Stefanie Walsh

Hometown: Rockford, IL 
College: College of Liberal Arts, College of Health & Human Science
Major: Political Science, Psychological Sciences

I am applying for the Gilman Scholarship in order to participate in the Leiden University exchange program in the Netherlands. As a political science and psychology major at Purdue University, research has always been my main focus. From working on projects examining how anxiety levels influence journalists to creating interventions to increase political tolerance, I have been able to research both political science and psychology. These experiences led me to research the area of political psychology which seeks to examine political issues through a psychological lens. Just like clinical and social psychologists look at abnormal behavior or behavior in social contexts respectively, political psychologists can examine political behavior from the same angle. I am particularly interested in two questions. First, what political, societal, and psychological factors increase the chances of committing political violence? Second, how do politics and the political process influence, shape, and change politicians over time?

Although I am interested in political psychology, Purdue has very few classes or faculty focused on that topic. This inspired my search to study abroad where I can be exposed to different ways to conduct research in political psychology. At Leiden, I will gain critical research skills, knowledge from my courses, and cultural experiences that will propel me into graduate school and a career in academia. Specifically, faculty at Leiden University are unmatched when it comes to research on political psychology, and conducting research with Leiden professors will advance me professionally. After reaching out to Dr. Mark Deschesne, I have been accepted to work with him on a project that explores the relationship between political ideology and language use among US presidents over time. By analyzing U.S. State of the Union speeches over 60 years and conducting word frequencies, we will “map” the word usage over time to explore how the mood of a particular historical period influences political ideas and beliefs. Researching at Leiden University will enhance my repertoire of research methods and set me up to be successful in graduate school. By utilizing factorial analysis, Google NGram, and language analysis along with other qualitative methods, I will gain a well-rounded database of methods that will be critical in the development of a thesis or dissertation in graduate school.

The opportunities at Leiden are not the only benefit to this program. Being able to study in the Netherlands will provide me with a unique perspective on policy-making and how threats influence the political process. The Netherlands' approach to the threat of terrorism is unique. In the 2000s, the Netherlands became a prime target for extremist groups to settle in Europe. As a result, the Netherlands was thrust into the international stage when it came to dealing with terrorist networks. On a global level, the Dutch government is chairing the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a forum that recently has been focused on good practices for protecting major cities and places like restaurants, stadiums, etc. The Netherlands is also co-leading an initiative with the families of terrorist fighters abroad, initiating practices to reduce the radicalization of those returning to Iraq and Syria, and donating funds for programs that deal with reducing the chances of radicalization while in prison. There are also debates about the threat of a refugee crisis to the EU and the place Muslims have within European society. Through Dr. Dechesne’s other work on the integration of Muslims in the Dutch community and how best to increase tolerance toward Muslims, I will have hands-on research experience with the effects of Muslim immigration on public attitudes. This experience will be an important educational moment, illustrating political psychological concepts related to policy-making and perceived threats in the real world.

For first-generation students like myself, I believe that it is common to view studying abroad as daunting and intimidating. Coordinating classes, determining housing arrangements and transportation, and preparing financially for a program in a country far away can be stressful for many first-generation students who have no guidance in the process. I knew smart, strategic planning had to go into my study abroad decisions to confirm that my own academic and financial needs were met. By seeking out faculty mentors’ advice, working with the Study Abroad office, and carrying out my own research, I overcame that challenge by finding a program in which I will grow academically and professionally by allowing me to take classes in political psychology and conduct research on my specific interests in the political process and terrorism, preparing me for a political psychology graduate program.

Although I have studied abroad previously, the programs to Peru and India were two and three weeks, respectively. Both of these short experiences focused on interacting with solely the culture. By studying abroad for a full semester, I will be able to engage with both the Netherland’s culture and the academic culture. The engagement with the academic culture at Leiden is critical to the achievement of my career goal of working in academia because it will help prepare me for graduate school. I will gather knowledge and innovative methodology that will be necessary to the completion of a doctoral degree and the production of original research through the courses in political psychology and the research I will conduct under Dr. Dechesne. With a doctoral degree, I will be able to reach my career goal of working at a university where I can conduct political psychology research and teach interdisciplinary classes within political science and psychology.

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