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!

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.

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.

Polisci alumna (’16) Quanece Williams receives a highly competitive Fullbright grant award to serve in the Czech Republic

By Ed Osborne

Quanece Williams ’16 of Bridgeport, CT, has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant to serve an English teaching assistantship in the Czech Republic. The grant, which is for the 2017-18 academic year, is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Fulbright-Scholar-Williams-225x300-225x300

Polisci and History student Quanece Williams, first Eastern student to receive a Fullbright award.

Williams will be placed in an English language class as an assistant teacher in a secondary school in the Czech Republic. During her time there, she plans to partner with the European Environmental Agency to inform local residents about the environment and conduct cleanup projects. Williams also plans to utilize her dance training by hosting weekly modern and hip-hop classes.

Williams is one of more than 1,900 U.S. citizens who will teach, conduct research and provide expertise abroad for the 2017-18 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement as well as a record of service and demonstrated leadership in their respective fields.

“Having been selected as a Fulbright recipient, I will have the opportunity to promote my passion for education while immersing myself in the rich culture and history of the Czech Republic,” said Williams. “I am both humbled and excited to embark on this journey and would like to thank Eastern faculty for helping me with the process!”

Williams graduated summa cum laude from Eastern last May with a double major in political science and history. As a senior, she was one of two Eastern students to receive the prestigious Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award from the state university system. While a student, she volunteered with Jumpstart, providing literacy instruction to preschoolers. She is currently in a graduate program taking elementary education courses while working at a charter school serving underprivileged students.

“Ms. Williams was a student leader and impressive scholar on our campus, and we are pleased that the Fulbright program saw those same talents in her,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “Many of our faculty have been named Fulbright Scholars over the years, and we are proud that one of our students has also been recognized with this honor. I know Ms. Williams will make a special contribution to the students she works with in the Czech Republic, and it is my hope that her experiences will pave the way for continued participation in the Fulbright Program by Eastern students in the future.”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is administered at Eastern by Julia DeLapp, coordinator of national scholarships and fellowships, with support from a faculty advisory committee. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu/fellowships.

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright Program has provided more than 370,000 participants – chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential – with the opportunity to exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns. More than 1,900 U.S. students, artists and young professionals in more than 100 different fields of study are offered Fulbright Program grants to study, teach English and conduct research annually. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program operates in more than 140 countries throughout the world. Lists of Fulbright recipients are available at: www.fulbrightonline.org/us.

The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the United States Congress to the Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support. In the United States, the Institute of International Education administers and coordinates the activities relevant to the Fulbright U.S. Student Program on behalf of the Department of State, including conducting an annual competition for the scholarships.

 

 

Original link: http://www.easternct.edu/pressreleases/2017/04/03/eastern-announces-fulbright-student-award/

Visit of Polisci Eastern alumna and JD candidate Raagan Mumley

Polisci student Megan Hull (left) with JD candidate and Eastern alumna Raagan Mumley (right).

By Megan Hull (Political Science and Pre-law Minor)

This week I had the great opportunity to meet Eastern Alumna and JD Candidate at Vermont Law School, Raagan Mumley. Over breakfast at Not Only Juice, in Willimantic, we deliberated such things as the successful structure of a CV, in preparation for law school, the LSAT as well as how her political science background given to her by Eastern Connecticut State University gave her the skills she would need to conquer her law degree. Her advice and experience is greatly appreciated for the continuation of pre-law studies at Eastern.

** Students interested in a law degree or legal studies can contact Megan Hull at hullme@my.easternct.edu for potential student related activities.

Teaching in France: The Value of International Experiences

By Sabreena Croteau (Class of 2015)

Over the summer, I was excited to find out that I had been accepted to the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) in the Academie de Lille, which is the education district of France’s northernmost province, Nord-Pas-de-Calais. As I had always intended to take a gap year before graduate school, I was very excited for this opportunity to live in another country, learn the language, and get to know the community around me. I have not been placed in Lille, the city center of the north, but rather, in a really small town, Beuvry, which is about forty minutes outside the city by train. It is situated next to Bethune, which is a slightly larger town, as far as the north is concerned. This area of the north shares many characteristics with the post-industrial old mill towns of New England, including Willimantic. The area’s prime industry used to be mining. Today, all the mines have closed, but there is little alternative economic interest in the cloudy north and these small town struggle to have enough jobs and bring in various businesses. However, unlike New England, the immigrant populations are rather small, though they most certainly are growing.

            I have found the people in the area to be kinder and friendlier than my experiences when I studied in Paris, and of course, far far better than all of the American stereotypes about the French. Though, of course, there are some perceptions that are not entirely off. Baguettes are a daily necessity here, I will have four vacation over my seven months staying here, and I have been handed a glass of wine in the teachers’ lounge more than once. I am very grateful with how patient I find most people to be as I stumble through a conversation in French and living in the north has made it more necessary to speak French than when I lived in Paris. Between the teachers and my school and my housemates, I am forced to try and it has already lead to improvement even if my accent is horrific.

Picture Sabreena France

Smiling Sabreena (back left) with international and French colleagues during a friendly dinner.

            It was certainly interesting to be here for the US election. My teachers are extremely informed about American politics and my French high school students often know more than their average American peer. Despite having an extreme right of their own, talking about politics with French friends and teachers usually ends in a conversation that is extremely bias towards the American left. Honestly, I think this is because, having a completely different left to right spectrum… the American right is simply difficult for them to understand. I often find myself trying to explain the history and characteristics of the United States that has resulted in the spectrum that we have. I think that they are particularly curious given Brexit and the rise of conservatism in their own country. In many ways, I think I have learned a great deal about American politics by getting to look at through the eyes of foreigners and by having to try to explain our system to them.

            This is also true of the other language assistants that live in Bethune. Though there are other Americans, I am the only one from not just New England, but also from the east coast. Despite always knowing that the US is very different depending on the region, it is interesting to see those differences at play. It has definitely made me want to experience more of my own country and has also made me appreciate some of my experiences that are distinctly New England. However, there are also English language assistants from Canada, Britain and Australia, as well as Spanish language assistants from Latin American countries, the two I see the most are Mexican and Venezuelan. Besides learning French culture and French experiences, I also get the experiences of perspectives of those from other countries as well. When all of the assistants and some of our French housemates get together for dinner… or meet at the bar… it often becomes a trilingual event.

            Out of all the assistants I know, I am the only person who studied political science at university. Most are studying languages, a few languages and history. Some even had jobs as language teachers where they come from. Teaching English to French teenagers does not necessarily relate directly to my political science career goals. I get asked all the time why I wanted to do this. However, I think that the experience as a whole is invaluable to my overall goals. Besides learning another language, I also have the opportunity to build friendships and have conversations that teach me new things, not only about other countries, but also about my own. I think it is an important part of studying political science to be exposed to all sorts of other perspectives and allow them to challenge your own.

Life after Eastern… and a good one!

By Dale Thompson

Picture Dale Thompson2

Tall Dale in the back with heavy weight democrats Nancy Pelosi and Joe Courtney.

Graduation night was one of the scariest nights of my life. Walking across a stage in front of thousands did not bother me, as many professors can attest that I love the spotlight. It was the thought of what now? I had spent my entire life up to that point in classrooms, working side jobs and just grinding along. Now it was time to actually start my career, which I wasn’t sure I was prepared for!

Lucky for me I graduated during a campaign year, so there were many jobs out there. I had recently finished my internship at the Connecticut General Assembly, so I had many people I could call and beg for work. I had no idea that I was going to get a call back to work for the Democratic State Party. The party asked if I was interested in being a Regional Field Organizer, meaning I would be given a section of the state to oversee

Dale with democratic candidate for congress Joe Courtney

Dale with democratic candidate for congress Joe Courtney.

and coordinate a multitude of field events for any and all candidates running for office in my area. Due to where I was placed, I had the pleasure  of working along side the likes

of Congressman Joe Courtney, State Senator Mae Flexer, and many others. I have learned so much from this campaign, and I still have many days left! When I sat down for my first class at ECSU four years ago I had no idea I would end up here. I am so thankful for everything I learned from our great Poli-Sci Department!

So, if you’re a senior reading this blog, wondering where you’re going to end up in May, just know that you have the skills to go far, probably even farther then me! While Eastern may not be the biggest school in the state, it definitely prepares you for the real world. Do not worry about a thing, you are going to be fine.

Dale campaigning in Connecticut

Dale campaigning in Connecticut.