The work of two student researchers received top honors from the Southwest Political Science Association (SWPSA). Both are being recognized at the association’s 2023 annual meeting for papers they presented at the 2022 SWPSA meeting, based on their respective undergraduate research projects from the previous year.
Jami-Reese (JR) Darling Robertson ’22, who is now an alumna studying law at the University of Richmond, earned the Jewell Limar Prestige Best Paper Award for the best paper on the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity, and political behavior. Grace Holderman ’23 was honored with the Pi Sigma Alpha Best Undergraduate Paper Award.
Robertson’s paper explored whether the demographic traits of prosecutors have an effect on whether the death penalty is imposed in federal cases that feature defendants who are eligible for death penalty sentences. She completed the work as a Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellow with faculty mentor Dr. Lauren Bell. The award is particularly significant because Robertson’s work won out in an overall category against papers written by faculty members and graduate students as well as undergraduates. The paper has also been published in Social Science Quarterly.
“Receiving the SWPSA Jewell Limar Prestige Award means so much to me,” Robertson said. “This paper was the biggest piece of research I did in college, and it concerns a topic that is so important to the criminal justice system. It is encouraging that the recognition of this research will bring awareness to the topic and hopefully will inspire further research that will lead to bettering our justice system.”
“It’s a significant accomplishment for an undergraduate student to win a paper award open to all conference participants, but JR’s work is genuinely extraordinary,” said Bell, the James L. Miller Professor of Political Science. “Her research revealed that among the factors that affect outcomes in death-penalty-eligible federal cases are the gender and race of the federal prosecutor involved.”
Holderman, a political science and biology double-major from Roanoke, Va., examined different polls used prior to the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, their accuracy, and how that accuracy changed through different polling methods over time.
“I am thrilled to be receiving this award. It feels amazing to know that my hard work paid off,” Holderman said. “It was really interesting to see how this research applies to real life, since so many news outlets report polling numbers—now I know what a good poll is supposed to look like!”
“It is so exciting to see the efforts of our SURF students be acknowledged with such a prestigious award,” said Dr. Joan Conners, the Charles J. Potts Professor in Social Sciences and Holderman’s SURF advisor. “She had a great start on the project from her Political Science Research Methods class, and we took it to the next level, looking at many election polls to try to understand why some come close to predicting the outcome of a race versus others.”
In addition to Robertson and Holderman, the SWPSA awarded political science major Jordyn Sinsel ’23 a travel grant to support her travel to the 2023 SWPSA annual meeting to present her 2022 SURF research on the Supreme Court of Japan.