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American Today


SPA Hosts Second Annual Undergrad Research Symposium

By Adrienne Frank

Philip Zakahi presents his research,

Philip Zakahi presents his research, "Early Voting, Early Spending," at the SPA conference, April 16. (Photo: Bill Petros)

Egyptian Islamic activism. Split ticket voting. Same sex marriage.

Students’ intellectual curiosity was on display en masse at the second annual School of Public Affairs (SPA) Undergraduate Research Symposium, April 16.

Twenty-three undergrads, three of them freshmen and sophomores, presented their original research before a panel of SPA faculty judges, fielding questions about methodologies, findings, and the implications of their work. Another seven students participated in the poster session, chatting with passersby about their research on binge drinking, international development programs, the Obama campaign, and more.

Senior Allison Dunatchik presented her quantitative research on gender differences in levels of political ambition among AU students. Puzzled by women’s under-representation in AU student government—women are 62 percent of the student body, yet student government comprises 70 percent men—Dunatchik surveyed nearly 400 students about their political aspirations.

As hypothesized, she discovered that female students are much less likely than men to express high levels of confidence in their qualifications to run for student government. Women, she surmised, receive less encouragement to run from their parents; they also participate in fewer extracurricular activities, which would get them comfortable with the public spotlight.

Dunatchik concluded that gender parity is imperative—on the AU campus and beyond. Inspired by Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and other prominent female politicians, she said young women “have received the message . . . that running for office is something they can do and something they will do.”

This year's winners are:

Best presentation in the congress and political participation session:
Jon Weakley, "The Feminine Touch: Investigating Relationships between Women in Canadian Parliament and Constituent Confidence in Government"

Best presentation in the political philosophy and theory session and best presentation at the junior-senior level:
Brandon Herring, "Privileging Public Interest Above Private Interest: A Hegelian Analysis of FDR’s New Deal"

Best presentation in the justice, law, and society session:
Sean Mulligan, "Puritan History of Clemency"

Best presentation in the social and economic policy session:

Aaron Barnard-Luce, "Opting In or Staying Out: Comparative Institutionalization of Social Movement Organizations"
Best presentation at the freshman-sophomore level:
James Fleming, "Natural Law and Natural Rights: Foundations for Contemporary Human Rights"
Best poster at the freshman-sophomore level and best overall poster:
Amanda Merkwae, "Debunking Development Strategies: International Development Programs in Theory and Practice"