Category Archives: News

His Open Door Policy Opens Doors

David Leblang Receives Mentoring Awards

David Leblang keeps his door open—and all kinds of opportunities wander in. For him the most pleasant are the ones where he ends up as a mentor. He has developed a reputation as a professor who freely shares advice, opens his network to others, and collaborates just because it's fun.

The rest of the world agrees, David just received the Society for Women in International Political Economy (SWIPE) 2016 Mentor Award at ISA's 57th Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.

David received the award as a result of letter nominations by individual supporters. Nominations noted his efforts in advancing the careers of women in political science, providing feedback and reviews on the work of junior scholars, and essential direction through the knot of academia. He also mentors outside the walls of his home institution, a gesture he learned from his own mentor, John Freeman. Leblang's graciousness,  gentle sense of humor, and vigilance in providing  a just educational environment are all factors in his success as a mentor.

Despite David's incredulity at winning the award, the SWIPE committee's rationale for for choosing him is made clear by the comments from the nominators: he counters the social networks that impede the career development of women, he establishes long-term mentoring relationships, and supports women with whom he has no institutional ties. He states that his behavior has "everything to do with mentoring, but nothing to do with gender," —but acknowledges the explicit bias in political science in academia, the different norms and expectations for female faculty and graduate students. And further that prejudices also exist in race, gender, and pedigree.

“...David consciously and systematically counters the gendered nature of academic social networks that undermine women’s career advancement.

As part of the ceremony,  a roundtable was held in his honor. Participants included two of his mentors, Steve Chan (University of Colorado) and John Freeman, (University of Minnesota).

Preparation—a key skill learned from Dr. Chan. He observed Chan walking the halls and meeting with people, hearing their concerns, developing solutions, and providing a vision. David recounts "Steve never called a department meeting where he did not know the outcome beforehand," a great lesson in leadership. Chan also shared the importance of family and work-life balance, institutional support and protection for faculty,  the value of giving and sharing time to collegues.

Early in David's career Dr. Freeman provided with strong scholarly mentoring as well. As a grad student at Vanderbilt working on a paper about capital controls in developing countries, David requested a working paper from Dr. Freeman with which he fundamentally disagreed. He wished to quote the working paper. Freeman agreed and requested David's paper in return. "Sometime later I received this—seven pages of single spaced, numbered criticisms of my paper. John took issue with analytics and the empirics, with the theory and the presentation of results. He methodically, carefully, pulled the paper apart bit by bit. You can imagine the horror, the embarrassment I felt as I read his comments as I was in the first year of a tenure track job."

In a PS at the end of the paper he requested that David send him clean copy of the paper. He wanted to use the paper in his graduate class. As David recounted this postscript at the SWIPE award, he called them the most powerful twenty-eight words he had ever read.

"And they remain the most powerful. Here was someone I'd never met. Who did not know me. Did not know my advisors, had never been to Vanderbilt or North Texas. He had zero connection to me. Yet he invested the time to read my work, to provide criticism but then to signal in the clearest way possible that he found value in my work."

A History of this Behavior

As evidence of his commitment to mentoring and leading by example, David also won the Outstanding Mentoring Award from the University of Virginia Provost's office in 2015. In contrast to his surprise at winning the SWIPE award, David facetiously indicates 'damn right,' he is deserving of this award, that within the walls of the University he works his butt off to help his colleagues and students.

The Provost's office award receives input from colleagues, mentees, and students.

What his nominator says: “A critical aspect of faculty mentorship is leading by example. And this is perhaps where David’s record is most remarkable. He has been a tireless leader of our department and an astoundingly prolific researcher (both at the same time).”

What his colleague says: “His mentorship was not confined to formal annual meetings, but took place every day, as he left his door open and invited junior colleagues to stop by or knocked on their doors to discuss various issues.”

What his mentee and colleague says: “He always acts as if he has all the time in the world to listen to your problems and help you solve them. He remembers details. He reminds you, by example, of why being a professor is fun. He is straightforward about what he thinks. … he is extremely creative and resourceful in finding answers to problems.”

It's key to remember that this effort doesn't come for free. David has integrated this process into his work, both as a chair and a scholar; his modesty aside, it is additional work—it requires holding these tactics in mind, remembering to act upon them, and not view mentoring as a burden. He says he wouldn't do it if there wasn't something in it for him, and apparently there is.

Leblang is Professor and Chair of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics and Faculty, Associate  and J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center.

Visit David's site page for more information, publications, and data.

David Leblang receives 2016 SWIPE Award

Len Schoppa Talks the Walk

Len Schoppa and Skye FitzgeraldLeonard Schoppa and Skye Fitzgerald screened their new documentary, “The Slow Walk Home” for an enthusiastic crowd of city planners, firefighters, pedestrians, bicyclists, parents, and activists. What kind of film can draw such a diverse audience? One about how children get to school in the United States compared to how they do it in Japan. The differences are profound.
98% of Japanese elementary school students walk 30 minutes or more to get to school. They travel in small packs shepherded by an older child, guided by (principally) female adults acting as crossing guards, on routes which have been mapped out for safety and easy navigation.
What makes this research dramatic and cinematic is the contrast with the commute of American kids: in 2009 data, only 13% were walking or biking to school.
In the film Schoppa and Fitzgerald point out other facts which make the lives of U.S. school students seem a little diminished: car commuters average 10 forty hour weeks in their vehicles annually; many feeder roads from suburbs into highways bisect neighborhoods preventing walking or biking; in this kind of asphalt environment, parents turn into a taxi service; and school grounds are forced to accommodate huge numbers of vehicles, buying tracts of expensive land (up to 40 acres) – otherwise they have to move further out where land is cheaper, but increasing commute times.
But not all is lost! The film attracted planners from the city of Charlottesville and the University, and bike and pedestrian activists, all intent on improving the slow walk commute locally. Insights gleaned from Japanese parents, school teachers, and a school principal include a process for involving the community, understanding the tradeoffs in creating a safe society, recognizing that that kidnappers and killers are rare, their behavior deviant (unlike what we see on America's Most Wanted), and the importance of involving law enforcement as a part of the whole plan.
Schoppa is Associate Dean for the Social Sciences and Professor of Politics at the University. He specializes in the politics and foreign relations of Japan.
See the trailer for the film here:
 Preliminary screenings have been scheduled for:
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
February 23rd, 2016
University of Virginia in Charlottesville
Wednesday, March 16, 5 pm
Nau Hall 101
 Mercy College in New York
Tuesday, March 15
 Many PBS Stations will broadcast the film on Bike and Walk to School Day (May 4, 2016).
Check your local listings.
 Additional screenings can be found here:

Carol Mershon elected to Hugh S. and Winifred Cumming Chair in Politics

Carol MershonDr. Carol Mershon has been elected to the Hugh S. and Winifred Cumming Chair in Politics for a three year term beginning Fall of 2016.

Her research is outstanding and her leadership and service in the area of enhancing diversity convinces us that she deserves a term in the Cumming Chair.

The Department of Politics’ nominating committee wrote “Her research is outstanding and her leadership and service in the area of enhancing diversity convinces us that she deserves a term in the Cumming Chair. Her service has been on multiple levels and venues, both within the university and in the profession as a whole. She has published on this topic and received NSF funding.”

The current chairs in the Department agreed and forwarded her nomination to the Dean’s office. There the nomination was vetted by a committee of Chairs in the College and it was then forwarded to the Provost who enthusiastically agreed.

Dr. Mershon is the Professor and Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Faculty Fellow in the Center for Global Health at the University, and for the 2015–2016 academic year serves as Interim Co-PI / Program Director for UVa CHARGE, the NSF ADVANCE program at UVa.

Anna Maria Siega-Riz on the American Diet

Anna Maria Siega-RizDr. Anna Maria Siega-Riz visited Food Politics during J-Term. Her presentation was a recap of the process, negotiation, and compromise which she and her committee go through in revising the joint USDA/Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The 600 page document includes well-known suggestions such as reducing sugary drinks and trans fats, but also emphasizes less publicized ideas like the Mediterranean Diet.

The report is backed with science—hundreds of pages of analysis, conclusions, and recommendations. The Guidelines are revised every 5 years to account for new research and better data analysis.

Dr. Siega-Riz also covered some recent alcohol research which enlivened the Q&A.

Dr. Siega-Riz is Program Leader for the Reproductive, Perinatal, and Pediatric Program in the Department of Epidemiology at Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Stuart Pape Visits Food Politics

Stuart Pape January 11, 2015 Food Politics J-TermStuart Pape (Government ’70, Law ’73) visited Paul Freedman’s Food Politics J-Term class. His presentation, The Politics of Food: Some Perspectives on the History and Character of U.S. Food Safety Regulation , covered all the hot food topics of the day: GMO salmon, Chipotle’s struggle with norovirus and E. coli, raw milk, and the existential question, “What is mayonnaise?”

Dr. Pape solicited input from the class with a series of questions to test students’ moral mettle and risk-tolerance: Who would eat genetically modified salmon? Who would return to Chipotle for a burrito in the wake of the E. coli breakout? What kind of mother would give her baby 7-Up instead of milk?

Dr. Pape is an attorney with Polsinelli in Washington, D.C , a law firm where he heads the food industry consultation. Previously, he worked as associate chief counsel for food in the Office of the Chief of Counsel at the FDA . He also served as executive assistant to FDA Commissioner Donald Kennedy.

Dr. Pape’s visit follows a class visit to Polyface farm, Joel Salatin’s circle of life/systems-approach to farming livestock and saving the world from itself.

Dale Lawton: Hard Questions in Hard Places

Dale LawtonWe all like to think our work is important—Dale Lawton’s work informs the President of the United States. Some days his intelligence analysis ends up in the book, the daily briefing book of the POTUS. He currently works at the State Department’s Office of Opinion Research (OPN) in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. The work of the analysts in this office is to provide context to the ocean of information collected by the intelligence community. Reports from OPN end up in several presidential briefings a month. Lawton’s work also is used by U.S. State Department policymakers.

Dr. Lawton (UVA PhD, Politics, ’04) visited the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics and spoke to faculty and graduate students about his work in the Middle East, particularly gathering opinions and perceptions about ISIL. Earlier in the day he presented State Department 101 (sponsored by the Career Center) to undergraduates interested in internships and careers in the State Department.

As an analyst in OPN, Lawton works with about thirty colleagues conducting policy-relevant social science research across the world. His office conducts research in about 100 countries per year . He emphasizes that 90% of OPN’s reports are not classified, though all are for internal government use only. The office has a process to release the reports to the public through the National Archives, but as with many bureaucratic structures, there are problems fulfilling its mandate and the delivery of the reports is backlogged.

The UVa audience of faculty and graduate students was very interested in the data gathered by Lawton’s office. Dr. Lawton stressed OPN’s desire to balance requests to make the data accessible to the public with the need to be sensitive to situations around the world that might be complicated by the disclosure of the data. The UVa audience shared insights into the anonymization of data and how the researchers at the University’s new Data Science Institute are experts in cleansing data and their expertise would make UVa the ideal partner for this work.

Survey results he shared included questions about local leaders in the Middle East; responsibility for the rise of ISIL; and Arab views of the United States. He was previously posted in Ghana, Mongolia, Cuba, South Africa, and Iraq.

Department of Politics Diversity Day 2015

Diversity Day 2015The Department of Politics hosted its first annual Diversity Visit Day on October 15th, 2015. Thirteen outstanding undergraduates and recent graduates from underrepresented groups spent the day at UVA, learning about graduate school in general and UVA’s Department of Politics, in particular.

Following breakfast with Dean Baucom, and Politics faculty, and current graduate students, the visiting students attended a panel entitled Political Science Graduate School: An Overview.  The panelists—Murad Idris (Political Theory), Robert Fatton (Comparative Politics), Paul Freedman (American Politics, Political Methodology), and Denise Walsh (Comparative Politics)—described what the future holds for them as political scientists in academia: time to read, time to think. The panel was divided on how much time is actually available.

The second panel, on Applying to and Paying for Graduate School sought to demystify the graduate school application process; the panelists offered strategies and tactics for the application process, and explained how to offset costs with scholarships and grants— including those from the Jefferson Fellowship program at UVA.  The panel included Keisha John, Jen Rubenstein, Lynn Sanders, and Herman Schwartz. Dr. John said her current soapbox is showing how a graduate can complete her or his education without getting into significant debt. The visiting students were definitely paying attention.

Other events included a panel on Finding Mentors, Creating Community, Working Across Disciplines, individual and small group meetings with professors, Jon Kropko’s class in Advanced Topics in Multivariate Analysis, Sid Milkis’ class in American Political Development, a wrap-up session, and a party at Department Chair David Leblang’s house.

This year’s Diversity Day participants hailed from around the country, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Dallas, Richmond (VA) and New York City, among other places.

Anyone interested in applying for the 2016 Diversity Visit Day should e-mail Dr. Jennifer Rubenstein,, and ask to be put on the mailing list to receive more information when it becomes available.

Life After Politics: A Near Life Experience

Life After Politics 2015Fifty students had their eyes opened when eight alums showed up to share what actually happens after you get a degree in politics. Professor Paul Freedman’s Life After Politics panel and speed mentoring activities showcased five post-degree alumni now in the worlds of journalism, law enforcement, non-profit advocacy, and the U.S. Senate staff.

Five panel members spoke about their efforts at life/work balance, though only Albert Kim, First Sergeant Arlington Police Department seems successful at this, including marathons and triathlons into his days. The two journalists Margaret Brennan and Katherine Faulders have chosen careers where politics are a major part of their coverage. They both emphasized how necessary it is to be available all the time, carrying several cellphones and other devices. Like the journalists who have to be hyper-responsive, Gabriel Noronha, Staff Assistant U.S. Senate also has a 24/7 workday. He recommends working on a presidential campaign, if you can find a place as an intern and don’t mind sleeping on the floor. Anna Scholl, Executive Director, ProgressVA & ProgressVA Education Fund, had a less stressful early career, but recommends just saying “Yes” to the menial work and smile as you do it—it will set you apart from those who don’t.

Speed mentoring works much like speed dating, except each alum migrates from a circle of students to a circle of students. At this level of interaction the students get close exposure to ask specific questions and get an immediate response at a personal level. Alumni gain by adding potential employees, associates, and peers to their networks, as well as giving back to the University on a fundamental level. In addition to the panel members, Haley Anderson, Speech and Language Pathology, Jennifer Clarke, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, and Cameron Kilberg, Attorney and Entrepreneur participated in speed mentoring.

Life After Politics was sponsored and hosted by the Career Center in conjunction with the Department of Politics. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for an announcement of next year’s event and other thought-provoking seminars.