’re considering graduate school. Congratulations! Attending graduate school is sincerely the best decision I’ve ever made. If you love research, being pushed to your limits, and trying to answer questions about the world, you should really be thinking about it.

At Eastern I majored in political science, but I’m currently getting my PhD in Communication at The Ohio State University. I just completed my masters at the University of Delaware back in May. I knew in my time at Eastern that most of the questions I was trying to answer were communication questions about politics than questions that were strictly in the realm of political science. My field is super interdisciplinary (both my masters and doctoral advisors are political scientists with jobs in communication departments) so my experiences should still be applicable in any social science context.

Erin and her new “Go The Ohio State!”

There’s plenty of advice about how to get into graduate schools (do research, present at conferences, figure out what you’re passionate about, etc.) but I didn’t hear a lot about what it was like once you got here. So here’s what I’ve gathered in my two years of my masters’ and the past six months of my PhD:

1.       It’s pretty much just like a job. If you’re in a PhD program, you’re probably getting paid. Your department pays your tuition and you receive a stipend in exchange for some sort of service (teaching assistantships, research assistantships, being the instructor of record, etc.). While it’s reminiscent of undergrad because you’re still attending classes – there’s higher expectations that you complete your work and manage your responsibilities – and it takes up a lot of time. Most people in my doctoral program work between 40 and 60 hours a week.

2.       Research is everything. In my graduate program, a doctoral student has anywhere from one to ten projects going on at a time. Between revising journal articles, presenting at conferences, developing projects, writing IRBs, and data collection: there’s a lot going on. Yes, we teach classes, but the main expectation is that we produce quality research – and a good amount of it. I currently have 6 projects going on – a paper waiting to go out to journals, one in the middle of data collection, another that’s being analyzed, and three projects in the preparation stage for summer and fall.

3.       You’re going to be pushed to your limits. Everyone told me a doctoral program was hard – but I didn’t know it would be this hard. I’m questioned on all my decisions; my advisor is known for making you go sentence by sentence in a piece of writing and making you explain your logic and your word choices. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting coming here – I’ve always been confident in my writing and reasoning skills but now I’m recognizing the places where I can – and need to – improve.

4.       Your research interests are 100% going to change. When I was at Eastern I did a lot of qualitative work around how politics and gender are constructed on social media. I conducted narrative analyses and at one point, a focus group to study the questions I had. In my masters’ I examined constructions and reactions to political humor. And now, in my doctoral program, I’m studying how stereotypes impede political participation and affect political behavior. I’m doing a lot of statistical analyses and the laboratory I’m in utilizes eye tracking as a physiological measure. This is all to say: you don’t need to know exactly what you’re going to be studying now. While broadly my interests are the same as they were in undergrad, the kinds of questions I ask and the way I answer them have changed the more I learn and based on who I’m working with. If you’re asking the same questions as you did in undergrad, you’re not evolving as a researcher.

5.       Imposter syndrome is real. I had heard about imposter syndrome before grad school – this idea that once you got here, you’d be questioning if you belonged and whether you were smart enough. I didn’t really have that in my masters program, but once I got into my doctoral program, it really impacted me. Luckily, I have a great support system and a fantastic (although challenging) advisor.  It’s easy to think that you don’t belong here when everyone else is just as smart and works just as hard as you, but that’s what makes you become a better researcher and student.

6.       It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Despite how serious and stressful all of the above is: I earnestly love what I’m doing. I love that I get to wake up every day and ask questions I want to ask. I’m constantly challenged because I’m surrounded by the smartest people in my field. I’ve made close friends who are also young people in a new city and care about the things I care about. I’m having an absolute blast. It’s hard, but it’s completely worth it. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about switching from political science to another social science, evolving as a researcher, grad school applications, or something of that ilk, feel free to contact me at drouine@my.easternct.edu.

 

 

Life at the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

By Jonas Bjørnes (Class of 2018)

London is a city worth exploring.

This month it is exactly one year since I started applying to grad schools. At the time, I had no idea what to do, nor did I know where I potentially could end up. It was a stressful period, but luckily, I received a great amount of support from this department’s faculty, which helped me to have some sort of a red line in my application process. In April, I was accepted to a MSc program in International Social and Public Policy (1-year master’s program) at the London School of Economics & Political Science. The irony is that I missed the application deadline for my first-choice program, and in a stressful anticlimax, I decided to apply for this one. The truth is, I’m glad I missed that deadline because I’m happy I ended up in this program.

I’m studying social policy which is a field of study that focuses on examining how policy affects individuals in society. I’m narrowing down my degree towards welfare. My dissertation will examine the relationship between the welfare state (Norway) and minorities (including the indigenous population) and it will attempt to understand the underlying reasons for why certain citizens are at greater risk of dropping out of secondary education, as well as considering the effectiveness of the current policies.

Social policy is a huge field of study, with everything from focus on non-governmental organizations to migration. For example, last semester I had a course in social security policies, and this semester I have one course in behavioral public policy, and another course in social movements and activism. It is plenty of courses to choose between! Social policy is not a significantly recognized field within American academics. Usually it is a field that is blended into the political science or the sociology program at certain institutions. Nevertheless, it is an important field to study, especially in a reality with increasing inequality, and potential social paradigm shifts, or maybe a critical juncture? By the way, a background with political science from Eastern is extremely helpful, because the core classes covers theories and methods that will be examined to a greater extent in social policy related courses. If you have any questions about studying social policy or about how it is to be a student at the LSE, I am more than happy to talk to you! Email me at: j.b.bjornes@lse.ac.uk.

One of the old buildings that host LSE in the center of London.