Pi Sigma Alpha welcomed more than 200 students, faculty, and guests to Washington, DC over President’s Day Weekend for the 7th Annual National Student Research Conference.
The program featured 119 paper presentations by Pi Sigma Alpha members from across the United States. In total, 49 Pi Sigma Alpha chapters were represented. Oakland University, Purdue University, Temple University, the University of Mary Washington, and the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee all had six or more students present their work.
“Membership in Pi Sigma Alpha comes with many great benefits, with the opportunity to attend the National Research Conference being one of the most valuable,” commented Moataz Abdelrasoul, president of the Alpha Alpha Rho chapter at Youngstown State University and a two time attendee. “Presenting research, interacting with fellow panelists and discussants, and networking with Pi Sigma Alpha members from across the country, all combine to make the conference experience immensely beneficial for all involved,” he added.
On Friday evening, the event kicked off with a special opening reception at the National Postal Museum. Following the reception, attendees took part in a night tour of the National Mall with stops for viewing and photos at the Capitol building, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial.
The conference was held for a fifth year on the campus of George Washington University, and the Graduate School of Political Management served as host sponsor. Panel sessions across all major fields in political science took place over four time slots during the day. Doctoral students from George Washington, Georgetown, George Mason, and other local universities served as chairs and discussants. These discussants offered detailed feedback on the participants’ work, enabling students to think beyond the paper in its current form and understand how to build on it further.
The discussants, nearly all Pi Sigma Alpha members from their undergraduate days, played an important role in the weekend as they interacted with students and shared advice. For Courtney Blackington, now a PhD student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the weekend was a means to give back. Courtney had presented at the conference during her undergraduate days at the College of William & Mary and was excited to take on the role of discussant and share with the students her journey into graduate school.
Pi Sigma Alpha is home to more than 800 chapters, and the diversity of those chapters is on display at the conference. Attendees from major research institutions as well as small liberal arts colleges take part in the event. “This conference is a special opportunity for attendees to present their research in a professional setting,” said Pi Sigma Alpha Executive Director Sean Twombly. He added, “it’s also an opportunity for students to engage with peers from different types of institutions. All weekend long I watch as students connect around their research and a passion for topics that are meaningful to them.” For many students this is their first experience presenting at a conference, and while nerves are common in the hallway before a presentation, the poise of students in front of the panel room is always impressive.
The excitement of the weekend had an impact on Pi Sigma Alpha National President Rosalee Clawson of Purdue University, who commented,”What an amazing conference!” The student research presentations were wonderful, and the professional development sessions were top-notch. Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings brought down the house with her passionate call for students not to simply “observe and research politics, but to actively engage the political world around them.”
In 2018 Pi Sigma Alpha added a half day series of Professional Panels on Sunday. These sessions have become the highlight of the weekend. The first set of panels are oriented around “Going to Law School,” “Going to Graduate School,” and “Living and Working in Washington.” Each panel features Pi Sigma Alpha members – many of whom attended the conference as undergraduates – who share their experiences and advise students thinking about next steps. The panelists are typically near peers: individuals who are in their early-to-mid 20s and sit in roles where an audience member can say “I want to be where they are in 3-5 years.” In the second time slot students select from a series of policy panels featuring senior Washington insiders. These panels are oriented around Legislative Policy, Foreign Policy/Security, and Advocacy. Among those taking part in 2020 were John Lawrence, former Chief of Staff to Nancy Pelosi; Theresa Whalen, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security; and Nan Aron, President of the, Alliance for Justice.
For Kyle Peraino of Oakland University the whole weekend had a real impact. “This conference helped me find my path after graduation. I was considering law school, but realized there are so many more opportunities out there for political science! Applying for grad school is next for me!”
Since Pi Sigma Alpha introduced the National Student Research Conference in 2014 the event has drawn nearly 600 students to DC. Many have used the conference as a jump off to law school or graduate school. Of the 400 or so who have graduated from their undergraduate institution, , 50 are enrolled in or have just graduated from law school. For Masters and PhD programs that number is nearly 100,
In 1919 the first mission statement for Pi Sigma Alpha outlined its purpose: “to encourage the scientific and practical study of problems of government, to foster reforms in our governmental machinery, and to aid in the education of the electorate in problems of government.” In 2020, it is clear student members of Pi Sigma Alpha continue to uphold those goals and their research will have an impact on our future.
If you have questions, contact Sean Twombly at the Pi Sigma Alpha national office firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-349-9285
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, PhD, president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, offered a passionate lunchtime talk inspiring students to use their research to make a difference in our country. A political scientist with a doctorate from Purdue University, she is a member of Pi Sigma Alpha from her undergraduate days at Prairie View A&M University. She used personal stories about her advocacy work on campus at Prairie View and its impact on her future research and interest in politics and policy. She has served on the staff of the House Ways and Means Committee, as chief of staff for Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY), and as vice president of research and programs at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, as well as, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party.
The Pi Sigma Alpha Research Conference gave me the opportunity to present the research I want to spend the majority of my professional career developing. Knowing that the reception on my paper was positive and having a discussant provide me with more sources to expand my paper truly gives me the confidence to further pursue my paper in other academic avenues.
New Jersey City University