CSA Day 2021: Student Spotlights in History, Political Science & International Studies

Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.


Paola standing in front of a white background
Photo courtesy of Paola Cira

Paola Cira

Project title: “A Generational Analysis of Attitudes Toward Women in Politics”

Please describe your research.

I conducted my research project with Olivia Slack and we were advised by Dr. Whitney Manzo and Dr. David McLennan. The study focused on the political attitudes of Generation Z, and specifically on how they view women in politics. Our study had a total of 37 participants who were asked a series of questions to explore how generation, gender and political party affected respondents’ views of women. We hypothesized that Gen Z men would have more traditional, conservative views in regard to gender roles, while Gen Z women would have more progressive views. While our hypothesis was not entirely supported, some of the topics that the participants discussed highlighted their belief that diversity in politics was beneficial and that neither gender had any innate characteristics that would make them more or less qualified to be politicians. Overall, we concluded that based on these findings, the potential impacts of Gen Z on women’s prominence in politics would correlate positively and continue to empower young girls to believe they were capable of holding a political office.

What inspired your topic?

My partner and I initially wanted to compare generations and see if there was any correlation between age and political views. As we are both part of Generation Z, we decided to compare the generational differences of political views of peers in our age groups.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

Much of our work had to be moved online, from interviews to the time we met with our faculty advisors. The process was very different from what we had imagined the semester prior to the pandemic. Because of the very stressful impact that COVID-19 had on both our day to day lives, the most difficult and frustrating part of conducting our research was organizing enough participants in order to host our focus groups. But nevertheless, we persisted!

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

Absolutely! I’ve always had a deep interest in politics and law, continuing into the future. I've felt that this research opportunity has only fueled my interest to actively involve myself in local politics and take a deeper role in fueling political literacy and advocacy for minorities such as myself.


Kate smiling at the camera
Photo courtesy of Kate Polaski

Kate Polaski

Project title: "Fostering Online Classroom Communities through RTTP and Slack"

Please describe your research.

I conducted my research along with my research partner, Devin Totherow, and we were advised by Dr. Amy O’Keefe. We studied Reacting to the Past (RTTP) historical role playing games and how they impacted relationship ties in the classrooms that used them. The aim of our study was to determine whether RTTP could help build friendship and/or acquaintanceship networks between students, and whether network formation in online settings works differently from face-to-face settings. Our study also aimed to provide instructors with information on what barriers are present to network formation and building an effective classroom community in an online setting. We collected both qualitative and quantitative data using three surveys distributed to an online class at set points in the summer term, along with observations of the online class and a separate survey sent out to spring semester students for comparison. From this data, we created network visualizations that showed significant growth in student relationships over the summer term RTTP class.

What inspired your topic?

Devin and I had both participated in RTTP games in classes with Dr. O'Keefe in the past and enjoyed them. We also both plan on becoming social studies teachers in the future and can see the potential benefits of using RTTP games in the classroom. We wanted to understand how these games impacted the communities of the classroom because we felt that they had caused significant changes to the classrooms we'd been part of in the past, but we didn't have any experimental data to support that claim.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

When we began planning our research study in the winter of 2019-20, our plans were completely different from what actually ended up happening. We had planned to host a summer camp for high schoolers where we would conduct RTTP games with the campers, make observations and conduct surveys about the camper's relationships to each other and the classroom community. Due to COVID-19, we knew we weren't going to be able to do that. Instead, we reached out through Dr. O'Keefe's connection to college professors who were using RTTP games in summer classes to observe their classrooms and survey their students. This actually brought about an entirely new side to the project and completely changed our work. We dove headfirst into comparing online learning communities to face-to-face learning communities and studied the difference that RTTP games could make in fostering connections between students even when learning was moved online.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

This research will most definitely be helpful. Because I'm going into social studies education, it will be greatly beneficial for me to have thorough background knowledge of activities to do with my class that will both aid understanding of history and historical perspectives and deepen my students’ interpersonal connections and communication skills. I definitely plan on using what I learned in this research to implement RTTP games and similar structures into my future classrooms.


Madison standing outside
Photo courtesy of Madison Sholar

Madison Sholar

Project title: “Racial Composition of North Carolina’s County Sheriffs & Arrest Outputs”

Please describe your research.

For this project, I was advised by Dr. McLennan. I sought to better understand how the race of North Carolina’s county sheriffs impacted arrest outputs by race for each county. I hypothesized that counties with white sheriffs would experience higher arrest rates for Black people, while the opposite would be true for counties with Black sheriffs, believing that people would generally be more lenient towards people of their own race. I utilized statistics from the North Carolina Sheriffs Directory and the Uniform Crime Report to run analysis of variance tests to better understand the relationship between my variables. The results of these tests showed that the race of the county sheriff did not play as much of a role in the arrest rates of the county as population and poverty rate. While this is an encouraging finding, we must approach it with caution as racial disparities in arrests still exist.

What inspired your topic?

As a criminology minor, it was important to me to look into the reasons for racial disparities in policing, arrests, and incarcerations within the United States. The role of the county sheriff was interesting to me because of their status as elected officials. Because of their ability to hire autonomously and make decisions about policing tactics and techniques, sheriffs do have an impact on the arresting that happens within their counties, so their biases may have impacted those decisions; therefore, impacting who is ultimately arrested. This research seemed like a small step to tackle the large problem within the United States that is racial inequity.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

COVID-19 impacted my research experience during the beginning phases of my project. As a Research Methods student in the Spring of 2020, I began my literature review from home, nowhere near Meredith’s or NC State’s library. While the library had options for us to be able to get physical books, it was not as convenient as being on campus and having multiple sources at our fingertips. Finding online sources took more dedication and time to sift through the good and the bad. Overall, I am thankful for the experience because it taught me how to persevere and how to quickly find relevant information.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

This research is relevant to everyone because we will all vote for a sheriff at some point in our lives, and in order to overcome racial disparities within our criminal justice system, we must understand how those we elect can have an impact on our communities. In my future career, this research is also relevant. I look forward to working as an attorney to help people find their way out of the criminal justice system by utilizing restorative justice and rehabilitation techniques.


Olivia standing outside in front of greenery
Photo courtesy of Olivia Slack

Olivia Slack

Project title: “Analyzing Racial Roots of Nationalism in the United States”

Please describe your research.

I was advised by Dr. McLennan for my Honors thesis in political science. I looked at how racial identity and racial resentment influence support of nationalism in the US by using the American National Election Studies Pilot Survey from 2018 to analyze how respondents' indicated levels of racial resentment and prejudice correlated with their levels of support of nationalism. I also looked at distributions of nationalism, racial resentment, and support of alt-right scores between Black, white, and Hispanic respondents and found that, as expected, white respondents had many more individuals falling into the highest levels of support of nationalism. I did find a somewhat surprising trend of high nationalism and racial resentment among a strong minority of Hispanic respondents, as well.

What inspired your topic?

I was inspired to research this topic because of the rise of nationalism in the US in recent years, especially with Donald Trump's election in 2016 and his near win in 2020. There has also been a rise in nationalism and populism in Europe, making this a global trend. The majority of research about nationalism in the US focuses on white nationalism, which makes sense because white nationalism is the most widespread and is most often the kind that leads to violence, but I was interested to find out what other races felt about nationalism in the U.S. and if they were motivated by the same prejudice or racial resentment as whites are.

How did COVID-19 impact your research process?

COVID-19 did not significantly impact my research since I was using an existing dataset and could conduct all of my analyses by myself. However, it did pretty much completely rule out the idea of me fielding my own survey since doing so during the pandemic is so difficult.

Do you feel that this research or some aspect of what you’ve learned will apply to your future, whether in continuing education or in the working world?

I'm actually continuing this research this summer, looking more specifically at Hispanic nationalism in the US. I also definitely feel that this research will apply to my future as a political scientist. I'm intrigued to see how the trends I discovered in my research will evolve over time and whether nationalism will continue to become more popular in the US or if it will fade away. I think some of the trends I found, such as the fact that people who indicate high support of nationalism also are far more likely to indicate high levels of racial resentment or prejudice, are very concerning and I hope that with more research I can uncover some more reasons as to why people in America are feeling this way. My thinking is, with more knowledge we will be able to better combat the kind of prejudice and racism that often fuels nationalism.


Interviews compiled by Madison Sholar, Copy Editor

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