-story by Lena Wallace '14
Zachary Spaeth '14
Randolph-Macon College student Zachary Spaeth ’14, a
political science and German major, is
participating in R-MC’s Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)
This summer he is spending several weeks in Vienna, Austria, where he is conducting
research for his project, titled “The Austrian Political System and the 2013 Federal
Elections: Insight from Municipal, State, and National Party Leaders.” SURF offers
students the unique opportunity to conduct 10 weeks of full-time, original research
during the summer months, under the guidance of a faculty mentor.
Past SURF Experience
In 2012, Spaeth, a Sellersville, Pennsylvania native, participated in SURF in Vienna
where he conducted a comparative analysis
of American and German comedy films from the 1930s and ’40s. After studying
during spring semester 2013 at the University of Graz, Spaeth decided to stay abroad
to complete another SURF project.
Spaeth is conducting research on the Austrian political system and using his German-language
skills to interview politicians; he recently interviewed Councilwoman Lisa Rüker.
Spaeth says his R-MC German classes prepared him well for living and working in
“I really test my language skills by conducting interviews, and by comprehending
and translating them,” he says. “Austrian politics are unique compared to the United
States and the rest of Europe post-World War II. I want to learn more about the
political landscape in Austria and how its structure has changed since World War
Spaeth is researching politicians, meeting with them and asking them about their
future plans. He follows political news by reading online articles and print newspapers
as he focuses on Austria’s party systems to better understand the country’s 2013
German Professor Joseph
Moser, who serves as Spaeth’s mentor, catches up with him every day by email
or via Skype.
“I check on Zach’s progress as he gets in contact with Austrian politicians, and
I sometimes suggest alternative politicians he can reach out to,” says Moser. “Working
with authentic German-language sources and interacting with German speakers is the
best way to gain proficiency in German, especially with Zack
studying abroad at the University of Graz last spring. I have seen his fluency
improve as a result of his study-abroad and SURF experiences.”
Spaeth is a mentor Resident Assistant,
chair of the Academic Integrity Council, co-founder of the R-MC Young Democrats
club, a Higgins Academic Center (HAC)
German tutor, and a junior news editor for
The Yellow Jacket student newspaper. He is also a member of R-MC’s
program, Alpha Phi Omega,
Phi Kappa Sigma, ODK and
Order of Omega.
“I enjoy being a Resident Assistant because I help guide students in the right direction,”
he says. “I also enjoy being part of R-MC Young Democrats — we have done a lot of
work during the past year, especially our Voter Registration Drive, which was held
in the fall.”
Looking Forward, Giving Back
Spaeth’s future plans include applying to the nine-month Fulbright U.S. Student
Program. If he is chosen as a recipient, he will receive a grant to conduct full-time
research or study in Austria on the topic of his choosing. In addition, Spaeth hopes
to work on future political campaigns.
“I am looking forward to hopping on a campaign right after college,” he says. “I
also hope to attend the Georgetown Public Policy Institute sometime in the future.”
Spaeth, a Yellow Jacket through and through, is sharing his R-MC pride with the
people he meets in Austria.
“I give everyone I interview an R-MC pen,” he says. “It always makes people smile.”
The SURF program was established in 1995 through a generous gift made by Ben '64
and Peggy Schapiro. The Schapiros continue to support this program, which promotes
scholarly undergraduate research by R-MC students in all disciplines.