From the Wrestling Mat to the White House

More than anything else, wrestling has shaped made me into the person I am today. I started wrestling as a four-foot nine-inch, 88-pound freshman in high school, and after a mediocre season became inspired by watching the New England finals to become a champion. Three years, numerous loses, and more hours spent on the mat than I could count later, I became the first New England Champion in my school’s history. This past year I became only the second National Champion in the history of MIT wrestling.

Over the course of my wrestling career, I’ve developed passion, perseverance, work ethic, vision, and a confidence that has allowed me to succeed far beyond the wrestling mat, including thriving in the rigorous environment of MIT and becoming a leader across a variety of domains. For the past two years now, I have been interested in how my wrestling experience translated into success beyond the mat, and how similar experiences transform others. I started a project [1] to gather stories from wrestlers across the country of all ages about what they learned through wrestling and how those lessons helped them succeed more broadly.

One area where many wrestlers go on to make an impact is politics, and actually one-fourth of all U.S. Presidents, and a number of other politicians, wrestled at some point in their lives [2].  My research will explore how wrestling prepared these men for a career of public service, looking at how their wrestling experiences equipped them traits that made them effective leaders. Overall, I aim to show how wrestling can forge someone into a political leader, and by extension a leader in any domain.

If anyone would like to know more about my topic or has any thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to email me at


[2] “Famous Americans Who Wrestled,” accessed October 21, 2013,

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U.S. Grand Strategy in East Asia

Hello Fellows,


My name is Joseph Singh. I am a Government major and Public Policy minor at Dartmouth College. My thesis will study the impact of major shift in U.S. grand strategy — from deep engagement to off-shore balancing — on the strategic environment in East Asia.


I grew up fascinated by international relations. I came of age at a time when the public focus turned from an inward to decidedly outward focus. During the 1990s, foreign policy was a marginal concern for most, with huminitarian interventions momentarily dotting the screens of the evening news. Even George W. Bush, when campaigning during the 2000 elections, said little about foreign policy. Some characterized his foreign policy stance as isolationist in response. 


Everything change after 9/11. All I can remember as a child was war and international politics as I watched the news with my mother or heard elders talking politics over dinner. In turn, the enormous costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the dire fiscal situation in the United States, have caused a new surge in scholarship about America’s current grand strategy. Should it stay the course and stay deeply engaged in the world? Should it keep its dozens of alliances and security commitments, its robust basing presence overseas and continue to spend large sums of money on defense? Can it still pursue its interests (perhaps even more effectively) with a retrenched presence abroad, and one which relies on fewer alliances and bases, and more heavily on off-shore balancing power? 


The political science literature is full of reasoned and thoughtful opinions on the merits of each side. But the arguments have been mostly theoretical. Some posit that retrenchment will cause greater instability. As the U.S. retreats from regions like East Asia, arms races will spur and conflict may become more likely. Others posit that the current grand strategy makes conflict more likely because America’s overwhelming military power causes adversaries to “balance against” it. But none of these theories has been robustly tested. My paper seeks to draw out a hypothetical scenario in which the United States partially retrenches from East Asia and test the impact of this withdrawal on public support for various security strategies in Japan and Korea. For instance, would Koreans be more likely to support developing nuclear weapons without American security commitments? In turn, I hope for this paper to shed some empirical light on the robust, but principally theoretical grand strategy debate. 

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Obstructing Justice: The Confirmation of Federal Judges

My fellow fellows,

My name is Alex Beer and I am a junior, American Studies major at Northwestern University. I am extremely excited to meet all of you and learn more about your topics over the course of the year — I’ve read your blog posts and all of your topics are fascinating. For my research project I have decided to take a closer look at the appointment process for federal judges, a Constitutionally mandated collaboration between the Executive and Legislative branches. 

As the scope of the federal government has expanded, the judiciary has played an increasingly visible role in shaping the lives of everyday Americans. From gun control to health care,  federal judges have provided the final verdict on some of the most significant (and controversial) pieces of public policy in recent history. With many of these decisions, though, the judiciary has been accused of making laws instead of interpreting them. 

Changes in the selection process appear to reflect the anxiety that judges, in some way, compete with legislators. Over the last several administrations, the Senate minority party has adopted the practice of using procedural rules, particularly the filibuster, to drastically delay a nominee’s confirmation. For instance, the average confirmation time jumped from eighty-seven days between 1977 and 1992 to 707 days under George W. Bush.[i] This increase in confirmation time is closely related to the increase in judicial vacancies. During President Obama’s first four years in office, vacancies rose by 51%, in contrast to President Clinton and President Bush’s first term, when vacancies declined by 65% and 34%, respectively.[ii] 

Not all federal courts are created equal; opportunities for judges to legislate from the bench, known as judicial activism, vary by court. Thus, appellate judges sitting on “higher” courts are more likely than “lower” district court judges to hear cases that have political ramifications. For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, arguably the nation’s second highest court, is responsible for directly reviewing the actions of independent federal agencies (e.g., the CIA, FCC). Given the Court’s jurisdiction in matters ranging from national security to environmental protection, it is not necessarily surprising that all but one of President Obama’s nominees have failed to fill one of the conservative-leaning Court’s four vacancies. During President Obama’s first term, Senate Republicans twice filibustered the motion to vote on one of his nominees to the D.C. Circuit, Caitlin Halligan. After three years of waiting, Halligan requested that her name be withdrawn. Halligan’s experience is far from isolated or germane to a Republican minority. Indeed, Senate Democrats similarly used the filibuster to delay the confirmation of George W. Bush’s nominees. 

Through my research I hope to better understand how and why the selection and confirmation of federal judges has become the political battle that it is today. First, I will use statistical analysis to determine if there is a significant difference in the delay time for nominees to higher and lower courts. Since lower court judges have fewer opportunities to decide hot-button cases, I hypothesize that their road to confirmation has been smoother and shorter. I will also compare how Republicans and Democrats have changed the confirmation process. As judges serve for life, how a President shapes the federal judiciary can be among the most enduring parts of his administration’s legacy. And, as my preliminary research has already shown, the Senate minority party can also set a lasting precedent for obstructionism, depending on how it treats the confirmation process. 

If anyone has ideas for additional questions I should address or how I can further focus my research, please let me know! My email is

All best,


[i] [i] Lott, John R. Dumbing Down the Courts. Minneapolis: Bascom Hill Group, 2013. 92. Print.

[ii] State of the Judiciary. Rep. Alliance for Justice, 19 Nov. 2012. Web. 1 Aug. 2013.


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Policy and Water Implications of Energy Alternatives

As I began my junior year at Texas A&M after interning in Washington, DC, for the summer of 2012, I was given the opportunity to work for the Federal Relations Office of AgriLife. During my first semester on the job I was given the task of assisting in a paper involving the water economics behind hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale. Upon completion of that paper, I was given the sole responsibility of preparing a similar report for the Eagle Ford Shale. The research involved in preparing these two papers sparked my interest in determining how water value economics could potentially influence policy at the state and even the federal level.

To briefly summarize, my research involves demonstrating the need for evaluation and analysis of public policy before enactment to avoid unintended consequences. To make that point, the energy policies supported by former President George Bush, President Barack Obama, and Congress will be evaluated. Basically, this involves a comparison of the overall case studies and national economic impacts of biofuel production. The null hypothesis is that policies supporting biofuel production will lead to further unforeseen consequences that will leave society worse off than before. As part of a secondary scenario, this paper will look at the viability of incorporating energy from shale fracturing as a possibility for future governmental support.

The potential of uncovering new information on a relatively unheard-of energy source coupled with information from a well-known energy source makes this research intriguing. I look forward to seeing the metrics in action as I go through the available information on alternative energy sources and attempt to conclude which source has the most value in the energy industry.

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Quantitative Analysis of the Legislative Presidency

Hello everyone! My name is Jordan Kearns, and I am a senior at Washington and Lee University studying Politics and Engineering. I am looking forward to meeting all of you at the fall conference.

As an Engineering major, I am a math minded individual, and I often find myself applying mathematical analyses in traditionally non-math areas. This is my goal for the CSPC paper. For my research project, I will be using a quantitative analysis to examine the development of the legislative presidency in the post-war era.

Political scientists have written extensively on the rise of the legislative presidency. Many of these works argue whether the legislative presidency has been a positive or negative development in American politics. But before we can effectively answer that question, I believe it is important to understand precisely how the institutions have changed over time. Here the literature on the legislative president has room for expansion.

For my formal research paper, I will present my data in a traditional academic fashion; however, I hope to summarize my findings through the Presidential Fellows blog in infographic style. While traditional methods of organizing data are more exact in their presentation, infographics have the advantage of conveying information quickly and can give a better sense of the overarching themes. Of course, I will also make the details of the methodology available to anyone interested.

Anyone who has feedback or who would just like to get in touch is welcome to email me at

Jordan Kearns

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Educator in Chief: The President’s Role in Shaping K-12 Education Policy in America

Good afternoon everyone. My name is Robert Fisher, and I am studying political science and history at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in Chattanooga, TN. I am certainly looking forward to meeting all of you in the near future.

Given that education policy, specifically education reform, has become an increasingly discussed topic in policy circles, I thought it might be interesting to explore recent changes in the K-12 public education system that have been facilitated by strong presidential influence. “Recent changes” is a fairly loose interval in which to frame my research, so for the purposes of my paper, I am limiting myself to twenty first century reformations in education.  That time frame leaves me with two presidents: George W. Bush and Barack Obama, both of which have been ardent supporters of public education reform. Though both Presidents initiated policies ostensibly aimed at counteracting the deficiencies in public education, there are significant differences in the methods by which each president addressed those deficiencies.  The differences in their methodologies and the factors that influenced those methods, I believe, have contributed in the relatively jumbled and discombobulated system of public education we have today.

Through my analysis of both President Bush and Obama’s influence on K-12 education policy, I aim to identify the competing motivations that influenced both presidents to initiate their own version of education reform legislation, and further aim to identify how the dissonances between those different motivations resulted in the system we have today. For President Bush I will examine how the general push in policy circles for outcomes based assessment and increased accountability as well as political affiliation resulted in No Child Left Behind (NCLB). As for President  Obama I will examine how or if Race to the Top is a rejection of NCLB and its failures, factoring in President Obama’s political affiliation as well. Ultimately my research will answer the following question: what factors most influenced each president’s role in the policy formulation process for NCLB and RTTT, respectively, and how are those factors manifested in the policies themselves?



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The Presidency, Congress, and Education Policy

I am a History major, minoring in writing, French, and philosophy at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. The topic I will investigate throughout my Fellowship is Federal education policy.

Education has shaped the course my life, not in the least because I have spent more than three-quarters of it as a student (as we all have). I confess that my parents opted to send me to a private school for my elementary and secondary education. I must also point out, however, that my mother is a middle school teacher in the local public school system. It is her reflection and experience that has inspired me to choose this topic.

Four years ago, when I sat down to interview for admission to VMI, the interview panel asked me the rather daunting question “If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?” My answer was our education system.

Most of us have seen or heard the statistics: America is falling behind the rest of the world in education at the elementary and secondary levels. Literacy in language, math, and science, as well as high school dropout rates continue to be red-letter issues for policy makers at the local, state, and Federal level.

What has come to my attention, however, has been the contentiousness with which the issue of education reform is discussed in the public sphere by policy makers and teachers. Teachers especially seem disenchanted by the efforts of policy makers to address reform through standardized assessment as a measure of student success and teacher effectiveness. For the past decade, standardization has been the order of the day on a national level.

My goal is to understand the role of Presidential policy and Congressional legislation in shaping education reform, especially in the context of standards-based assessment. In my research, I will be investigating recently proposed legislation, including President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (last reauthorized by No Child Left Behind in 2001-2002). My specific focus is on how that proposed legislation could facilitate ways of measuring both student success and teacher effectiveness that transcend the quantitative. My concern is how Federal education policy at the Presidential and Congressional level shapes reform, particularly with an eye to reconciling the divide between disgruntled educators, policy makers, and the students whom the policies affect the most.

I hope you all will share my interest in this project, and join me in recognizing the importance of the issue as a whole to our nation.

Cadet Cabell F. Willis
Virginia Military Institute 2014

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American Congress and Foreign Affairs

Hi everyone, my name is Silvia Esbeydi Arias Carmona and I’m currently in the senior year of my major on International Relations at the Universidad de las Americas Puebla. I’m really excited to meet all of my fellow Fellows.

Since I’m an Internationalist, I’m always interested in the way a country’s foreign policy is carried through and of course, shaped. While American Congress remains to be one of the most powerful legislature in the world: they have retained a very high degree of independennt decision-making, however they have also succumbed to the ‘presidentialism’ that plagues Western democracies nowadays.

Therefore, I have become intrigued by this apparently simbiotic relation between the powers of the Congress and the President, regarding USA Foreign Policy. Who influences who? Does the foreign policy is just an extension of the President wishes?

My proposal is that, regardless the ‘inconditional’ support shown for the President, in reality the American Congress has more influence in shaping the Foreign Policy that is given credit for. I will focus on three areas of this policy:

1)War Issues
2) International Trading
3) Humanitarian Aid

Now, I expect to use a historical approach and also to review voting records, bills and a review of the international arena, to determinate if the Congress is indeed an institutional supporter of the President or if on the contrary; they just know to ‘pick their battles’.

Please let me know what you think, and I’m really looking forward to work with you.

Posted in 2013-2014 Paper Topics | 2 Comments

The Polarization of United States Arts Policy: Its Implications and Cultural Importance

Hello All! My name is Josh Myers and I am a double degree major in Political Science (B.A.) and Cello Performance (B.M.) at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. I am excited to be engaged with you all and look forward to meeting in a few months!

Who are artists? Why does their craft have value for society?  What will art say about the state of our culture 2,000 years from now? The arts are one of the few subjects that can transcend superficial differences, cultural misunderstandings, and time.  Music, visual arts, theatre, and dance are the sources that can be used to access the cultural, political, and social aspects of a nation.  I have been fortunate enough to be involved in the arts since fifth grade, which is when I first picked up the cello and continued ever since.  In 2012, I had the unique experience of being on the South Carolina House Floor, with my state representative, when the legislature decided to override Governor Nikki Haley’s vetoes that eliminated the South Carolina Arts Commission and cut the funding for the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts, my alma mater.  The vote to override these vetoes were overwhelming bipartisan.  This event stimulated my interest of how politics can impact the arts and even culture itself.  My research project will focus on arts policy in the United States and how polarization has affected this often neglected issue.

Some of my central questions could include the following: When and why did the arts become a polarizing issue?  What are those opposing arguments? How have the arts been used as a political tool? How have different administrations treated the arts?  How much money does our country even spend on the arts? The National Endowment for the Arts will be one of the major agencies that I will examine because it has been targeted heavily in the past decade by politicians.  Some of the sources that I will be reviewing for this research project will be congressional transcripts, legislative votes, presidential speeches and statements, and even interviewing current individuals who are stakeholders in arts policy.

One of the greatest challenges that I will face in this research will be to find truly objective sources.  Many articles that have been written about the arts are sometimes from people that have had direct involvement in the industry or have an ulterior motive.  Also, there is not a large publication of resources that deal with arts policy, which is not the case for issues such as the environment, healthcare, immigration, etc.  This is a very important issue that must be given more public discourse and I am honored to help initiate that discussion.

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Do This, Not That – How Agencies Respond to Presidential Signing Statements

My name is Mitch Boynton and I am a junior political science and economics major at Vanderbilt. Looking forward to experiencing the Fellows program with you all!

I’ve always been interested in how processes lead to different outcomes.  How we make decisions can play a large role in determining what decisions we make. But beyond their impact on prompting certain types of choices, decision-making systems also involve certain value judgments, especially in government: who participates, who directs the action, who gets the last word.  The answers to these questions and many more involve beliefs about rights, merit, and equality.  Therefore, because the government of the United States is one for and by the people, and because government policy decisions have major consequences for everyday citizens, it is critical that the processes used in deciding public policy promote optimal outcomes and reflect the core values of the country.

One of the major innovations in the public policy process over the past decade has been the use of presidential signing statements. Signing statements have long been used for less than earth-shattering purposes – to commend Congress on a job well done, to celebrate the principles behind the law, or perhaps to claim credit. However, more recently, they have been a tool in the struggle between Congress and the president over policymaking authority.  In controversial cases, the president invokes his authority as chief executive to announce his plan for enforcing the law in such a way that gives it a meaning other than Congress originally intended, typically by declaring a portion of the law unconstitutional and resolving to implement it in a manner that does not interfere with the president’s constitutional powers. Many have voiced concern over how this allows the president to distort or ignore provisions of laws by exercising a de facto line-item veto (a de jure version of which has been previously ruled unconstitutional by the courts), leaving Congress without a recourse to override it.  While discussion has been extensive over how the signing statement may or may not be consistent with US civic values of democracy and rule of law, there has been less attention paid to the more tangible effects signing statements may be having on policy outcomes.

How do agencies behave when faced with a law and a controversial signing statement?  Whose “intent” do they implement?  Does this conflict reduce the agencies’ ability to enforce laws effectively or leave their actions susceptible to litigation?  Both Congress and the president have means to exert influence over agencies and pressure them into compliance, but when the two have opposing demands, agencies are likely unable to be responsive to both. Because signing statements are effectively instructions to agencies on how to do their jobs, but are instructions potentially contrary to those found within the law itself, it is unclear how bureaucrats react. I will investigate whether signing statements affect how these administrative institutions discharge their responsibilities under the law. It may be that a new element in the process interferes with the production of coherent and effective public policy. Alternatively, signing statements may allow the president to fend off congressional intrusions into executive affairs, allowing agencies to function without unwieldy congressional restrictions, leading to more efficient administration.

Let me know what you think!

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