Undergraduate Research Program Benefits Students

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

By Maire Callanan '14

Nicole Berns ’14 (political science/comparative literature) is a perfect example of how students can engage with their studies and participate in groundbreaking research in their field of interest. 

Through the Undergraduate Research Engagement Program (UREP) in the Department of Political Science, Berns works with PhD candidates Matthew MacWilliams and Edward Erikson on a research project that engages Facebook metrics to measure campaign effectiveness. It's been getting quite a bit of attention in the media. Since Politico Playbook published their research, Policy MicBusiness JournalIn The Capitol, and TechPresident have discussed it.

“I became involved in UREP because I wanted to engage in political science from a new perspective,” says Berns, “When Matthew told me about their research project, I immediately wanted to be part of it. Social media has the potential to redefine the approach of election campaigns. I hoped to learn how.”

UREP is designed to partner advanced undergraduate political science and legal studies majors with faculty for hands-on, one-on-one research experiences. The program is unique because it offers a new model for undergraduate education in the social sciences. It trains students to work collaboratively with faculty to develop studies with real world significance and to carry them out with practical, readily transferable skills that will provide them with a crucial edge in the job market.

As a research assistant in the ongoing study, Berns is aiding MacWilliams and Erikson in discovering whether Facebook can predict who wins Senate seats in 2014. In order to engage Facebook metrics to measure campaign effectiveness, they are examining growth of the candidate’s fan base, growth of those engaged with the candidate’s page, and the campaign’s success in mobilizing people.

Berns says the research has been very well received, especially in Washington. Her involvement in the project has also led to networking opportunities with professionals in different fields who have reached out to give feedback on the research. This is significant for Berns because she plans on moving to Washington after graduation and becoming an active part in politics. She credits UREP with enriching her educational experience and paving a path for her career.

“If you are the type of student who enjoys being engaged with what you study, I definitely recommend UREP,” Berns urges, “Working with my professors and the Political Science Department has offered me a unique perspective and approach to academia that I would not have gained had I not become a research assistant.”

To learn more about UREP, click here

Maire Callanan '14 (legal Studies/Spanish) is a communications assistant in the Department of Political Science.