Program in Politics and Law grant expires

by Sunpreet Singh | 1/31/17 2:10am

Dartmouth’s Program in Politics and Law recently saw its 10-year grant from the Milton and Miriam Handler Foundation expire, meaning the program is now solely reliant on alumni donations and College funding. The program provides research opportunities and funding for students interested in policy and lawmaking.

Program director and government professor Dean Lacy founded the program in 2007. The program funds fellowships for students to engage in collaborative research with a Dartmouth faculty member, usually offering each student $1,200 per year. The funding can be used for costs such as student and faculty research expenses, money for travel, survey expenditures and data purchases, Lacy said.

In addition, the program hosts talks open to the public, often in conjunction with other programs, led by faculty members from other institutions and alumni of the program to speak on their work and experiences after Dartmouth.

Some of the past panelists sponsored by the program include Aharon Barak, the former president of the Supreme Court of Israel who visited campus in 2015, and Colin Harris ’13, who visited campus in the spring of both 2014 and 2015 to speak with classes about his experience running for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2013.

Lacy said that the program was initially started to provide quick funds for student fellowships to work on research with faculty.

The program has been funded through research grants from the Milton and Miriam Handler Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c) based in New York that provides funding for higher education and healthcare, Lacy said.

However, this year the Foundation did not extend a research grant to the program following the expiration of the 10-year pilot agreement.

The program is currently using direct funds from the College and alumni, but is running out of money and is seeking additional benefactors to support it, Lacy said.

In the 10 years that the program was partnered with the Foundation, there have been a total of 25 alumni of the program.

Harry Enten ’11, one of the first Politics and Law fellows and current political analyst at FiveThirtyEight, a data-driven media company, said that his participation in the program during his freshman summer helped lay the foundation for the rest of his time at Dartmouth and his post-Dartmouth career, including his current position.

Enten added that dealing with a large project early on in his academic career enabled him to set himself apart from his fellow classmates by learning new material and data analysis techniques.

“When you come in as a freshman, you write more essays than you do in high school and you don’t really deal with large projects,” he said. “I think working with numbers and crunching data with a professor who placed so much trust in me gave me an edge.”

He said that looking at data sets through the program expanded his undergraduate skillset and played a big role in helping him get his current position at FiveThirtyEight.

“Participating in the program showed me that maybe this big stuff really isn’t too big for me and laid the foundation for my career in media,” Enten said.

Enten added that he thought the program was not just for students interested in media or looking at numbers, since it also helps develop skills for graduate school applications and coursework.

Zach Markovich ’15, another former fellow and current research assistant at Harvard Business School, said that his interest in the program started when he took Government 19.01: “Advanced Political Analysis” with Lacy.

Markovich said that he worked on a project looking at trends in the volatility of state building, where some states such as Ohio are particularly volatile “swing states” during elections, while other states such as Vermont and Texas are usually more politically one-sided.

He added that participating in the program was a valuable experience that helped him to develop his statistical and analytical skills.

“I really enjoyed working on my project, and the research experience was critical to helping me become a research associate at Harvard Business School, because the data analysis skills are needed to support projects,” Markovich said.

Dan Pham ’16, another former fellow of the program and current associate at Parthenon-EY, a business management consulting firm, participated in the program during his junior spring and said that he thought the program could benefit from more advertising and exposure around campus.

“The program is a really fantastic resource to get involved in research outside of the classroom, but it is not that well advertised in the government department or other social science departments,” Pham said.

Both Pham and Markovich also completed their honor theses using parts of the research they conducted through the program.

Government professor Brendan Nyhan, who was involved in projects sponsored by the program in past years, said that the program is a great start for students who aspire to go to law school or are interested in the subjects of politics and law.

“We don’t have an undergraduate law program, but we have lots of students who want to go to law school and the Program in Politics and Law is a great way to help students pursue law-related projects and gain experience with research,” Nyhan said.