Student Research at Schar

By Beth Eck Olchowski

Schar School students at all levels – undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral – tackle the challenging problems of our time both in the classroom and beyond. Not only do doctoral students team with faculty members on their research projects, such as those led by Eric McGlinchey, Jim Pfiffner and Naoru Koizumi, they convene conferences to discuss their own developing research. In 2012, Schar doctoral students initiated a graduate student conference to bring emerging politics and policy researchers together for paper presentations and workshops. The event quickly grew and attracted the favorable attention of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, and is now organized as a consortium event co-sponsored by ten regional universities and colleges.

Six Schar doctoral students presented research at the April 2017 conference. Faculty, students, and alumni served as discussants and panelists during the two day event. Spanning topics from the impact of divided government on US budget deficits (Kim A. Devoto, public policy) to foreign aid impact in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Elsa Khwaja, public policy), the breadth of academic interests of Schar students featured prominently. The conference also focused on the complementary theme of career development. Schar alumnus Ammar Malik (public policy 2015), now a researcher at the Urban Institute, was interviewed regarding the opportunities given to students at academic conferences. During the lunchtime career paths panel, current public policy PhD student Katrina Hubbard Dunlap moderated a discussion among scholars and practitioners active in their fields. The complete conference program may be found on APPAM’s website.

Schar undergraduate students partner with professors to explore issues through the Undergraduate Research Assistants Program (URAP). This spring, Government and International Politics major Aquilla Ossian was paired with Professor Emeritus David Armor to research the impact of school programs on student academic achievement.

“Aquilla built an annotated bibliography of the literature on school resources and student test scores,” explains Armor. “The project required her to summarize the results of over 50 studies. She also helped me categorize the programs focused on student achievement – teacher credential programs; principal and leadership characteristics; and structural reform; among others. The bibliography is a great resource for future research. I haven’t worked with undergraduate students since the beginning of my academic career, and it was a wonderful experience collaborating with them.”

Ossian’s undergraduate research experience helped expand her career options.

“I am working at a law firm this semester, and planned to go to law school after graduating from Mason,” says Ossian. “After participating in URAP, I have been exposed to an area of policy research I didn’t know existed, and have decided to explore a career in education policy instead.”

Government and International Politics major Evan Dunne also worked with Professor Armor this spring, analyzing student test score data sets from North Carolina and South Carolina. After controlling for student background, he discovered that, teacher credentials, class size, and school expenditures have a much smaller correlation with student test scores than student socio-economic background. Both students presented their research findings at the Celebration of Student Scholarship on May 9.

Government and International Politics major Aquilla Ossian