Department Chair’s Message
Welcome to the 2022 annual department newsletter! We hope these words greet you in the best of health and in good spirits. The department is undergoing a wonderful transformation; one that we believe will bring us into a new era of learning, research, and service. It is said, “The only constant in life is change.” These words are as true today as when Heraclitus stated them about 2,500 years ago. My personal favorite quote on the topic is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “When you are finished changing, you are finished.” It is safe to say we are not finished; we have only begun.
The department has chosen new leadership to guide us in the years ahead. I began as chair on September 1, 2021, with a strong desire to reinvent ourselves. A great appreciation goes to the department faculty who have entrusted this great responsibility to me. We also have a new Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Rebecca Reid, who joins our current Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Todd Curry, in guiding our students to success through curricular development and mentorship.
As you may have read in our 2019 newsletter, Public Administration and Political Science have joined forces. We are happy to report that the merger has gone very well. Under the directorship of Dr. Eric Boyer, the Masters in Public Administration Program will venture into a fully online degree. We have also embraced our new identity by rebranding ourselves, “The Department of Political Science and Public Administration.” The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved our new department name by giving its seal of approval effective May 31. We hope to report on our synergistic activities in further newsletters.
Another major change is in our workplace. Benedict Hall is undergoing renovations so we can pivot out of the pandemic doldrums in style. The corridors now display a cleaner look and we are adding final changes in updating and reimaging our seminar room. We will also change the displays of faculty and student accomplishments to better honor them. Stay tuned for a full report (with pictures) in the next newsletter.
Our faculty have been very busy in research projects and enhancing learning, as well as developing a path towards improving our profile. When you read the newsletter, you will notice the strong volume of publications and teaching initiatives. One specific advancement is the awarding of a UT System Grant for Curricular Innovation to Drs. Todd Curry, Rebecca Reid, and José Villalobos. They undertook a multidimensional initiative to reexamine the content and delivery of one of our core curriculum courses, Introduction to American Politics. Their work focused on introducing various topics, such as community engagement, ethical and empathetic leadership, real-world policymaking, and inclusion and diversity. We hope that lessons learned from this endeavor will help with redeveloping our other courses.
We are also celebrating the successes and accomplishments of our students. After a couple years of COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty, the university has graduated its largest class of undergraduates. This success is due to our students’ perseverance as well as the department and university’s commitments for their success. It is a testament of everyone’s bold, agile, and entrepreneurial thinking and actions. We are proud of their achievements, which will no doubt echo into the future. Several of our students have taken on strong leadership roles as interns in Washington, DC, as well taking advantage of programs at UT Austin that introduce them to the possibilities of future graduate education. At home, students dive into opportunities in our Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives.
The final item of note involves the success of our alumni. In this issue, we spotlight Alejandra Ramos Gómez. She developed a wonderful trajectory, which speaks to how our undergraduate degree allows alumni to use the skills learned here in diverse ways. We would love to spotlight more of our alum’s achievements. Please stay in touch and tell us about your success! It is as simple as emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the conversation started.
We would also like to help you with educational opportunities. Please look at our Masters Degree in Political Science and Masters in Public Administration to see if they fit into your career plans. Many students take a break between undergraduate and graduate education. Therefore, it is never too late to undergo the change you need to see in yourself!
If you are interested in giving back to our department, especially to help our current students succeed, please consider contributing! Many of the extra work students undertake, such as internships outside of El Paso, study abroad, or attending and presenting at academic conferences, require supplemental funding from our department. Our funding from the Texas State government does not keep pace with the increasing costs of education. We wish to give our students the same experiences (or better!) that students in other nationally-ranked institutions have. Did you know that our department gives out approximately $60,000 dollars in scholarships each year? This is due to the generosity of people like you, enabling us to distribute scholarships to a large number of very deserving students who have achieved success in their course work.
Please consider giving, even a small amount. We are sending out this newsletter to approximately 15,000 people. Imagine if each of you donated only $20? We would have enough to create an endowment to fund 50 students each year into the future! Even small contributions have large and lasting impacts on our students. So consider clicking this link and donating whatever you can. It is very easy, and we thank you in advance for your kind contributions and support!
Please enjoy the rest of the newsletter. We hope to see you in-person, perhaps at homecoming 2022; but if you are not in the area, please do drop us a line and give us an update. Your post-UTEP experiences help us design the most appropriate education for our current students.Dr. Gaspare M. Genna, Political Science and Public Administration Department Chair
Making an Impact at the Supreme Court of the United States
Most researchers would like to see their hard work make an impact in real world politics. Dr. William Weaver hit this milestone in a dissent decision made by Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, which Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined, in the case United States v. Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn aka Abu Zubaydah, et al. (March 3, 2022).
The case involved a recurring issue in many democracies: to what extent can the state keep secrets from its citizens. Representative democracy prides itself by holding elected officials accountable to the voters. To do this, voters need to know what their leaders are doing. However, many argue that governments must keep certain things secret to safeguard the country from external and internal enemies. The question is where is the line between safeguarding the nation and keeping secrets that hide illegal or unethical behavior?
The case of US v. Zubaydah involved the 2002 capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan under the suspicion that he was a member of Al Qaeda. He testified that the CIA detained him in several secret locations, commonly referred to as “black sites,” before transfer to Guantanamo Bay in 2003. At issue was what occurred at the black sites, one of which was in Poland. The activities at the site were publicly known after an official investigation by Polish authorities in 2010. The investigation revealed that Zubaydah was waterboarded and endured other form of torture, which are illegal practices.
The issue before the court was whether the CIA contractors that performed the torture would be obligated to testify on these facts in Zubaydah’s case against the US. The CIA objected to their testimony claiming that the Polish detention site was a state secret and revelations of its existence would harm US national security.
The majority Supreme Court opinion sided with keeping the Polish black site a secret and thereby releasing the CIA contractors from testifying on the torture allegations. Without witness testimonies, there was no direct evidence of the allegations and therefore Zubaydah’s suit against the United States did not have merit.
All but two justices sided with the majority. Gorsuch, who was joined by Sotomayor, cited the work of Drs. William Weaver and Robert Pallitto (a former UTEP Political Science Professor) when stating that the United States had overused the state secrets privilege defense. Gorsuch noted that the US government only used the defense 16 times from1961-80, but 49 times from 2001-21. He further agreed with Drs. Weaver and Pallitto that “the propriety of several of these assertions has been called into question,” where even the memo among the Joint Chiefs of Staff stating that too many of their memos were being classified was itself classified.
This case and the work of Drs. Weaver and Pallitto have sparked a resurrection in the research on state secrets privilege, according to Dr. Robert Chesney, Dean of the University of Texas School of Law. Their work not only moves knowledge forward, it also influences decisions among major US leaders. We congratulate Drs. Weaver and Pallitto on the impact of their work.
UTEP Political Science Alum Heads to Harvard
Since graduating in 2014, Alejandra Ramos Gómez, has had a rich set of experiences. She has continued her education and worked in various positions, all of which capture her creativity and desire to improve the quality of life of her communities. She first began as a bilingual educator and then moved into launching We Are Poderosas, a bilingual self-empowerment and spoken word venture for girls. She has also collaborated with social organizations in Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, and the US as an educational consultant. Along the way, she published Imperfecta (2021), a bilingual volume of poetry, which is a homage to women's lives lost due to gender violence. Her work has been featured in TEDx, NPR Latino USA, United Nations Girl Education Initiative, Plan International, UNICEF, and Visible Magazine.
Her outstanding experiences has led her to enroll in her second master’s program in Human Development and Education at Harvard University. While at Harvard, she will also take the position as an Identity Project Fellow for the Adolescent Ethnic-Racial Identity Development (AERID) Lab. Under the directorship of Dr. Adriana Umaña-Taylor, she will engage in graduate coursework and research regarding race-based equity in schools. This ongoing research-practice project will have her supporting a local high school classroom as the teacher and students enact the Identity Project curriculum. The evidence-based curriculum provides students with opportunities to explore their own ethnic-racial identities. Ms. Ramos Gómez is excited because she believes that “it is vital for adolescents to have opportunities to think about their identities and the impact that these have on their future endeavors.”
Ms. Ramos Gómez has taken on a career path in education given her mother’s thirty years of passion for inclusive early childhood education in Mexico. She also saw the impact as a dance teacher in Ciudad Juárez could have on young people, and as a result, she became more interested in teaching. Her first venture in education after UTEP was with Teach for America, where she worked with underserved and primarily immigrant communities who experience systemic educational inequities. She saw how many of the students lacked support and were underestimated due to their socio-cultural backgrounds. She decided to take the next step by attending the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) because it offers the program in Human Development and Education with a specialization in Arts and Learning. The school also offers her the opportunity to connect with international education professionals who want to make real change.
Ms. Ramos Gómez states that her time with the UTEP political science department was “life changing” and it “continues to be a big part of who I am as a professional and artist!” One of her important experiences was the ability to gain professional experience as an undergraduate teaching assistant. Other opportunities helped her learn and grow as a student, researcher, and practitioner, as well as enhanced her interests in learning more about international politics and migration patterns. These include serving as the Global Relations Organizations president, where she developed her leadership and communication skills under the guidance of Drs. Cigdem V. Sirin and Charles Boehmer. She also participated in a study abroad to the University of Alberta as part of the North American Studies Program under the mentorship of Dr. Gaspare Genna. She states that the experience “was very significant as I learned more about North American migration patterns and their connection to our societal experiences. It also allowed me to acquire a wide array of perspectives, which empowered me as an educator and an activist!” Overall, she believes that “the student experience at UTEP is unique for its biculturalism and appreciation for students' input.” She is also “forever thankful for the guidance from my professors and the relationships I built with fellow students.”
Our Students are Making their Marks
University education is more than classroom instruction. We encourage students to seek out opportunities that will enhance their experience while preparing them for their future careers. The department sends out numerous announcements, faculty personally notify students, and we often help supplement funding travel when students make a request. We would like to highlight three students among the many that took part in such actives.
Elisa Arizbeth Torres and Brianna Iberty Trevino traveled to UT Austin to participate in the Diversity and Inclusion in Government Graduate Studies workshop. It was a weeklong opportunity to introduce minority and women students to graduate studies in Political Science in order to enhance their numbers in doctoral studies. The two learned about the benefits and challenges of graduate studies in both group settings as well as one-on-one mentoring. The political scientists involved included professors in international and American politics, who shared their research with students. They also interacted with current graduate students who shared their experiences. One of the important topics covered was how to create a compelling graduate school application.
Ms. Torres believed that the workshop “was an amazing opportunity to clear [her] mind and to make a final decision of [her] future path.” Ms. Trevino stated, “It was truly an invigorating experience where we did not just learn about the types of research, we learned how to conduct it and what it entails.” Both students believe that the workshop was very important and recommend it for anyone considering graduate school, and hope that many other apply for next year.
In Political Science 3600 (Research in Political Science), Dr. Rebecca Reid encouraged students to apply for the 2022 Society for Political Methodology’s Expansions Initiative Fellows, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. Denise Saenz jumped at encouragement and was selected to participate in the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) Summer Program from June 20-July 15 by the University of Michigan. The Society for Political Methodology provided $4,000 in funding to support this mentored research. Ms. Saenz believed that her chances of getting into the program were small given her inexperience. Through Dr. Reid’s further encouragement, Ms. Saenz applied and eventually receive one of eight fellowships. At the end of the ICPSR Summer Program session, students pair with a faculty mentor who will collaborate with students on an original research project.
Ms. Saenz was also encouraged by Dr. Reid to apply for UTEP’s own summer research program. She was selected as an Undergraduate Student Assistant through a collaborative program between the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI) and the Division of Student Affairs – On-Campus Student Employment Opportunities (OCSEO) Program. Her appointment is to participate in the research project titled: “Intersectional Justice: The Effects of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Indigenous Women’s Rights in Mexico”, under Dr. Reid’s direction. She wishes to thank Dr. Reid, “she's been an amazing professor!”
UTEP’s Pi Sigma Alpha Chapter is Active as Ever
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, our UTEP chapter of the national Political Science honor society continues to be active and has had many accomplishments. The Immigration Policy Forum at UTEP’s Tomás Rivera Conference Center (April 2022) was one of the many successful activities Pi Sigma Alpha carried out. This successful drew an attendance of more than 100 people.
The forum had Mrs. Marisa Limon Garza of Hope Border Institute and Dr. Todd Curry of Justice for Our Neighbors El Paso (and Political Science Associate Professor) presenting their organizations’ analysis on immigration in the El Paso border region and the national immigration policy.
Mrs. Limon Garza presented a timeline of policies that have developed throughout the years. She outlined policies, such as Title 42, which prevented immigrants from seeking asylum. She also displayed data on the overall impacts of President Trump’s immigration policies.
Dr. Curry discussed the tragic stories he witnessed while visiting detention centers. He also revealed the struggles of trying to advocate for immigrants due to the policies in place. He expressed the difficult challenges with not only the laws but also the struggle of institutions that are expected to follow the laws and yet fail to do so.
The question and answer session that followed further elaborated on the major issues and concerns faced by asylum seekers in the El Paso area over the last five years.
Public Administration in Action
This academic year, the department launched its inaugural “Public Administration in Action” speaker series. Dr. Ljubinka Andonoska invited several local and nationally recognized researchers and practitioners to interact with students. The speakers shared experiences with students and provided insights as to how research translates into practical policy and governance.
The invited speakers included:
- Erik Alda, College of Sciences and Humanities, Criminal Justice, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Marymount University, Arlington, VA.
- Robert Cortinas, Deputy City Manager of Support Services & Chief Financial Officer for the City of El Paso
- George G. Elsaesser, Executive Director Armed Services YMCA - El Paso
- Diana I. Hastings, Executive Director, Underserved Communities Foundation & National Association of Latino Credit Unions & Professionals
- Soomi Lee, Associate Professor, the University of La Verne
- Laura Ponce, Executive Director for Project BRAVO
- Jorge Rodriguez, El Paso Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief of Emergency Management & Special Operations
- Tracy J. Yellen, CEO of the Paso del Norte Community Foundation, El Paso, Texas
The department hopes to expand the series into other areas, and we hope alumni will also join us for these important talks. We will post future talks in our social media pages and send out notices via email.
Congratulations to Our Graduates!
Congratulation to our Department Scholarship Recipients!
Komarnicki Top Graduate Scholar Awards
Komarnicki Graduate Scholar Award
Nallely Santiesteban Garcia
Komarnicki Top Undergraduate Scholar Awards
Komarnicki Undergraduate Scholar Awards
Azul Pacheco Garcia
Irena Grabowska-Kruszewska Scholarship
Joseph Graves Scholarship
June Kruszewski Scholarship
Maria Misiewicz-Sadowski Scholarship
Karina Castillo Velazquez
Dr. Ljubinka Andonoska organized the Public Administration in Action speaker series featuring six practitioners and two academics and actively promoted UTEP’s MPA program as a secretary of the American Society for Public Administration’s (ASPA) South and West Chapter. She also published an article in the ASPA Section on International and Comparative Administration’s Occasional Paper Series, another in Applied Economic Letters. In addition, a book chapter in the book Leadership and Change: Thorough Lenses of Social Justice, Ethics, and Community Engagement, edited by Mari Ysela Noopila and Areli Chacon Silva.
Dr. Charles Boehmer served as chair through August of 2021, and then returned to normal faculty duties in September, including working on his research on manuscripts relating to how economic growth and wealth affect the prospects of interstate war. He also worked on data on international organizations and he was active in the International Security section of the American Political Science Association. The College of Liberal Arts Dean O’Hearn appointed him to the Kruszewski Family Endowed Professorship.
Dr. Eric Boyer presented the paper, “Public Procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the Aftermath of COVID-19: Lessons in Emergency Contracting” at the annual conference of the ASPA in Jacksonville, FL. He was also awarded funds from the Liberal Arts Dean’s Office Speaker Series to bring two speakers to UTEP in the summer of 2022: Dr. Dan Gitterman, Professor of Public Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill and expert on public-private partnerships, and Dr. Frank Spampinato, an expert on Federal Contracting who is based in Washington, DC.
Dr. Bradley S. Chilton published an article in Public Integrity. This journal article is a continuation of his research on the moral reading of constitutional law by the contemporary US Supreme Court, so as to inform ethical public service. It is an empirical analysis of moral justifications used in the Court's landmark decisions on discrimination by race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion and disabilities. The Justices generally use utilitarian teleological moral justifications in these case opinions, but may use deontological non-teleological moral justifications in some cases that are perceived as great harm to an individual.
Dr. Todd Curry has spent this year completing and applying for grants, both in his professional and personal life. He, along with Drs. Rebecca Reid and José Villalobos, received a UT Regents grant to redesign the department’s POLS 2311 (American Government) course. Dr. Reid and he (along with their colleague Dr. Mark Hurwitz at Western Michigan University), applied for a National Science Foundation Build and Broaden Grant to help gather data on court decisions involving Indigenous Peoples in the United States. They are eagerly waiting the award notifications. Dr. Curry has also been active in the community. He became the inaugural board chair for Justice for Our Neighbors El Paso, a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to providing free legal representation to asylum seekers in Southern New Mexico and West Texas. The local chapter has secured numerous private grants to facilitate their work in the community.
Dr. Gaspare Genna began his first year as department chair. With collaboration of colleagues, he helped start numerous initiatives enshrined in the department’s first ever three-year strategic plan. He continues to serve as the director of North American Studies. He also published a journal article in Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice and three research papers were presented at two academic conferences. He produced one research seminar (with Dr. Bilge Firat) on regional integration organizations in West Africa with Dr. Christina Cottiero (University of California, San Diego). He also finalized an introduction to politics textbook with CQ Press (co-authored with Dr. Taeko Hiroi). He won a Fulbright grant to conduct research at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, Oslo, Norway, which he declined due to COVID-19.
Dr. Taeko Hiroi published an article in the Brazilian Journal of Public Administration/Revista De Administração Pública (published in English and Portuguese). Drs. Hiroi and Genna also submitted the final drafts of their book, Exploring Politics: A Concise Introduction, to be published by Sage/CQ Press in late summer 2022. In addition, Dr. Hiroi presented a few papers at scholarly conferences (APSA & MPSA) and gave a keynote speech for the Seminário Internacional - Constitucionalismo, Separação de Poderes e Processo Político no Brasil. She continues to serve as faculty advisor for our award-winning Pi Sigma Alpha UTEP chapter and served as a panel chair for Pi Sigma Alpha’s National Student Paper Conference in March 2022.
Dr. Rebecca A. Reid was awarded the UT System Grant for Curricular Innovation with Drs. José Villalobos and Todd Curry. She published an article in PS: Political Science & Politics and another in Journal of Law and Courts with Dr. Todd Curry on indigenous rights in US state courts. She also published two Open Judicial Politics book chapters with former graduate students, Alan Cardenas and Jonathan Picado, pertaining to indigenous rights in Mexico and ecofeminism at the US Supreme Court. The APSA Law and Courts Service honored her work to the discipline with a service award, including organizing the International and Comparative Law & Courts Research Collaborative, co-heading major conference judicial politics sections, and promoting diversity and inclusion in the section. Lastly, she worked with other faculty in the UTEP College of Liberal Arts to develop UTEP’s Land Acknowledgement statement and the college’s new minor in Native American and Indigenous Studies.
Dr. Gregory D. Schmidt continued to use zero-cost materials in all of his undergraduate classes and completed a monograph on the Shining Path and MRA insurgencies in Peru. He served on the Board of Directors of the Midwest Association for Latin American Studies and was the Program Chair for its annual conference, where he also presented a paper and chaired a panel.
Dr. Cigdem Sirin was promoted to full professor. She also published a co-authored book with Drs. Nicholas Valentino and José Villalobos, Seeing Us in Them: Social Divisions and the Politics of Group Empathy (Cambridge University Press). She presented her research at the annual meetings of American Political Science Association and Midwest Political Science Association. As the director of the Center for Faculty Leadership and Development, she organized and facilitated the 2021 Sol Conference on Teaching and Learning under the theme “Humanizing Online Education During COVID-19 and Beyond.”
Dr. José D. Villalobos was promoted to full professor. He also published Seeing Us in Them: Social Divisions and the Politics of Group Empathy with Drs. Cigdem Sirin and Nicholas Valentino (Cambridge University Press). The book covers the development of their Group Empathy Theory, measures the cultivation and impact of the concept via a litany of large-N representative surveys and experiments, applies their Group Empathy Index across numerous policy spheres, and examines how empathy may challenge ethno-nationalist politics. He was also Co-PI (with Drs. Rebecca Reid and Todd Curry) for a UT System curricular innovation grant. Lastly, Dr. Villalobos was recognized with the Outstanding Service to the College of Liberal Arts Award for his service in chairing the Community Engagement & Leadership (CEL) Task Force and Program.
Dr. Yingnan “Joseph” Zhou was invited by the journal of Democratization to write a book review on China's New Red Guards: The Return of Radicalism and the Rebirth of Mao Zedong by Jude Blanchette. He launched a new line of teaching and research on immigration politics. In his graduate seminar on border politics, he engaged students on important empirical and normative problems from a comparative perspective. Employing machine learning text analysis, he conducted research on why well-educated people in China tend to be more anti-immigrant, opposite to what their European and American counterparts do. He was invited to revise and resubmit his journal article submission that explained why people in authoritarian countries have lower standards when evaluating their governments.