The University of Michigan’s Political Science Department is one of the finest departments in the nation when it comes to innovative research produced by faculty members and top-notch preparation of graduate students for an intensely competitive academic job market.  In addition, the strength of our undergraduate curriculum and the exceptional achievements of Political Science undergraduates also play an important role in fostering an intellectually rigorous environment at all levels in the department.  

The Political Science Honors Program

One significant component the undergraduate curriculum is the Political Science Honors Program, whose goal is to provide juniors and seniors with the opportunity to undertake an independent and sustained research project of their choice.   While students expand their knowledge of politics by writing an honors thesis, more importantly, they learn how to formulate and answer complex questions about politics.  

What type of student will benefit most from participation in the Honors Program?  The program is best suited for strong students who thrive under the challenges of independent research and those who want to write a thesis for its own sake.   Getting into the program is no easy feat; interested students must fulfill several prerequisites in order to be admitted.   The student must complete PS 381 (Research Design) before their senior year with a grade of A or A-, submit a research proposal, secure the support of a thesis adviser, and maintain an overall and political science grade point average of 3.5 or higher.  

Writing an honors thesis places significant demands on a student’s time and effort, but the rewards upon completing the thesis are worth the toil.  While students who complete an honors thesis gain insight into the nature of academic research in a doctoral program and the life of a scholar, the skills they develop are broadly applicable.  The Honors Program “gives students an experience and skills that are going to be valuable in most professional jobs: independence, persistence over time, and the ability to ask and answer complex questions,” says Dr. Mika Lavaque-Manty, who oversees the Political Science Honors program.   A few examples of recent undergraduate thesis titles follow:

“Divergent Political Dynamics of Islamic Banking in Britain and France” (Anthony Chase)

“A Study in Futility: Why Perpetually Losing Voters Keep Coming Back on Election Day” (Patrick Cherry)

“Enough Being Reasonable: Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Moral Absolutism’s Contribution to Democracy” (Nicholas Haas)

“The Exception: An Alternative Explanation of the American Outlier Effect in Treaty Ratification” (Erika Mayer)

“How Social Policy and Scandal Transformed Brazil’s Partido dos Trabalhadores” (Seth Soderborg)

“Changing the American Character – The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965: A Congressional Miscalculation or a Civil Rights Triumph?” (Alex Winkelman)

Patrick Cherry, an honors student who graduated this past April, is attending law school at Wayne State University this fall.  An avid motorcyclist and father of three children, he says he will always remember the “first time I laid eyes on the steps of Angell Hall.” Patrick remains humble despite overcoming incredible odds in order to return to school and complete his degree.

Awards and Recognition for Other Political Science Undergraduates

The department considers all undergraduates (both regular and honors students) for a number of awards each year to recognize outstanding achievement and effort.  One of the oldest awards is the William Jennings Bryan Prize, which has been bestowed for over seventy-five years to students who “demonstrate potential in the field of political science.” William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) was a leading politician who ran for President three times, and served as Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson.  

One recipient of the 2012 Bryan Prize, Erika Mayer, who was also an honors student, says that “it was amazing to be recognized out of such a large department as someone who has potential in the field.  I was honored to have won because it’s such a prestigious award.  My family was really excited and proud to see me recognized at graduation.  I hope I can live up to the honor of this award in my future.”  Erika is attending George Washington University Law School this fall.  

Erika also received the Virginia Voss Award, given to honors women for separate categories of academic writing, imaginative prose, poetry, and journalism.   Katherine Jean Bies, another Political Science undergraduate, was also winner of the Voss Award.  

Seth Soderborg, an honors student, received a Bryan Prize and the Marshall Sahlins Award, named for a prominent anthropologist who attended the University of Michigan and served on the faculty during the 1960s.  

Kristen Marotta received a 2012 Bryan Prize and was also named a James B. Angell Scholar for her achievement of an all “A” record for two or more consecutive terms.  She will be attending the University of Minnesota Law School this fall and plans to pursue a joint degree in law and political science.  

Michael Powers was recognized for both his academic accomplishments and service to the university with the Bryan Leadership Prize, which is given to a student who demonstrates exceptional promise in political science and who is also active in departmental and university organizations.  

Anthony Chase was given the 2012 Grace Award, which honors the most outstanding paper written by a Michigan undergraduate student published in the Michigan Journal of Political Science.   Anthony wrote a thesis on unexpected growth in Islamic banking in Britain and France.   He moved to Paris recently to begin work with the French NGO (non-governmental organization) Libraries Without Borders.

The achievements of these ambitious young adults are testaments to the strengths and opportunities that abound in Michigan’s Political Science undergraduate program.   The opportunity to pursue diverse interests among the top scholars in the world is available to all who pursue a concentration or minor in Political Science.  Be sure to visit the Website or the Political Science Office on the 5th floor of Haven Hall for more information about the program.