Letter from the Chair

Dear Friends:

Welcome to the first issue of The Place for Politics!  We’re looking forward with this newsletter to keeping in touch with alumni and friends of the Department, and to letting everyone know about the exciting things happening here in Political Science.

It is a great time to be in the Department! Since I became Chair in September 2011, we’ve hired four outstanding young faculty members who are conducting fascinating research at the forefront of their fields.  Stephen Chaudoin (PhD 2012, Princeton University) is an international relations specialist who is working on cooperation between nations can be achieved in a variety of institutional settings ranging from World Trade Organization disputes to the International Criminal Court.  Laura Paler (PhD 2012, Columbia University) is currently on leave at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C, where she is conducting experiments on how citizens can better hold politicians accountable in countries that are vulnerable to the so-called “resource curse” of oil and other windfalls that tend to undermine democratic development.   Victoria Shineman (PhD 2013, New York University) will be joining us this fall; she is a specialist in American voting behavior and is conducted a series of innovative field experiments that examine the causes and consequences of voting in local elections.  Sharece Thrower (PhD 2013, Princeton University) will also be joining us in fall 2013.  She is conducting research on U.S. executive-judicial relations, specifically the conditions under which presidents and governors will use executive orders, signing statements or other tools to achieve their policy objectives in the face of expected judicial and legislative opposition.  We are tremendously excited about these new additions to our faculty, and encourage you to check out their profiles on the Department’s web site.  You can also read more of Stephen’s reflections on his transition from graduate student at Princeton to Assistant Professor in the Department in this issue of the newsletter (click here).

Our more senior faculty have also been extraordinarily productive, publishing some two dozen articles in prestigious journals at three books at top University presses in 2011-2012 alone.  Three long-time faculty members have received lifetime career achievement awards as well.  B. Guy Peters, Maurice Falk Professor, received the Fred Riggs Award for Lifetime Achievements in Comparative Public Administration from the American Society of Public Administration; Professor George Krause received the Herbert Simon Award for Significant Career Contributions to the Scientific Study of Bureaucracy from the Midwest Public Administration Caucus; and Professor Alberta Sbragia, currently Vice-Provost for Graduate Studies at the University, will be honored this May by the European Studies Association for Lifetime Achievement in European Studies. 

We’ve also been successful in securing support for faculty and graduate research from prestigious foundations and government agencies.  Associate Professors Jonathan Woon and Kris Kanthak won a highly competitive National Science Foundation award for the project “Women Don't Run: An Experimental Analysis of Gender and the Choice to Represent”.  This grant will also support one graduate student in the department for the next academic year.  Professors Woon and Kanthak talk more about this project in this issue of the newsletter (click here).  I have been fortunate to have been awarded a five-year contract with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to conduct evaluations of their democracy and development programs in West Africa that are designed to counter violent extremism among youth and promote community resilience against terrorism and extremist ideologies.  This project will also support one or more graduate students as it develops. 

And our graduate students themselves have been awarded some very prestigious awards and fellowships:  Andrea Aldrich received a Fulbright award for 2012-2013 to conduct her dissertation research on voting behavior in the European Parliament. You can read more about her experiences in Croatia this year in this issue of the newsletter (click here).  John Polga-Hecimovich won a National Science Foundation dissertation improvement award, and Reynaldo T. Rojo Mendoza received the Drugs, Security and Democracy Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council to conduct his dissertation research on the individual-level attitudinal and behavioral consequences of drug-related violence in Mexico.  All of this reflects the tremendous progress we are making in all aspects of our graduate program, from recruitment of top students to reforming and upgrading the curriculum, to placing graduates in top research universities and liberal arts colleges, in post-doctoral positions at major think tanks in the U.S. and abroad, and in positions of public and international service.

Our undergraduate program continues to thrive.  We now have on the order of 500-600 undergraduate majors, a figure that reflects our continued commitment to teaching and mentoring excellence. Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the graduation of 176 majors from the class of 2013 with our traditional ceremony and breakfast with faculty, graduates and their families. We awarded seven prizes to outstanding graduates, ranging from the Umberger Memorial Prize for Outstanding Political Science Major to Matthew Hershey, to the Bracken Award for Outstanding Senior in the Department of Political Science to Paige Griffiths.  We look forward to celebrating the achievements of all of our majors as they progress towards their degrees in the coming years.  You can read more about one of our top rising seniors, Lara Sullivan, in an article in this issue of the newsletter (click here).

Finally, we hope to find out more about our alumni, where they are and how they are doing.  We need news!!  Please share your professional and personal achievements with us here. With your permission, we’ll be glad to share your news in upcoming issues of the newsletter.  In the meantime, please read more about one of our outstanding graduates, Kathy Ruffing (A&S ’75), who is a long-time senior analyst with the Congressional Budget Office in Washington, D.C. (click here).

Please write and get back in touch with us! We look forward to building the Pitt Political Science community with you through this newsletter, our web site, and all of the activities that will be going on in the Department in the months and years to come.

With best wishes,


Steve Finkel

Chair and Daniel H. Wallace Professor of Political Science