Randolph-Macon College student Elliot Meyer ’15, a political science major and international studies minor, wanted to explore politics through research and objective analysis. He knew just what to do.
Meyer applied to R-MC’s SURF (Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship) program, which offers students the opportunity to conduct 10 weeks of full-time research under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Working with Dean of Academic Affairs and Political Science Professor Lauren Bell, Meyer explored the Tea Party, a conservative movement that has commanded media attention since its formation in 2008. His research, titled Crashing the Tea Party: The Effects of the Tea Party on U.S. House of Representatives Elections, examined how the Tea Party has influenced U.S. Congressional districts across the nation.
“My research was split between observing two primary campaigns (VA-7 and CA-31) and analyzing election results from the past four years,” explains Meyer, whose research garnered international attention when it was covered by the Canadian Press. “By doing this, I hoped to achieve a well-rounded analysis of the relationship between Tea Party members, Congressional candidates, and their districts.” There was never a typical day of work for Meyer, who likens the research process to politics itself.
“Like politics, my research was constantly changing and developing in real time, as the political landscape changed with the upcoming midterm elections,” says Meyer, who shadowed R-MC Economics/Business Professor David Brat in Virginia and flew to California to shadow another congressional candidate. “After the Republican primaries were over, I gathered data about the Tea Party across the nation, and from the past two Congressional elections, to look for connections between them. I interviewed candidates and their constituents—especially local Tea Party members. There were also many days of writing, researching, and organizing data.”
Meyer met weekly with Bell and says her mentorship was crucial to his success as a researcher.
“Her expertise in research and American politics helped me tremendously,” says Meyer, who hopes to eventually work in D.C. on the Hill. “Professor Bell and I met throughout the summer, and she accompanied me to California. SURF gave me the opportunity to explore political science with a depth that cannot be achieved within the classroom. Conducting graduate-level work as an undergraduate is extraordinary, especially with one-on-one guidance from a professor.”
“The SURF program provides a rich opportunity for students to hone the research skills that they will need as they pursue graduate work or seek employment in their chosen field,” says Bell. “When we planned Elliot’s project, it was to be a quantitative analysis of the influence of the Tea Party on congressional elections, supplemented by two case studies—one in Virginia's 7th district and the other in a congressional district East of Los Angeles in California. The opportunity to shadow these two congressional races was in and of itself an exciting part of the project. But then David Brat defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 7th district primary, and the whole thing just sort of blew up. Elliot had been shadowing Professor Brat’s campaign for two months by the time the primary election happened, and his insights on the upset were much keener than the explanations being offered by local and national media and pundits.”
The research process, says Bell, has strengthened Meyer’s critical thinking, quantitative analytical, and writing skills.
“For example, when he discovered that it’s difficult to find congressional-district level data on Tea Party membership, he took it upon himself to work with Thom Morgan ’16, who is doing a SURF project in computer science, to write a computer program to generate the data he needed from online maps. This was on his own initiative, and is indicative of the way he’s approached the entire project. The work Elliot has done exceeds anything I would expect from an undergraduate, and it has truly been my pleasure to work with him.”
Meyer is a member of the swim team and College Judicial Board, and the vice president of Theta Chi. His father, David Meyer ’74, his mother, Cynthia Collins Meyer ’79, and his sister, Louisa Meyer ’12, are all Yellow Jackets.
“It’s fun at Homecoming,” says Meyer. “Although we each had unique experiences at Randolph-Macon, we share an appreciation for this great college. The best part of being a member of the R-MC community is the fellowship between students, the inspiration from the faculty, and the connections to our alumni.”