March 27, 2019

Students garner political experience, present theses

Goucher students are diving into the political process this semester with hands-on learning experiences across the U.S. Six Goucher students will present their senior theses April 4 at the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago. Additionally, five students will attend the Model Senate at Stetson University in Florida this weekend, and a record number of 16 Goucher students attended the Model UN at Harvard in February.

  • Students with Model UN competed in February with 3,000 students from around the world.

 “The old adage is that you don’t really know something until you try to do it or try to teach it. We actually have students do both,” says Nina Kasniunas, advisor for Model Senate and associate professor of political science.

Kasniunas will never forget one of her students, who identified herself as an introvert, was a party leader in Model Senate when everything was going in her favor. “She came up to me and said, ‘Nina, I know what it’s like to be drunk with power, and I love it.’ That kind of experience of what power feels like—you can read about it,” Kasniunas says, “but feeling it is different. The other side of it is when you can’t access that power and you hit every single obstacle, no matter how much you care about an issue or how much you try.”

David Kahana ’21 is the leader of Goucher’s Model UN and a member of Model Senate, and what he has found most valuable is knowing how to read people and social situations. Particularly at Model UN, where there were 3,000 students from around the world trying to make their voices heard, Kahana used his careful observations to negotiate with other countries and to make sure his opinions stood out from the crowd.

Because Goucher brought a large group of students to Model UN, it meant they earned spots on some of the better committees. Kahana was representing Poland on the Security Council, which he says is the top committee.

“We were the smallest school there, which is important to note, because we were competing with Harvard, Yale, Princeton, George Washington,” Kahana says. “So for Goucher, a small liberal arts school, to be on the same playing field as these major institutions from all over the world, was a lot of fun.”

Kahana is also excited for Model Senate this weekend, he says, where the 100 politicians will be forming bills between two parties—a shift compared to the Model UN conference, where 193 countries that ranged from democracies to monarchies negotiated resolutions.

“I like what I do in Model Senate and UN, which have been defining my Goucher experience and have been guiding me toward a general direction that I want to go—diplomacy, foreign affairs, and politics,” Kahana says.

The other major upcoming political event, the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago, is unprecedented for Goucher students, who usually attend similar but smaller conferences. The trip was made possible because of the Arsht Professorship, which helped with travel expenses.

It’s not a requirement for political science and international relations majors to present their thesis at a conference, but Kasniunas always encourages students to do so for the raw, professional feedback and experience of presenting.

She was happily surprised when all six of the seniors who submitted their proposals to the conference—an unusually high number—were accepted. “I can’t ever remember having that many students all at once,” Kasniunas says. And to boot, two of the proposals—written by Nancy Rosen ’19 and Chris Mayhew ’19—were elevated from the standard undergraduate poster session to a standing panel. Kasniunas suspects that some of the students will attempt to publish their work as well.  

Their projects are compelling and embody multiple forms of research, Kasniunas says. Throughout their college experience, students build upon issues they’re passionate about as they work with community partners, explore internships, and connect courses—weaving all that they do into a central theme, Kasniunas says. Additionally, she says the democratic spaces inside the classroom allow students to take ownership of their own learning while experiencing real-world applicability and multiple perspectives from authors, leaders, and peers who think unlike themselves.

“By the time they’re seniors, they are fully embodying what we expect of liberal arts college students,” Kasniunas says. “It’s great to see everyone coming together, and it adds a deeper layer of understanding and also a deeper sophistication to the work they do. So I know they’re going to hit it out of the park when they present their theses.”

Isadora Stern ’19 will be presenting her research on ways to increase political participation among the previously incarcerated. The work Stern and many others are doing is relevant and ongoing, and Stern says she’s excited to contribute to the research as it unfolds.

Stern has been wearing her “justice lens” since she was 11 years old helping her mom campaign for Barack Obama and working with undocumented immigrants in California.

Her coursework at Goucher and the documentary on the 13th Amendment, 13th, helped her to focus her justice lens on the incarceration system. In her first year of college, Stern was involved with the Goucher Prison Education Partnership, learning alongside people who were incarcerated. The following year, she took a class where she worked with people leaving prison and re-entering the community. “These communities are hard hit,” she says. “People are constantly being taken out of the community, and then there’s a lack of support when they return.”

People need to feel like they’re part of something that can create change, which is why Stern says she started looking into what is available and what is missing for the recently incarcerated and their political voice. Stern worked with organizations in Baltimore and interviewed people who have experienced the system to find these answers.

What she found in telling others’ stories is that hers is just as important. She became hyperaware that as a white, privileged student, she made people uncomfortable. “How to present myself in a way that is non-threatening, supportive, and open has been a big step for me,” Stern says. “It’s made me feel a sense of community and connection with people I didn’t have before.”