Huskey Awards 2017 Presentations

April 10, 2017

The Huskey Awards are a place for A&S graduate students to share their research to an audience of many fields—presentations may be oral (10-12 minutes) or presented in a postering session (4-5 minutes). The graduate student presenters span Arts and Humanities, Biological & Biomedical Sciences, Physical Sciences & Mathematics, and Social & Behavorial Sciences. Three participants from the Department of Politics presented this year, Yaping Wang (International Relations) and Robert Kubinec (Foreign Affairs) in the Social Sciences competiton and Ross Mittiga (Government) in Arts and Humanities. All three presented orally. Ms. Wang and Mr. Mittiga both were both won second place for their categories.
The Graduate Student Council puts on the annual showcase as their most important event of the year with sponsorship from University of Virginia Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Ross MittigaRoss Mittiga’s presentation, What’s the Problem with Geo-Engineering?, was both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Unlike many of the Huskey Award speakers, this presentation was not based on his dissertation—rather he followed a crooked path from the literature on Climate Change to the dark corner of emergency response, solutions of last resort. Geo-Engineering is a topic which should be a challenge to the rational thinker as well as any ethical thinker.

Rarely does a presentation automatically grab your attention like this one. Geo-engineering is a dramatic and extreme approach to global warming; it involves deliberate, large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change. There are two primary categories: Solar Radiation Management (SRM), and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). Within these categories are many proposed methods; among these Mr. Mittiga spoke on one of the most common proposals, stratospheric sulfate injections (SSI), which involves releasing sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere to reduce how much sunlight reaches the earth—like an enormous smog parasol. It sounds so simple, and the (known) side effect?—the sky will turn from blue to white. There are many variants on geo-engineering, all scary and many are ethically questionable.

At the start of graduate school, he was determined do something useful with political theory. After a conversation with Danielle Allen, a political theorist at Princeton University he decided on the issue of climate change, the most important problem of our generation, a problem he had followed since high school. She revealed her methodological approach—identify a problem and then work backward to whatever literature is most relevant, finding and using primary texts. Allen’s problem-first approach inspired him to place it at the center of his research.

Mr. Mittiga is currently running for State Delegate, Virginia District 57.

Robert KuninecRobert Kubinec’s When Elites Fail to Undermine Democracy: Tunisia’s Regime Transition Comparative Perspective Huskey Awards presentation draws from a chapter in his dissertation. He sees the Awards audience as interdisciplinary, and an opportunity to present with clarity and focus to non-political scientists. He says “If I can make the topic clear to a general audience, I should have no trouble with political scientists.” but also indicates just because someone IS a political scientist, doesn’t mean they will be familiar with his topic or his methods, and the Huskey presentation helps him hone his work.

Mr. Kubinec works hard for his clarity. For his Ph.D. he spent eight months in Tunisia and Egypt conducting research. In his  work he asks why and how do the behaviors of businessmen affect the governing bodies of these Middle East countries, why would they become a democracy and how would they remain that way? Tunisia’s democracy is now ancient among all the world’s democracies – 6 years old. Egypt which loudly became a democracy during Arab Spring, slipped back into military rule after only a few years. These two countries provide great material for his work in comparative politics and he picked them strategically—they’ve gone through recent and dramatic change, are relatively safe for field work (especially compared to Lybia which the Egyptian military uses as an example of what chaos could happen without their strong guidance)— and he indicates there is lots to learn from juxtaposing the two countries.

Before attending UVA for his Ph.D., Mr. Kubinec was in the Foreign Service for two years in Saudia Arabia. He got a Master’s in Middle East Studies at George Washington University and went to Jordan as part of a research component while attending; he also speaks Arabic and French and received his BA in International Relations at Wheaton College. He is patently obsessed with the Middle East.

His research continues and he is currently working with Professor John Owen on investigating Twitter use during uprisings in the Middle East. The app presents at least as much of a risk as an opportunity—activists and rebels sharing information about their activities, and that data being harvested and acted upon by regimes to identify and attack them.

Yaping WangAs a political scientist, Yaping Wang has always had an interest in territorial disputes and is now looking at how governments propagandize these disputes. Border conflicts are the most dangerous kind of international event and the kind most likely to turn into a militarized conflict. Propaganda could make these disputes even more dangerous and long-lasting as well.

Her dissertation reaches into the topic using four conflicts/crises between China and Vietnam as case studies — the naval clash in the Paracels in 1974, the border war in 1979, the skirmish in the Spratlys in 1988, and finally the oil rig standoff in 2014. She uses her work-in-progress dissertation as a basis for her presentation The Dog that Barks: State-led Propaganda Campaigns on Territorial Disputes.

Ms. Wang collects evidence in original sources through extensive fieldwork in China and Vietnam, including archival work in numerous locations and interviews with retired government officials and journalists. She recognizes the difficulty in conducting field work in authoritarian countries, but acknowledges that it is still possible to overcome some of these challenges through creative means and hard work. She also carries out computer-assisted content analysis of People’s Daily to provide quantitative data on these cases. She’s devised a simple and effective matrix to determine causal inference in the government’s media behavior.

A native of People’s Republic of China (PRC), she is now a permanent resident of the U.S. and lives in Washington, D.C. She is starting in the fall a predoctoral fellowship at George Washington University to continue to work on her dissertation.

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