MPA students build research skills and help advance Watson projects through Director's Fellowships

Eight Watson Institute Master of Public Affairs students were named Director's Fellows in September. Fellows spent the fall semester working on projects in faculty-led research groups at Watson and in Watson centers.

Eight Watson Institute Master of Public Affairs (MPA) students were selected as Director's Fellows at the start of September. The Director's Fellowship program is a competitive professional development opportunity intended to build skills and subject matter expertise while students work closely with Watson Institute faculty, researchers and staff on significant projects. MPA students selected for the program are matched with project teams in the institute's centers, initiatives and faculty-led research groups. 

Over the fall semester, a newly named cohort of MPA Director's Fellows worked closely with Watson faculty-led research teams on a number of topics including, civil-military coordination, industrial policy, democratic erosion, U.S. state voting laws, gendered activism in the Middle East, and public education in the United States.

Faculty Director of the MPA program David Blanding noted, "We've matched a total of eight MPA students with Director's Fellowships this year, split across seven different research projects." Blanding explained that the program is intended "to provide students an opportunity to gain research experience that's relevant to the policy work and skills that they're cultivating in the MPA program." He said that an added benefit is that the program "fosters and builds community with Watson's centers and faculty-led research teams."

Fellows are expected to spend 8 to 10 hours per week over the fall semester working on a project under the mentorship and supervision of the project director and receive a $3,000 stipend from the MPA program to support their work.

The Director's Fellows

Two fellows worked on separate projects led by Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies Research Associate Alexandria Nylen. According to Nylen, "The fellows were essential to supporting the respective research projects they worked on." Nylen noted that Hannah Reale earned an authorship credit on a report focusing on civil-military coordination in Burkina Faso, Haiti and Ethiopia by writing a significant portion of the report's case study section. Also, according to Nylen, Tyler Lu "led the component of our pandemic response research initiative which added non-U.S. and non-E.U. case studies to an existing project." Nylen added that, "Both of their efforts helped keep the research projects on time and their unique contributions strengthened CHRHS's outputs, which are read by academics and policymakers."

Jessica Saenz Gomez joined a Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy team that included Director Wendy Schiller and Program Manager Othniel Harris. The team researched state voting laws and voter turnout in the 2022 midterm elections. Gomez said she found the experience a valuable addition to her MPA educational experience and that it deepened her understanding of the relationship between policy and voting rights. "Hailing from Arizona myself and having previously engaged in Latinx voter outreach initiatives, this opportunity allowed me to deeply analyze and understand the intricate ways in which the state's voting regulations intersect with and potentially disenfranchise underserved communities," she said. Harris noted that he found the quantitative skills Gomez developed in the MPA program "invaluable" in "enriching our understanding of the correlation between election laws and its effects on voter turnout."

Fatima Rezaie worked with Professor Nadje Al-Ali and a team from the Center for Middle East Studies to research gendered mobilization in war and conflict in the Middle East. Rezaie called the experience "eye-opening." "Coming from Afghanistan, it's a topic I personally relate to," she said, "This fellowship ignited my passion for doing more research on gender-related issues."

Other fellows include Ashley Delgado who worked with professors Susan Moffitt and Jonathan Collins to research opportunities and barriers to participation in American public education and Allison Clark who researched the impact of the professional backgrounds of directors on industrial policymaking with Professor Andrew Schrank. Finally, Professor Robert Blair worked with two fellows, Vanessa Marie Iustina Booth and Juno Tantipipatpong on a project focused on understanding and combating democratic erosion in the U.S. and beyond.

Our students are learning about how academics actually conduct research while contributing in important ways to the development of rigorous research projects.

David Blanding Faculty Director of the Master of Public Affairs program
David Blanding

Combining research, teaching and professional development

Blanding said the fellowship program is emblematic of the way the MPA program aims to combine teaching, research, and professional development. Matching MPA students with faculty and working on specific research projects creates opportunities for mentorship while students "learn about how issues play out in specific contexts," said Blanding. "Our students are bringing their technical skills and topical knowledge to ambitious projects that may someday help us all better understand, navigate and lead in global public affairs," he added.

Blanding noted that fellows "will be working on projects through the end of the fall at minimum, and in the early spring they will deliver presentations about the work that they've been doing and what they've accomplished." "We're excited to hear what they learned and how they contributed to the timely and important work our phenomenal Watson experts are spearheading," he added.