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Journey to Capitol Hill

Written by Alec Tripp

My undergraduate research career began all the way back in high school during my senior year at Powell High School. It was in my final year of high school that I began experimenting with the idea of becoming a professor. I loved learning, had a passion for education, and thought my best plan of action would be to contact some professors and question them about their profession. Through an extended exchange of emails, I came into contact with Dr. Richard Pacelle, who has served as an incredible mentor ever since. Dr. Pacelle volunteered his time weekly to answer my array of questions on becoming a professor and excelling during my undergraduate studies. Through this exposure to academia, I decided on the University of Tennessee and generated an action plan for excellence.
My primary goal for college was and is to push myself to the limit. As soon as I decided to attend the University of Tennessee, I applied for the Chancellor’s Honors Program. I knew that this program would place me among driven peers and give me the chance to excel. Initially, I made the most of my relationship with Dr. Pacelle and assisted him in researching the Solicitor General’s affect on Supreme Court Case outcomes during my freshman year. In my sophomore year, I researched the tendencies of pro-government 3rd parties in civil wars to purposefully target civilian. This research built upon the data collected skills I had previously developed and entailed a much more analytical and qualitative approach with Dr. Gary Uzonyi. During my junior year, I  aided Dr. Jana Morgan in her research on the socioeconomic disparities among black and indigenous Colombians within Colombia. This task guided me to my own research interests and inspired me to research the extent to which Chinese investment and development has affected emerging Latin American economies. This research project has tied together all of my previous experiences, solidifying my understanding of research and instructing me in the ways of political science research. Additionally, the programs offered by the CHP have assisted tremendously in building my analytical writing abilities, developing my critical thinking skills, and providing a network of brilliant professors and students.

During my time as an undergraduate researcher, I have gained a huge respect for the process and its rewards. The beginning of a research project, in my experience, is gritty work. Oftentimes, raw data collection is a monotonous mess. Applying for grants is time consuming and can really tax one’s creative brain. However, these tasks are only one part of a much more fulfilling endeavor. The depth of understanding that one can achieve from working on a research project is thrilling. Since finishing my last research project, I can now have long conversations about China’s developmental role in Latin America, what Foreign Direct Investment is, and how the United States may be affected by China’s intervention in the region. Reading and analysis is by far my favorite part of any research project, but presenting my research is a close second. Since I am so passionate about what I’ve discovered, I get excited to have one-on-one conversations with people about the research, and I love it when they ask questions and engage with my project. Last semester, I had the opportunity to present my research on the Modern Chinese Development of Latin America at the Posters at the Capitol convention in Nashville, Tennessee. This event introduced me to research presentation in a more formal atmosphere, and I was even able to speak with state legislators about the implications of my project. Now, I realize that foreign policy and comparative politics is outside the scope Tennessee state legislators’, but the fact that they reciprocated interest was a kindness and a nod to their interest in the work of fellow Tennesseans. About a week after the Posters at the Capitol event, I was blessed to receive an email invitation to present the same research at the Posters on the Hill conference in Washington, D.C. This time around, my research was bit more relevant to the audience’s interests, and I was ecstatic to meet with high-achieving, like-minded peers, academics, and federal legislators to discuss my research passions.

After graduating, I plan to carry my research experiences with me to graduate school, where I hope to earn a doctorate in Comparative Politics at a prestigious program. I would not be where I am without my mentors, the CHP, and programs such as Posters at the Capitol that encourage undergraduate research. For all of these people and opportunities, I am grateful.