Working for the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C.

By Leigh Generous (Class of 2019)

This past July, I was extremely excited to learn that I was one of 70 individuals selected from a pool of international applicants to participate in the fall internship session at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC. OAS is a regional organization comprising all 35 independent states of the Americas. It acts as the primary social, political, and juridical forum for the Western Hemisphere. Since September, I have been working full-time within OAS’s Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation (DECO), and experiencing all of the challenges, complexities, and benefits of working life at an inter-governmental organization.

At Eastern I majored in Political Science and minored in Latin American Studies, studying both Spanish language and politics and history of Latin America. My degree, combined with my academic experiences at Eastern were instrumental in preparing me for my work here at OAS, as it is a bilingual environment (although Spanish is spoken almost exclusively in my office) where hemispheric events are monitored, discussed, and analyzed in real-time as they occur.

The author posing in front of the OAS Building on 17th Street & Constitution Ave (two blocks from the White House). The OAS building was a philanthropic donation from billionaire, philanthropist and peace supporter Andrew Carnegie as headquarters for the then Pan American Union, the oldest regional organization in the World.

As a recent graduate, I feel incredibly lucky to be on the “front lines” of international relations. It’s a particularly exciting time to be at the OAS, as Latin America and the Caribbean always seem to be in the news recently, and every day the work dynamic changes according to developing events. For example, DECO is responsible for observing elections in OAS member states upon official invitation, and will be heading to Bolivia in the coming weeks to observe the October 20th General Elections. As Bolivia is among the highest profile elections of this year, I am grateful for the potential opportunity to attend alongside my department. Even if ultimately I am not able to attend, it’s still fascinating to assist in this process and witness firsthand transactions between the OAS/DECO and heads of state from member countries – Canada and Colombia in addition to Bolivia – as they finalize the agreements for the electoral observation missions (EOMs).

In addition to assisting DECO with the preparation of the EOMs, I am currently working on another project involving the Inter-American Meeting of Electoral Management Bodies (RAE, for its Spanish acronym), a regional conference that will take place this November in Panama City. My responsibility is to prepare the concept note, or the executive summary of the four major themes to be highlighted during the RAE: good practices learned from 2019 elections, violence in the context of elections, political strategies on digital media, and good practices in electoral reform processes. This process requires a hefty amount of reading and research, in addition to producing multiple drafts and outlines – much like an academic paper. Some of my other responsibilities include attending department meetings and conferences, helping to organize events and, my personal favorite, running over to the Main Building (a couple of blocks away) to either pick up or deliver documents to/from the Secretary General’s office. Seriously, the OAS Main Building on Constitution Ave is gorgeous, Google it and you’ll see what I mean.

It has been a very interesting experience being one of only three American interns in the program. Most of my colleagues and fellow interns are from Central and South America, although there are several interns from Europe – Spain, England, France & Belgium – and even two from South Korea. It’s an incredibly diverse work environment – it’s also pretty laid back by American standards – and though I have only been here a month I have already made some great friends.

For those of you in the Department who are interested in international relations, want to gain some experience working for an inter-governmental organization in DC and don’t mind an unpaid internship, I highly encourage you to apply to the OAS program, especially if you speak Spanish! If anyone is interesting in learning more about the program please feel free to contact me at any time!

Hartford Courant: Students to lead strike for climate action on Friday at Capitol with ECSU polisci student Mitchel Kvedar

Hartford Courant: Students to lead strike for climate action on Friday at Capitol

https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-news-connecticut-climate-strike-20190919-juhcy74ayjhzvhaya4eunhebi4-story.html 

By Amanda Blanco
Sept. 19, 2019

Inspired by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, college students Sena Wazer and Mitchel Kvedar of Sunrise Movement CT will lead a climate action protest at the state Capitol Friday.

More than 1,000 people are expected to attend, demanding that Gov. Ned Lamont declare a climate emergency and establish a Green New Deal for the state.

Wazer, a 15-year-old UConn freshman, shared on Thursday that her main goal is to inspire immediate and drastic action from the governor and legislators.

“Climate scientists say we have 11 years to take radical action or face unending disasters,” the two students said in a written statement. “While we appreciate our state’s best efforts, they are not enough.”

The Connecticut Climate Strike is part of a global movement. Millions of people in more than 150 countries are expected to call on politicians to take climate action Friday. Thunberg, 16, who is leading the Global Climate Strike, recently echoed to Congress the frustration young people feel toward apathetic government leaders.

“Please save your praise, we don’t want it,” she told Congress Tuesday. “Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it. I know you’re trying, but just not hard enough. Sorry.”

Wazer began advocating for the environment in elementary school. She joined Sunrise Movement in December. The youth organization made headlines in November for occupying Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office to advocate for the Green New Deal with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

“Is 100% clean and renewable energy too much?” Ocasio-Cortez asked at a Sunrise Movement rally in May. “Is fighting for dignified jobs that pay enough people to live too much? Is proposing a solution on the scale of the climate crisis too much?”

While students around the world have participated in school strikes led by Thunberg, Wazer and Kvedar said this strike will be different.

“Youth have called on adults to join in,” they said. “At this event, strikers will show that people from all walks of life care about climate change and expect our elected leaders to take immediate action. … Connecticut has the opportunity to lead. Let’s take it.”

Wazer and Kvedar, a 19-year-old sophomore at Eastern Connecticut State University, are acting with the CT Climate Crisis Mobilization. The coalition includes more than 80 groups, such as the CT Citizens Action Group, the People’s Action for Clean Energy and several of Connecticut’s Unitarian societies. The protest also has support from labor unions, including 32BJ SEIU.

The protest will take place from noon to 3 p.m. on the back steps of the Capitol. It marks a weeklong series of pro-environment events around Connecticut, including a solidarity film series, a protest against a planned gas power plant in Killingly and a vigil in East Haddam.

 

Mendoza-Botelho Conducts Panel on Bolivia’s Political Future at Harvard University

By Vania Galicia

Martin Mendoza-Botelho, a political science professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, attended the Gathering of Bolivianists (Encuentro De Bolivianistas) on May 27 at Harvard University in Boston. Mendoza-Botelho is the chair of the Bolivia Section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), which sponsored the gathering.

He conducted a panel titled “Bolivia’s political future: Is the permanence of Evo Morales and MAS in power imminent?” Panelists included Pamela Calla of New York University, Tulia Falleti of the University of Pennsylvania and Laurence Whitehead of Oxford University.

Panelists discussed the political implications of the election of current President Evo Morales by answering questions such as, what is the likelihood of a triumph of President Morales in the next election? And what is the likelihood Evo Morales gets elected, particularly considering the recent constitutional violation for reelection?

The Bolivia Section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) gathered at Harvard University on May 27 — Eastern Political Science Professor Martin Mendoza-Botelho kneeling in front row.

 

More than 50 people from all over the world attended the Gathering of Bolivianists at Harvard, all who are working on issues related to Bolivia. The aim of the event was to serve as an interdisciplinary space for scholars to discuss the work being done on Bolivia.

LASA is the largest professional association in the world for individuals and institutions engaged in the study of Latin America. With more than 12,000 members, more than 65 percent of whom reside outside the United States, LASA brings together experts on Latin America from all disciplines and diverse occupational endeavors from across the globe.

LASA-Bolivia Section’s mission is to deepen and expand knowledge and communication among professionals, students, leaders and communicators in different disciplines and public venues with regard to political, economic, social and cultural processes pertinent to Bolivia and its peoples, and their relations with other countries and people around the world.

 

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.