The Society's Expansions Initiative sees successful first year, with opportunity to grow

October 28, 2020

This was the inaugural year of the Society for Political Methodology’s Expansions Initiative. Formerly titled the Undergraduate Diversity Initiative, the purpose of the Expansions Initiative is to improve the diversity of the Society for Political Methodology (SPM), and political science more broadly, by improving the undergraduate pipeline of graduate students from historically underrepresented and underserved communities. The initiative provides funds for promising undergraduate students interested in developing their research skills, facilitates faculty mentorship with these students, and assists the students as they prepare to apply for graduate programs. As we close in on the end of the first year of the initiative and begin preparing for the second, we want to update the community on our progress and outline our plans for the future.

For some time, there has been a growing awareness that political science faces important diversity challenges. Women and minorities are underrepresented in the discipline, but this problem is particularly acute in the subfield of political methodology. Recent data from the American Political Science Association (APSA) show that more than 80% of the Political Methodology section’s membership is non-Hispanic white. Only 4% of the membership identifies as Latino or Hispanic American, 5 % identify as East Asian or Asian American, and only 1 % of the section’s membership identifies as Black. Efforts to improve faculty diversity across the academy are an important first step to making our discipline more representative, but these strategies alone will not suffice. If we want to improve the diversity of SPM membership and political methodology faculty, we need to improve the diversity of our graduate programs. Rather than wait for the long arc of progress, a number of members resolved that SPM should be more proactive on this front. The Expansions Initiative aims to increase the diversity of graduate programs in political science by providing undergraduate students with unique learning and research experiences that will stimulate interest in political methodology and, hopefully, encourage participants to apply to graduate school and become members of SPM.

With generous contributions from the SPM membership and funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF), we were able to support twenty students selected from a highly competitive pool of nearly 80 applicants. The students participated in the first sessions of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research. We initially intended to support six students, paying for their Summer Program tuition and providing for their room and board. As a consequence of the pandemic, the ICPSR Summer Program was held online this year. While this prevented participants from traveling to idyllic Ann Arbor, Michigan over the summer, it allowed us to support a larger number of participants. The students participated in a range of classes, from introductory statistics to time series analysis. The participants were counseled on which classes to enroll in based on their experience and interests, regularly met with a series of Summer Program affiliated mentors who offered guidance and support, and developed a national network through the Initiative’s Slack channel and a series of online events.

Of the twenty students that participated in the Summer Program, thirteen have been placed with faculty mentors. Through collaboration with these faculty mentors and their host universities, collaborative research is being supported during the Fall semester. This faculty mentorship not only provides valuable research experience, it provides these students with access to some of the richest networks within the society. The experience should not only make these students more competitive if, and when, they apply to graduate school, it may also produce publishable research that will help these students in the coming years, as they enter increasingly competitive academic and professional job markets. Several of the students are preparing applications for graduate schools. In this respect, we view the inaugural year of the Expansions Initiative as a success and we are hoping to build on this success moving forward.

We need your help. There are a number of ways you can contribute. We need more faculty mentors. We were able to place all of the participants with faculty mentors this year but we may need more as the initiative grows. If you can’t participate as a faculty mentor, you might be interested in participating in a more limited role. We are hoping to set up networks for the participants that share their interest or might be able to offer them advice on research or the graduate admissions process. We are particularly interested in soliciting the participation of SPM members who are currently serving as graduate directors. You might be able to meet with the students; you might also consider waiving application fees for students that participate in the program. And of course, we need more resources. Thanks to the hard work of Betsy Sinclair (Washington University St. Louis) and Suzanna Linn (Pennsylvania State University) The Expansions Initiative was supported, in large part, by NSF funds. This year will be asking members, members’ departments and universities, non-profit institutions, and corporate sponsors to contribute funds so that we can maintain and grow the initiative in the coming years.

We are proud of the work we have done this year but we have a lot of room to grow. This not only requires resources for students but members who have time, energy, and ideas that can help move the project forward. Our hope is that the initiative not only becomes a long-term venture but that the growth of the initiative will strengthen the society by improving the diversity of our membership and the quality of our community. If you are interested in contributing time, resources, or feel that you can provide any other assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Clayton Webb

Director, SPM Expansions Initiative

Assistant Professor

Political Science

University of Kansas