Pi Sigma Alpha

Penniman Graduate Scholarship History

Since 1995, Pi Sigma Alpha has honored the legacy of former national Executive Director Howard Penniman by awarding a scholarship named in his honor. The Penniman Graduate Scholarships are awarded annually to five society members entering graduate school in political science. As part of our 100th anniversary— and the 25th anniversary of the scholarship program— we look back on the program’s impact.

The scholarship began when Allison Spitzer Rozek, a senior and chapter president at the University of Florida, received $1,250 from the Pi Sigma Alpha committee in 1995. The inaugural Penniman scholar would stay true to her collegiate interest in political science by completing her MPA at Florida Atlantic University and working for over two decades for the government across the state of Wisconsin. 

Over 70 students have since joined Rozek as recipients of this scholarship, currently valued at $2,000. Most recently, five winners were named in 2019, with two headed for doctoral programs in political science and three enrolling in Master’s programs.

Across the 800 chapters of Pi Sigma Alpha, no chapter has more scholarship winners than the Rho Omicron Chapter at Tufts University. Tufts members have been awarded the scholarship four times (2006 and 2016-18). Today, three of these winners are in doctoral programs and one is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

“It was encouraging to be recognized by Pi Sigma Alpha as a 2016 recipient of the Howard Penniman Scholarship, which helped me cover some research costs as I started my PhD at Princeton,” says Will Freeman, who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science at Tufts. “As a PhD student, I have been studying subnational democratization in Latin America, starting with some fieldwork in Colombia last summer.”

Like Freeman, many Penniman scholars have gone directly to graduate school from college and are able to speak positively about the financial support that the scholarship represented in that instance. 

“I remember feeling very honored… to receive recognition from PSA,” says Jaime Settle, who was awarded the scholarship in 2007. “And frankly, I also felt an enormous sense of relief. We didn’t get our first TA paycheck in grad school until almost November and things were really financially tight that fall! That money made a huge difference.”

“With the scholarship, I knew that I’d be able to move to UNC Chapel Hill earlier and hit the ground running by learning methods early,” says John Curiel, who was paying tuition both for himself and his siblings at the time he received the scholarship in 2013. “Therefore, the scholarship allowed me to move on with my life and put me in the position to succeed.”

Along with its immediate financial benefits, earning this scholarship has allowed recipients to formally launch their studies in fields that have come to structure their long-term academic and career interests. Over half of the 78 Penniman Scholars have gone on to pursue their PhDs, while another 17 of them have earned an MA as a terminal degree. 

Rachel Houston, who used the scholarship she earned in 2017 to fund her PhD studies at the University of Minnesota, found that “my interests completely changed based on the coursework I took at Minnesota.” She is now hard at work on her dissertation project, which “will examine the relationship between political polarization and the perceptions that people have about the Supreme Court and its legitimacy.” 

Settle had already been fascinated by the interplay between natural and political sciences as a college student at the University of Richmond. Then, “once I started grad school [at the University of California at San Diego], a meeting with my dissertation advisor flipped my focus from the politics of science policy to the biology of politics,” she recalls. “Looking for genetic contributions to political behavior was really intriguing, given my background in science.”

Formulating these specific interests in graduate school has since guided Settle through her tenure as an Associate Professor of Political Science at the College of William & Mary, where she founded the Social Networks and Political Psychology Lab. This project— which Settle conceived as an outlet for supporting students as they “[explore] the biological, psychological, and social underpinnings of political behavior— represents an extension of her scholarship in the biology of politics, which earning the Howard Penniman Scholarship allowed her to formally pursue.

To be considered for the Howard Penniman Scholarship, students need to have demonstrated a record of academic achievement and a strong engagement with their Pi Sigma Alpha chapter during their time in college. Those who ultimately earned the scholarship are now able to reflect on the positive ways in which being involved with Pi Sigma Alpha influenced their college experience and provided more clarity for their career paths.

“I would say that the opportunity to engage in meaningful research and host events that engaged the entire college in politics were the most rewarding,” says Curiel, who was active with his PSA chapter at Ohio Northern University. “The opportunity to engage in stimulating conversations additionally very much set up my passion for political science in graduate school.”

“With the scholarship, I knew that I’d be able to move to UNC Chapel Hill earlier and hit the ground running by learning methods early. Therefore, the scholarship allowed me to move on with my life and put me in the position to succeed.”

John Curiel, Ohio Northern University, 2013 winner
Today a PhD student in political science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


“The Pi Sigma Alpha National Student Research Conference was the first time that I truly experienced what life would be like if I was a political scientist,” says Houston, who was president of the Phi Rho Chapter during her senior year at Coastal Carolina University. “When I left the conference, I felt inspired and more prepared to take on graduate school.”

“I think the most important thing about PSA is the opportunity to connect with students and faculty who enjoy the intellectual engagement of political science,” says Settle.

For more of his professional life Howard Penniman played a role with Pi Sigma Alpha. His service as a member of the Executive Council began in 1962 and he was later elected national president (1966-68). In 1975 he was named national Executive Director, a role he held until 1991. A graduate of Louisiana State University (BA 1936), Penniman was inducted into the Theta chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha at LSU in 1947.  He completed his doctorate in political science at the University of Minnesota in 1941 and served on the faculty of Georgetown University for more than 20 years. On top of a standout career as a political science educator, he work for the U.S. Department of State in multiple capacities. As a consultant, he later observed elections in a multitude of tense regions including South Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam War and in Zimbabwe the year the nation formally shed its label as Southern Rhodesia.