Category Archives: Profile

How research experience influenced a career in political science: the case of Josue Gomez and CLEA

Developed by Katie Brown and Josue Gomez.

This is the first post in a series about students working on research projects in the Center for Political Studies (CPS). Here, we profile Josue Gomez, whose work on the Constituency-Level Elections Archive (CLEA) helped influence his career path in political science.

blog26_1Josue Gomez was raised in a farming community in southern Idaho, the son of a Mexican-American farm worker. The current debate on immigration policy, especially the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, piqued his interest in politics. He enrolled at Boise State University — the first in his family to attend college — and majored in political science. As part of the McNair Scholars program supporting under-represented students, Josue was required to complete a summer research program prior to graduating. Josue and his advisor, Ross Burkhart, identified the University of Michigan as a good place to apply, and Josue was accepted as part of the Student Research Opportunity Program (SROP) at Michigan. Through the SROP program, he joined the Constituency-Level Elections Archive (CLEA) project as a research assistant in the Summer of 2012.

CLEA is a repository of detailed election results from around the world which collects outcomes from lower house elections. CLEA provides opportunities for students to be involved at all stages of the data collection process, providing valuable experience and training for them.  Working on research projects can be an excellent way for students to explore whether they would like to further their career in research and academia. Many of CLEA’s alumni have gone on to attend graduate school and obtained research-oriented jobs.

As part of his responsibilities on the CLEA project, Josue was assigned to work on Latin American and a few European countries. Given his fluency in Spanish and natural inclination to learn about these countries, Josue grew a strong connection to the project. Among the countries he was assigned to work on, he was encouraged to choose one to study in more depth. Chile was the largest country in Latin America that was not yet represented in CLEA, and Josue decided that it would be valuable for CLEA to include it.  As Josue studied the intricacies and results of elections in Chile, he became interested in a broader research agenda concerning political parties and democratization. Prior to the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinoche, Chile had held elections  After the dictatorship was removed, Chile began to hold elections again. In his studies, Josue began to wonder how relationships between parties and an old regime (in Chile’s case, the dictatorship) influence the performance of the parties in elections during and following the transition to democracy.

At the time, Josue was a senior at Boise State University. In his work on CLEA he identified what became a fundamental question for him: How do parties succeed in foundational elections? CLEA also helped him begin to answer this question.

As a McNair Scholar, Josue published a short article based on his work with CLEA. In the blog26_2paper, Josue lays out a spectrum of parties that exist in new democracies, in order to help understand why some parties are more successful than others. Focused on Latin America, Josue finds a relationship between party alignment in older regimes and success in new elections.

Josue notes that political scientists and other researchers are always looking for reliable data like that provided by CLEA. By examining the electoral rules and election results from countries around the world, researchers can discover what electoral systems work better in certain regions and in certain time frames, investigate how political parties developed or declined, and seek to understand whether and why the democratic experience is working or not.

Josue’s experience in building social science infrastructure and his own research skills in his work with CLEA laid the foundation for his McNair Scholars paper, and has also influenced his academic path.  The experience has led him to pursue a Ph.D.; he is currently enrolled as a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at The Ohio State University

CPS researcher profile: Mike Traugott – expert in surveys, public opinion, and voting

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Mike Traugott.

This post is part of a series that explores how Center for Political Studies (CPS) researchers came to their work. Here, we follow the academic path of CPS Research Professor and Professor of Communication Studies, Mike Traugott.

Michael TraugottProfessor Traugott’s career began at Princeton University. While an undergraduate studying political science, he served as a research assistant for Dr. George Gallup, founder of the prominent polling group the Gallup Organization. His senior thesis advisor, Professor Stanley Kelley, urged him to attend graduate school at the University of Michigan. Traugott’s intention was to learn more about the field and then return to working for Gallup, with no thought of becoming a university-based researcher, let alone a college professor.

While at the University of Michigan, Traugott worked with Warren Miller – of Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes fame – on the seminal study of The American Voter. Beginning in 1968 and through the 1970s, Miller and Traugott helped ABC News develop their campaign coverage. The project took place amidst innovation in polling. First, telephone interviewing evolved to become an industry standard. And second, television networks partnered with major daily newspapers to conduct polls. Traugott was fascinated by and part of how public opinion evolved into a newsworthy topic.

Trained as a political scientist and with deep experience in polling, Traugott became a leading expert on survey methodology, public opinion, and voting technology. He teaches extensively, and his research has resulted in the publication of 12 books and 100 articles and chapters.

From rural Minnesota to enacting change around the world: Rosemary Sarri’s commitment to child welfare

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Rosemary Sarri.

This post is part of a series that explores how Center for Political Studies (CPS) researchers came to their work. Here, we trace the trajectory of CPS, School of Social Work, and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri.

Rosemary SarriA strong Scandinavian influence could be felt in the progressive causes and commitment to community development in Sarri’s native rural Minnesota. Though her family had little money, Sarri and her siblings were urged to attend college. Sarri went onto attend the University of Minnesota, graduating with deepened commitment to social engagement but no clear sense of a career path.

Sarri spent time working as a social worker in a settlement house, with gangs, and for a 4-H club. The political and social backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement strengthened her dedication to justice. Sarri soon returned to the University of Minnesota to complete her Masters in Social Work. It was during this time that she zeroed in on a question: How are we going to foster our young adult population?

Seeking answers, Sarri moved onto complete a Ph.D. in Social Work and Sociology at the University of Michigan. Sarri continued to work in academia. Her longitudinal studies especially reveal two troubling facts. First, kids in the child welfare system are the same kids who drift into the justice system. Second, this problem is getting worse. Her research brings awareness to this under-served part of society.

In addition to research, Sarri combats these problems on the ground. She has worked directly with child offenders in a variety of contexts, served on several presidential commissions, and worked to build infrastructures for child welfare systems on every continent except Antarctica.

Despite witnessing the entrenched and growing nature of these issues, Sarri remains optimistic. Though she understands that it would be easy to cower in the face of this societal blight, a simple question drives her to fight for the lives of children: How can I help make this better?

Maris Vinovskis: The Universal Power of Education

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Maris Vinovskis.

This is the first post in a series that explores how Center for Political Studies (CPS) researchers came to their work. And our first profile tells the fascinating path of CPS researcher, Professor of Public Policy, and Bentley Professor of History Maris Vinovskis.

Maris VinovskisBorn in war torn Latvia in 1943, Vinovskis and his family were forced out by the impending Soviet invasion. Destined for Dresden, the bombings rerouted them to former Czechoslovakia. Unsafe there, too, the family made it to an American zone in Munich, where they spent 5 years in a camp of mostly Latvians displaced by the war. The Vinovskis family then moved to the United States, settling in rural Blair, Nebraska. Vinovskis started first grade with his sister. Knowing no English, “We sat through most of the classes without any idea of what was being discussed.” By second grade, Vinovskis understood the language and excelled, with the help of dedicated teachers. In 1957, his father, a lawyer back in Europe, took a job as a meatpacker and moved the family to Omaha. Vinovskis shares, “The continued economic challenges facing our family aroused my early interest in public policy, especially on how to help low-income families.”

Excellence in academics and athletics led to his admission to Wesleyan University with a National Merit Scholarship. Vinovskis ultimately pursued a degree in History, with an interest in Public Policy but no clear career direction. In 1965, he hitchhiked to Alabama to participate in the March on Selma, but was arrested en route in Montgomery at a peaceful NAACP demonstration. After a week of hunger striking in jail, he was bailed out. Vinovskis views this event as seminal, focusing his ambition on fostering social justice and helping the disadvantaged.

Vinovskis moved on to complete a Ph.D. in History at Harvard University. He and his wife Mary chose to forgo upscale Cambridge living in favor of working class Somerville, where he joined the NAACP and the Somerville Racial Understanding Committee, and started working for the newly elected mayor – his first official government position. In writing his dissertation on the late eighteenth-century and antebellum decrease in Massachusetts birth rates, Vinovskis encountered the issue of education. He uncovered a significant decline in preschool enrolment between 1840 and 1860, corresponding to a popularized belief that early cognitive stimulation led to insanity!

After a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin Madison, Vinovskis joined the History Department and Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Here, he has pursued research in education history, demographic and family history, antebellum insane asylums, and federal abortion funding. He has also served as the Deputy Staff Director to the U.S. House Select Committee on Population in 1978 and was a consultant on population and adolescent pregnancy issues in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the early 1980s. He worked in the U.S. Department of Education in both the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations on questions of educational research and policy. He also testified before six House and Senate committees about education and served on independent review panels for Goals 2000 and No Child Left Behind.

Vinovskis has published ten books, edited seven books, and written over 100 scholarly essays. He received a Guggenheim fellowship and was elected to the National Academy of Education, the International Academy of Education, a fellow to the American Educational Research Association, and President of the History of Education Society.

As Vinovskis says, “Education always played a very important role in my life.” The very education that propelled him from an immigrant life in rural Nebraska to elite student status became the focus of his academic research and government service.