Monthly Archives: November 2015

Alumna Spotlight: Liz McGuire

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“It’s a great privilege to be able to spend your life learning,” said a BYU graduate about her future in academia. Liz McGuire is a current PhD student of political science at Yale, after earning a bachelor’s degree in international relations at BYU. A commitment to learning has always driven McGuire, but academia wasn’t always her goal.

McGuire developed an interest in the American political system in her high school government class, but chose international relations as her major during her freshman year at BYU.

While she was not a student of political science, McGuire found her niche at BYU under the tutelage of two department faculty members: Dan Nielsen and Michael Findley. She heard about a mentored research program in one of her classes and decided to learn more by talking to them directly about the program.

“BYU professors are very approachable and I was very lucky to find the mentors that I found,” McGuire said of the two. “ And I just went to class and took advantage of their office hours.”

Without BYU’s extensive undergraduate research programs, McGuire would likely never have found her way to Yale or even political science.

“When people think political science they think politics. But political science has a lot more to do with research as opposed to just U.S. parties and elections,” McGuire said about general perceptions of the discipline. She too shared similar conceptions before she began researching.

Studying with Nielsen and Findley exposed McGuire to the career opportunities available for researchers. She participated in the mentored research program in Uganda the summer before her senior year at BYU, where she learned both how to direct research, and that even well-informed hypotheses can be proven wrong during experiments. Years after she conducted her initial study, McGuire is looking for another opportunity to run the same study a second time to validate her first results.

“We are hoping to do it again to publish. I know it seems crazy to still be doing a write-up three years after the research is over, but we need to bolster the findings because they are counterintuitive,” she said of her results. “But the surprises are some of the great things about research.”

Shortly after she graduated, McGuire caught wind of an opening at Oxford University, for which she was uniquely qualified because of her experience in Uganda. She directed research in Tanzania for several months, before returning briefly to BYU.

McGuire says those months back at BYU were indispensable, as she took the time to learn from female mentors while preparing for graduate school.

“I was fortunate to find some really good mentors, some really good female professors to talk me about [what family life would look like] and also being a woman in academia and a woman in the Church, and how all of those things are worthy goals and can be pursued simultaneously.”

Now, as a PhD student of political science at Yale, McGuire is pursuing those goals. While not even she could have predicted her future, she is grateful for the unique and rewarding path to academia that BYU provided. She will continue to pave her way, with the help of the opportunities she encounters.
“That’s the real truth of life. All of us are just making it up as we go.”

Girls’ club, celebrating one year of BYUPAS Women in Politics

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Politics, historically synonymous with the “old boys’ club”, is becoming anyone’s game. As two women run for President of the United States, it is clear that the gender gap in American politics is narrowing, but not closed. The same is true on BYU’s campus, and three female students are doing their best to expedite this process in the Political Science Department.

Born of concern for the young female students that would follow them, the Women in Politics arm of the BYU Political Affairs Society was founded by Sarah Sheets Curry, Elvira Correa Lazaro and Rachel Stone just more than one year ago.

The goal of the organization is to fill the need for an “empathizing community of diverse political inclinations [that seemed] to go largely unaddressed, especially on a campus so confounded with the competing interests of religion, pressures to marry, and a void of female political alumnae in leadership,” as found in its annual report.

Under the faculty direction of Department Chair Sven Wilson, the three founders legitimized the organization and began holding meetings. Event attendance was slow-going at first, but has gained momentum as more students learn about the club.

This year, to make WIP a better known resource among students of political science at BYU, the leadership sent invitation emails to every woman in a 100 or 200 level political science course, to inform them about the association.

“[The emails] increased our turnout and let the freshwomen know that they have people as resources who actually care about taking care of them in this major,” Stone said. “A lot of these women are ambitious and care a lot about the world and making their voice heard but don’t know what the venue for that would be and we try to offer that for them.”

Examples of past events include sponsored attendance of the Real Women Run event, hosting speech slams, a senior spotlight night, and alumni lectures on campus, but one of the most valuable resources provided by the organization is a mentorship program. Freshwomen and underclassmen who desire to participate list their interests in political science, and are matched with a near-graduated student who shares those interests. Pairs foster camaraderie within the department and expose young students to examples of success.

For Stone, the goal of the organization is met well by this program. She relays the story of one participant.

“After we did the mentorship pairing meeting there was a girl who came up to me and said ‘I’m a freshman, I just arrived here, I got into the political science program at Georgetown, and I gave it up to be here because I felt it was right,’ and she was really seeking to have a community where she could exchange ideas and be challenged and be with the same caliber that she would have been at Georgetown. She came to me with this delight that we would be that venue for her. I came away feeling like all of this was for something, if we just helped this one girl, it was definitely worth it because we were here for her during her freshman year, and I didn’t have that. It makes me feel confident that we can help girls feel comfortable in their academic environment.”

While proud of the organization they have built, Stone is unsure about its future. She hopes that ten, or even five years from now gender specific organizations in politics will be irrelevant.

With equal opportunity as the goal, this girls’ club helps connect driven women to networks that will help them realize dreams of making a difference in their world.

“At first I was worried that we were discriminating against men, but then I talk to some of [them] and ask them if this thing I am doing is worth it, and they all tell me that it is.”