Category Archives: News

13 Politics Alums Pressing the Levers of Power

The 2016 Life After Politics event was held on Friday the 28th—thirteen department alums revealed their secrets to successful careers and the rocky roads they took to get there. The annual event includes a panel of five alums drawn from the myriad paths a degree in politics can take you—law (Stuart Pape – Head of FDA Practice, Polsinelli PC), the House (Kyle Matous – Chief of Staff, U.S. Representative Pete Sessions), the Senate (Ethan Thrasher – Legislative Correspondent, Senator Mark Warner), strategic communications (Vicki Ballagh – Director, The Incite Agency), NGOs and non-profits (Langdon Greenhalgh – Director & Co-Founder, Global Emergency Group).

The panel session was followed by Flash Mentoring, a rapid-fire Q&A about jobs, protocol, procedure, and networking  between alums and students. In addition to the panelists, other active alum mentors included Haley Anderson – Speech-Language Pathologist, Margaret Brennan – CBS News Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Mary Kate Cary – Speechwriter, Columnist, and Documentarian, Jennifer Clarke – Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, Cameron Kilberg – Partner, Rubin & Rudman, David Mrazik – Managing Partner at Hamburger Law Firm & Managing Director at MarketCounsel, Gabriel Noronha – Staff Assistant, US Senate, Peter Page – Founder and President, SageWater, Inc.

The job titles and names of employers only partially indicate what happens post-graduation. Rich careers are forged over time and the mentor participants tell stories, both touching and hilarious, illustrating the different paths.

Langdon GreenhalghDuring his third year Langdon Greenhalgh had an internship at the Horizon Institute in Charlottesville, after graduation it turned into a job. A year later the Executive Director decided to move on and at (only!) 22 years old, Greenhalgh took his place. Shortly he moved to Washington to work at the international policy arm of the Red Cross. He enjoyed policy, but wanted to be on the front lines in providing humanitarian assistance. The organization was starting an International Response Team which he joined. He found himself flying in helicopters over mudslides in Venezuala, earthquakes in El Salvador and India, and conducting tsunami response in Indonesia. After several years he felt he had hit the ceiling at the Red Cross. He became a serial entrepreneur in the humanitarian aid world. He started his current business in 2008, the Global Emergency Group, and he is in the process of starting a related non-profit organization.

Department chair, David Leblang, has been known to sigh when mentioning law school as an option after graduation. But for many grads, the path naturally leads to this, and has so for years. Stuart Pape chose it (Govt 73, UVA Law 74) and went to work for the Chief Counsel’s Office in the FDA for five years. He says government work is a very rewarding path—work/life balance, opportunity for rapid advancement, and salary equity for women and men.

Stuart PapeAlso, you don’t have to be a lawyer to have a great career working for an Executive Branch agency. Great jobs in policy, as policy analysts, and in legislative affairs, with greater responsibility and intellectual stimulation much earlier in your career. He became the Senior Food Lawyer within three years of getting his law degree. Pape’s professional career has been at the interception of FDA law and policy, and he attributes the policy work to his undergraduate degree from the department.

Kyle Matous and Ethan Thrasher are in what might be the closest thing to politics. Matous works in Representative Pete Sessions office (R-TX) and Thrasher works in Senator Warner’s office (D-VA).

Kyle MatousLike Pape, Matous also took the law school approach. He is now Chief of Staff for Representative Pete Sessions. As a Republican this year, he has more than his fair share of questions about the election. He gingerly answered some and gingerly avoided others. His caution in answering is, no doubt, a result of working with a high visibility politician in the public eye.

When he arrived at UVA he knew he wanted to go into politics. But due to circumstances beyond his control (9/11) he only had three years to complete his studies at UVA. In his third year he had an internship with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. “They put us in the back room of some office building and just dumped mail on the table and we sorted it. We just put it in piles for eight weeks.”

He worked at a Charlottesville start-up for a couple of years then entered law school at Pepperdine. He spent time as an attorney in human rights law in Uganda, working multi-billion dollar arbitration cases at WilmerHale and at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, but none of these areas were what he wanted to devote himself to.

So he returned to the place he said he’d never go again, the Hill. He started as a Staff Assistant for the House Rules Committee. He knew his boss would be leaving shortly, but he had to do something, so he took the risk of staying. Pete Sessions became the head of the Rules Committee in 2013 and in an unusual move kept Matous around. He quickly became a Policy Assistant, then a Special Assistant for a few months, somehow skipped ahead a few steps and became the Policy Director of the Rules Committee. After two years on the committee Representative Sessions brought him on as Chief of Staff. Age 31.

Ethan ThrasherUnlike Matous, Ethan Thrasher loved his internship. During his second year at UVA he got an internship at the Center for Politics where he fell in love with politics. Among other rewards, the internship provided him with the opportunity to work on the Kennedy Half Century book, and to adopt the Center’s bi-partisan spin which let’s him look at both sides.

His colleagues at the Center encouraged him to go for an internship on the Hill. He joined Senator Warner’s office during his third year and happily found they allowed him to prepare briefings and memos—and to make him feel like he’s part of the team. After graduation his thoughts were, “Consulting, all other types of jobs? Forget that, I’m going back to the Hill.” For his first job out of school he returned to Warner’s office and worked in scheduling and working the phones (a highlight he says, “You hear a lot of political conversations, you normally wouldn’t hear…the stories!”). He was fortunate to have a job open up on the legislative side and now works on banking, housing, and transportation policy for the Senator.

He’s back to writing memos and briefings, preparing the Senator for meetings, daily events, and travel.

Vicki BallaghVicki Ballagh got her dream internship between her 3rd and 4th years at Meet The Press. “Fantastic, interesting people.” But she realized, “I want to be the person with the answers, the people on the other side.”

After graduating she started at Bully Pulpit Interactive doing media ad buying. She says, “I was a human Excel spreadsheet, targeting voters for political campaigns and corporate campaigns.” Not exactly what she was looking for. She still wanted to be the person answering the questions.

Right time, right place. Two former Obama staffers were just coming off duties for the administration—Robert Gibbs (Director of Communications and later Press Secretary) and Ben LaBolt (National Press Secretary for President Obama’s re-election campaign) opened the Incite Agency which answers the strategic demands of campaigns needing a digital edge. Ballagh’s experience in media, production, and politics led her to the agency; a colleague passed her resume to the agency who hired her.

Please join us next year for Life After Politics (sign up here to receive announcements and other Department of Politics news). We will have a new set of panelists and mentors covering the realm of politics and sharing what next.


  • 2016 Life After Politics Panel
  • Flash Mentoring
  • Margaret Brennan
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Ezekiel Tan wins Singapore-China Premier Scholarship

Ezekiel Tan (UVA 2008 – Foreign Affairs and International Economics) has been awarded the 2016 Singapore-China Premier Scholarship (SCPS) to pursue a Master degree in International Relations at Peking University this Fall.

The SCPS is awarded by the Singapore-China Foundation. The SCPS is intended for Singapore government officials who would benefit from the exposure to the socio-political and economic developments of China, and obtain deeper insights into the current and future challenges of the country.

Ezekiel previously worked for the international relations divisions of the Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Finance in Singapore.

Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner’s Global Reach

Gabi Kruks-WisnerGabrielle Kruks-Wisner joins the Woodrow Wilson Department of Political Science beginning in the Fall 2016 semester. She comes to the University from Boston College as an Assistant Professor, and from the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies as an Academy Scholar. Her research focuses on citizen-state relations, local governance, and social welfare in developing countries, with a regional focus on India. She has also conducted research in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

Starting in Spring 2017 Kruks-Wisner will teach undergraduate classes about local politics, governance, and the study of political participation at the grass roots level. Being new to the University, Charlottesville, and Virginia, she will update her lessons based on our own communities and organizations, making her classes contemporary and applicable to current events.

“Gabi’s expertise in the politics of India adds to existing strengths across the College; her ability to teach a variety of classes means that students in Politics and in Global Studies will have an opportunity to learn from someone who has spent substantial time in the field.”

—David Leblang

Kruks-Wisner’s field research in Rajasthan, India draws from a massive survey of 2210 households and as 500 interviews in 105 villages. Her book manuscript based on this research, Active Citizenship: Claim-Making & the Pursuit of Social Welfare in Rural India is currently under review. The research is a toolbox for citizen-scholars helping at a pragmatic level, useful to policy makers, grass roots orgs, and other political scientists in an international setting. Kruks-Wisner asks: How can governments better serve and be more accountable to citizensHow can citizens actively and effectively engage the stateWho participates in politics, how, and to what ends?

Kruks-Wisner also will be teaching Global Studies, an interdisciplinary major at UVA.

Kruks-Wisner has a Ph.D. in Political Science and Masters in International Development & Regional Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology from Swarthmore College.

Games Without Frontiers

Anne MengAnne Meng has joined the University of Virginia Department of Politics. She comes to our department from the University of California, Berkeley where she received her Ph.D. in Political Science and an M.A. in Economics.

Her research in Comparative Politics focuses on how political institutions emerge and develop in dictatorships – in particular how autocratic leaders choose to build or exploit their own ruling parties in order to stay in power. Meng uses game theory and statistical methods in her work and has a regional focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. She works with archival data and records, looking at state constitutions and succession rules to measure the institutionalization of parties and regimes. She also tracks ministerial appointments which reveal changing power structures over time.

“Anne’s work brings theoretical and mathematical rigor to the study of policies as she deploys formal, mathematical models of strategic interaction to help understand the complex ways in which countries develop stable political institutions.”

—David Leblang

Meng started graduate school as a China specialist, examining the development and rule of the Chinese Communist Party. Her fieldwork in China revealed how party officials tightly hold onto power, and she became especially interested in the question of how some autocratic parties become especially institutionalized and durable. To gain traction on this question, Meng expanded her regional focus to Sub-Saharan Africa, which provided a great set of cases with rapid development of parties—frequently emerging from rebel groups.

Party building in autocratic regimes is a difficult process to track. Meng has compiled an extensive dataset of post-independence parties and regimes in Sub-Saharan Africa from 1960-2005. She will be looking at more current regimes in the future and plans to expand her dataset to other regions. Going forward she is planning on publishing several articles based on this data and is writing a book on authoritarian institutions and dictatorships.

“Anne has a knack for finding creative solutions to thorny research challenges. This is exhibited in an original multi-method strategy for achieving causal inference that we developed in our research.”

—Brian Palmer-Rubin

She has published two papers co-authored with Brian Palmer-Rubin (Democracy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School): Gerrymandering Opposition: Minority-Concentrated Districts and Electoral Competition in Mexico, forthcoming in Studies In Comparative International Development, and A Case for Case Studies: A Multi-Method Strategy for Ecological Inference in Qualitative and Multi-Method Research.

Meng comes to the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics with a particular interest in our strong Comparative Politics faculty and in the prospect of working with Carol Mershon (Institutions and Coalitions), Dan Gingerich (Elections), David Waldner (Authoritarian Regimes), Denise Walsh (Institutions and Democratization), and Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl (Conflict), whose works dovetail nicely with her own.

UVA Visit Day 2016

The application process is now closed.

Are you thinking about attending graduate school in Political Science? Do you want to learn more?

For students from under-represented groups considering getting a Ph.D. in Politics

This event is for students from underrepresented groups who want to learn more about political science graduate school and the Politics Department at UVA. Accepted students will have their travel and hotel costs covered to spend the day visiting the department on October 6th, 2016.

The visit will include:

  • breakfast social
  • individual and small group meetings with professors to discuss students’ intellectual interests
  • attending classes
  • information sessions on applying to graduate school, funding opportunities,
  • mentoring, and graduate student life
  • information session with the Director of Diversity Programs
  • socializing with current graduate students

Applications are now closed.
To apply, please click here. 

Deadline: applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, so students should apply as early as possible, but no later than September 9th 2016.

Diversity Day

It’s No Game: Experiments in Conflict and Violence

When is a game not a game? When it’s deadly serious.
Todd Sechser, P.I., and Abigail Post, Project and Lab Manager, presented preliminary findings from their laboratory experiments in conflict and violence to an audience including John Luginsland, a technical adviser in the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), and Rana Ganguly, Director of Sponsored Research and Development from UVA’s College of Arts and Sciences. Sechser’s research tests assumptions about how being exposed to violence can shape our behaviors and actions.
Todd Sechser presentingThe experiments Sechser presented are designed to tease out what happens to a person after exposure to violent media: do they become more aggressive? Or more empathetic? The academic literature offers conflicting answers. Studies in psychology have shown that video game violence seems to cause more aggressive behavior in experimental subjects, but other research has found that exposure to actual violence seems to decrease it. Sechser’s experiments, which involved more than 500 subjects, will help reconcile this disagreement. Initial papers from his project are forthcoming in the Journal of Conflict Resolution and International Studies Quarterly. Ultimately he hopes to field-test these experiments in countries that have experienced large-scale violence.
To run his experiments, Sechser built an experimental laboratory from scratch, which he launched in the spring of 2016. Twelve laptops, headphones, portable partitions, and heavy-duty wire carts make the lab mobile, giving him the ability to conduct experiments anywhere. The lab manager, Abigail Post, can set up the machines and software in a matter of minutes. Overall, Sechser’s laboratory team consists of 10 graduate students and more than 20 undergraduates.
Sechser’s program is the outcome of a seed grant from the Quantitative Collaborative, an initiative out of the Dean’s office. QC Seed Grants are designed to provide researchers with the initial funding to gather the elements for larger grant applications. Sechser’s seed grant helped him lay the groundwork for a large-scale grant from the Air Force to launch his experimental lab and conduct  experiments. Seed grants are supposed to work like this and the Dean’s office has high hopes for their investments. The QC has continued to provide support for the lab by helping to purchase additional materials and equipment to keep it running.
Sechser and Post plan to continue their experiments to help answer other important questions about conflict and violence.  How does violence shape group identities and behavior? What is the role of emerging technologies in civil wars and insurgencies? In the long term, Sechser hopes to make the laboratory a permanent fixture in the Politics Department, with dedicated space and staff to help answer these questions.

A Full Plate, the Politics of Food at Morven Summer Institute

Have you been confused about summer? Have you asked “what is it for?”, “how much does it cost?” , “does it make my GPA look big?”
Get ready to be unconfused. What if you spent your summer tucked into the rolling green hills of Virginia learning how everything, SIMPLY EVERYTHING, is related to food? As you push your peas around on your plate, it all begins to make sense: food is politics and politics is power.

Paul Freedman and Leslie Hubbard after mindfulness exercise
Paul Freedman and Leslie Hubbard with Politics of Food participants after mindfulness exercise

You’re taking Paul Freedman’s Politics of Food—that’s why it makes sense. The dense network of food, its producers, consumers, distributors, regulators, farmers, workers, marketers, restauranteurs, are everything to him. During the class he examines controversies over agriculture subsidies, labeling requirements, taxation, farming practices, food safety, advertising and education. Each of these things leads to an examination of American democracy—representation, regulation, legislation, and public opinion. Ultimately the class examines the ways in which the politics of food represents both a reflection and a distortion of fundamental democratic principles.
For support he draws from Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, all the big minds/big mouths in food. During this session he brings to the table D.C. food lobbyist Stuart Pape and mindfulness instructor Leslie Hubbard, from the Contemplative Sciences Center who teaches mindful eating, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, Martha Stafford of the Charlottesville Cooking School, Anna Maria Siega-Riz who helps the USDA develop Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Christianne Queiroz—Legal Aid Society and Program Director at the Virginia Farm Workers, and Seth Wispelwey, director of The Arbor, Charlottesville.
Freedman teaches Politics of Food during J-Term and Summer Session. This Summer Session, it’s a full-course 5½ hours a day for 10 days. The current session’s location is especially interesting—held on Morven Farm’s 2,913 acres, which includes formal gardens, a Japanese tea garden,  horse barns, historic homes, a meeting barn complete with a movie theater, and a one-acre kitchen garden down the road from Monticello. Partial scholarships are available.
Remember: 99% of our time is spent thinking about food. Only the other 1% is attention focused on Donald Trump.

Carol Mershon’s Global Service for ♀ in Academia

Carol Mershon at Women in Academia GroupCarol Mershon will be presenting her work Advancing Women’s Research in Higher Education at an “all school” lecture at  University of Venda in South Africa on June 15th, 2016. As part of the four day retreat, she will co-lead discussions on publication and research strategies to equalize women’s research in academia. This event immediately follows her adventures in Finland, 9,000 miles (14,000 km) away. Mershon twice previously spoke at Venda and views her visit as part of her professional commitment to service. The University of Virginia encourages service as an integral part of a professor’s work; at UVA Mershon is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion in the Department of Politics, incorporates service into the UVA CHARGE initiative—an NSF ADVANCE program, consulting for Journal of Politics Task Force on Gender, as a presenter at Women in Academia, and with Denise Walsh as co-Primary Investigator of the NSF-funded Gendering Political Science, among others.  She says her program in South Africa is designed to “turn political science in on itself.” To illustrate her method she interlocks her ten fingers and reverses her hands in a gesture to reveal wiggling fingers, a gesture familiar as “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and there’s the people.” Using the tools and data methods available to political scientists, she will engage participants to reform limits and predjudice in the discipline by using good data and clear methods.  She indicates her strategy blurs the line between service and research. She is using it to reform curricula, is teaching it to her Graduate Research Assistants, and of course will be sharing it at the University of Venda.

Money, Money, Money! Finnish Conference Cashing-In on the Work of Mershon, Gordon, and Simons

Mershon, Gordon, SimonsWhy do songs about money always repeat money, money, money? But I digress.
Carol Mershon, Geoff Gordon, Jennifer Simons will be presenting at the Institutions in Context workshop at the University of Tampere in Tampere, Finland. The theme of the conference is The Role of Money in Politics and that is on everyone’s minds in this election year. Apparently money is always on the minds of politicians—it’s all about the Benjamins, the baht, the peso, the lira,  the euro, and soon the Tubmans. :)
For her first time in Finland, Carol Mershon will present Chiefs in South Africa: What Role in Upholding or Undermining Inequalities? The research, part of a larger work, (a DPU—discrete publishable unit), is being presented to garner feedback from the conference participants whom she trusts based on the reputation the conference has built over the years. Her co-authors have lauded the workshop. Mershon also uses the roster of past participants when deciding to where to present. A researcher of Mershon’s reputation can be choosy where she expends her service and outreach; “It’s the people who make a conference,” she says.
Two UVA Ph.D. graduate students will also present. Encouraged by Mershon, Geoff Gordon and Jenifer Simons submitted topics. The conference is selective about who attends.  
“Geoff Gordon and Jennifer Simons submitted strong applications,” conference organizer Katri Seiberg writes. “Each of them had a research theme that corresponded nicely with the general theme—from Gordon’s work on inequality and elites, which fit with a sub theme on inequality, to Simon’s work on the radical right, which has a nice overlap with several other papers.”
Geoff Gordon, 4th year grad student is a Jefferson Scholar and concentrates on the fascinating topic of democratic backsliding in new democracies. Lately he has been looking at oligarchs in Chile, Thailand, and Turkey, all featured largely in the news; the presidents of each country have been maneuvering power positions, buying up media, rewriting laws to secure and cement their power, and generally bending democratic methods to support their needs. Gordon will present on Inequality, Elite Bias, and Democratic Breakdown at the panel on inequality, 2016. The presentation is based on his dissertation work.
Jennifer Simons presents Radical-Right Backlash in Europe: Church-State Relations, Individual Religiosity, and Party Success, on the relationship between church-state relations, tolerance, and the success of the Radical Right in Europe. She argues that states that have pursued strict policies of secularism in public life have paradoxically fueled intolerance in their broader population. This intolerance is what fuels the support for Radical Right-wing parties.
The conference organizer, Katri Sieberg, has known Mershon for years through her research and notes “This year’s theme had a nice overlap with her work, so I invited her to participate.” Sieberg also co-authors with Charles Holt, University of Virginia Economics, and she occasionally visits UVA to run experiments. Also presenting, UVA Alum A.J. Bostian (UVA Economics, Ph.D. 2008) previously a lecturer at UVA and now a Fulbright Professor in the North American Studies program at the University of Tampere, has taught a number of classes in the Master’s Degree Program in Public Choice. He will teach future courses in the program and serves as a mentor for many of the students. The complete workshop program can be found here.
Sieberg says “We have no official relationship between our schools, but we welcome cooperation and would be interested in developing more cooperation.” Mershon notes that Sieberg builds a creative environment for conversation and relationships, an evening boat ride in Tampere’s Pyhäjärvi lake and potential saunas (!). Past participants have co-authored successful papers as a result of the conference, so it’s best not to question Sieberg’s methods.
Directly after Finland Mershon will head far, far south (9,017 miles/14,512 km) to the University of Venda, South Africa, to present Advancing Women’s Research in Higher Education at an invited lecture at the School of Human and Social Sciences. 
Tampere is in southern Finland, close to the water. Geoff Gordon has indicated there may be an exploration across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia. Simons will also go to Estonia and add Latvia, and St. Petersburg, Russia as well.