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Students share political science research projects at statewide conference

Mary Watts ’24 (left) received the award for best undergraduate paper presented at the 2024 South Carolina Political Science Association conference.

Last updated March 27, 2024

By Furman News

A group of politics and international affairs majors from Furman made an impressive showing at a recent statewide political science conference, with one senior bringing home a top undergraduate honor.

Logan Coffee ’24, Sim Colson ’26, Nicholas Hendrix ’24, Alex Threlkeld ’24, Mary Watts ’24 and Eric Wilson ’24 presented their research projects at the annual convention of the South Carolina Political Science Association (SCPSA) at the College of Charleston on March 18. Most of the students had developed their projects during a senior research seminar led by David Fleming, an associate professor of politics and international affairs.

Watts won the SCPSA’s Mary Jeanne Byrd award for best undergraduate paper. Furman students have won the majority of Mary Jean Byrd awards given at the SCPSA conference since 2010, Fleming said.

Using data from a survey conducted in 2020 by Latinobarómetro, Watts explored the differences in perspectives on foreign affairs between indigenous and non-indigenous people in 18 Latin American countries.

The senior said the experience helped prepare her for graduate school and confirmed that “I really do enjoy doing this kind of research,” she said.

Getting experience presenting research and networking with other academics is key, especially for future graduate students, Fleming said. And conducting research and attending conferences are aspects of The Furman Advantage, an educational framework that provides every student an individualized educational pathway and opportunities for high-impact, engaged learning experiences.

“Furman students see that we’re doing things that a lot of students in other schools aren’t able to do,” Fleming said. “They get some pride from that, as well they should.”

The five other Furman papers presented at the SCPSA conference represented an array of interests. “It’s really up to the students to develop the research questions and their methodology and analyze the data,” Fleming said. “We have a very wide range of different topics, which I think is very exciting.”

Coffee studied how voters’ standards vary by whether candidates behave in more stereotypically masculine or feminine ways. She showed subjects two versions of a video reenactment of a 2016 presidential debate – one with a male actor playing Donald Trump and a female actor portraying Hillary Clinton and the other with the actors playing gender-swapped roles. Participants then answered questions about their perception of the candidates’ competence, leadership and likability, as well as whether they would vote for each candidate. Coffee was able to create and field her own survey for the project thanks to a grant from the Sidney Ulmer Fund through the politics and international affairs department, Fleming said.

Colson spent the summer of 2023 on campus as a Summer Research Fellow, working with Akan Malici, a professor of politics and international affairs, on an intensive study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, investigating the foundational factors – strategic interest, theology and sociocultural bias – of the United States’ support of Israel.

Hendrix studied Hispanic voting trends in the United States, using national survey data to identify what is important to this growing population of potential voters. His work could help politicians better serve the populations they represent, he said.

Threlkeld investigated Christian nationalism in America. His research indicated that higher levels of education reduce a person’s affinity for that set of beliefs, while increasing levels of religious service attendance heightened it.

Wilson analyzed the education systems in the United States and China, looking into the differences in how curricula in each country portrayed the other and how schools discuss each country’s history.

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