The Political Science Honors Program at The University of New Mexico gives undergraduate students a taste of graduate school, along with the opportunity to explore the research process and write a senior thesis about their research with the help of faculty mentors. Associate Professor of Political Science Jessica Feezell directs the program, which is open to qualified juniors.

Through the Political Science Honors Program, students get a unique opportunity to engage in original research of their own design, guided by experienced faculty, Feezell explained. In the three-semester program, students gain extensive practice with data manipulation and analysis, they take a graduate-level Political Science seminar, and they write a senior thesis that advances theoretical and empirical knowledge in Political Science.

“Upon completion, students are able to conduct their own research and have developed deep and lasting relationships with our faculty,” she noted.

Feezell is the Political Science Honors Program advisor, teaches a research design course to new participants, guides the students through the three-semester sequence, pairs students with faculty for their senior theses, and works with the Political Science faculty to assess and award the appropriate honors level upon graduation.

Aleksia Minetos graduated in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Philosophy with a minor in Honors. Her undergraduate thesis for the Political Science Honors program was titled Risks in Retention: The Impact of Bail Reform on New Mexico’s Judicial Retention Elections. Minetos analyzed the relationship between the implementation of New Mexico’s bail amendment and how this impacted whether District and Metropolitan Court judges won their retention election in the years after the change.

“In taking the political science department’s pre-law courses I became interested in the intersection between political influence and judicial institutions,” Minetos said. “Then, during my time interning in the Albuquerque legal sector, I learned about the change in bail that happened in 2016 and how this greatly impacted criminal law and altered judicial behavior. My junior year honors thesis focused on the relationship between bail reform and attitudes towards crime in the United State, but when beginning my research for my senior thesis, I became increasingly interested in the nature of judicial elections in the United States and what factors impact election outcomes.”

Jesús Eduardo Sánchez just graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Honors Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts (HILA) with a minor in Psychology. He focused on how different countrywide welfare programs impact income inequality.

“I have benefitted from SNAP and Medicaid all my life and wanted to see if countries that provided benefits like Medicaid to their whole population got any benefits from doing so, since Medicare for All and free college have become more commonplace policy proposals in the USA,” he explained. “For my topic, I learned about how some benefits, although universal, will still only benefit certain parts of the population if they are inaccessible for any reason, for example, free college doesn't benefit members of the lower class, likely because college is a time commitment they cannot afford.”

Political Science Honors Program student Drew Wilson
Political Science Honors Program student Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson also received his diploma in May with a degree in Political Science and Economics. The topic of his Political Science Honors Program research was immigration infrastructure and asylum integration in developed countries.

“I chose this topic because I noticed one of the biggest debate issues in the country was gun control and immigration policy,” Wilson said. “I wanted to learn more about immigration so I could one day educate people around me about immigration infrastructure in a politically correct way. I was also interested in the idea of asylum-seeking, and I wanted to figure out what attracted asylum seekers to a certain country. Overall, the topic just interested me.”

All three agree the Political Science Honors Program was of value to them and their future endeavors.

“The honors program was hugely beneficial to me in helping me conduct and formulate my research and I credit so much of my academic development to the program,” Minetos said. “Not only did it allow me the freedom to pursue my own interests, but it challenged me to be independent in my studies… I am grateful to have had the support of Professor Feezell, Professor Elliott Schwebach, Professor Timothy Krebs, Professor Mala Htun, and our coding expert Karla Eickhoff, each of whom was an integral part in helping me through this program.”

The program gave Sánchez his first exposure to using tools like R, which he now uses regularly in his research, and has already benefited him: “My experience with quantitative research got me some internships in education policy here in New Mexico and got me interested in the possibility of becoming a policy analyst. Going forward, I will try to have my senior thesis published, which will really help me when applying for grad school.”

Wilson said the honors program has taught him how to form a research project: what components are needed, how methods should be used, and how data should be collected.

“I can safely say most of my research knowledge has come from the honors program. It helped me research immigration infrastructure and integration in ways I never thought I could,” he noted.

His plans include returning to UNM for the next two years in the Master of Arts program for Political Science and then going on for a doctorate in Political Science. 

“This program can and will help me with my future endeavors. I have been so fortunate to have been able to experience the honors program for Political Science and have learned so much information about research and Political Science as a field. Everything I have learned in the program has been useful for applying to graduate school, and I know it will continue to have an impact on me throughout my life,” Wilson said. 

Starting in the Fall 2024 Minetos will enter her first year at the UNM School of Law where she hopes to get her Juris Doctorate and go on to practice law in New Mexico.

“Not only did I develop my writing skills further throughout [the Political Science Honors Program], but I feel like I am a stronger and more resilient student because of it, which I know will benefit me as I enter law school next fall,” Minetos said. “I really loved this program and I wish every political science student knew how beneficial it can be.”

Sánchez also plans to stay on at UNM, noting, “The Political Science department here has a 4+1 program that is designed to pair with the Honors program, so I will be staying one more year at UNM to get my master's in political science. After that, I'd like to get a Ph.D. in education to start working in education policy.”

Wilson was enthusiastic about the UNM professors and mentors who helped him.

“Dr. Feezell is nothing short of perfect, she has been the best mentor for this program. Not only does she care about her students, but she is actively one of the smartest individuals I have surrounded myself with. [Political Science professors] Dr. [Mala] Htun and Dr. [Christopher] Butler were also helpful throughout the process, as they are also extremely educated and hardworking professionals. The fast-paced learning environment was easy thanks to them.”

Minetos highly recommends the program to other students with an interest in political science. She also expressed gratitude to Feezell and Htun, as well as Political Science lecturer Elliott Schwebach, Political Science professor Timothy Krebs, and coding expert Karla Eickhoff.

“…I credit so much of my academic development to the Political Science Honors Program,” she said. “Not only did it allow me the freedom to pursue my own interests, but it challenged me to be independent in my studies. I have been a staunch advocate of this program to younger political science students because of how beneficial it has been for me. Not only does it allow you to form strong working relationships with your professors, but also with your peers in the program.”

Feezell said the program has been consistently successful, with graduates going on to master’s and Ph.D. programs in Political Science and excellent law programs at UNM and other universities.

Students interested in the Political Science Honors Program can find out more here.

Top image: Political Science Honors Program students Jesús Eduardo Sánchez, Sofia Rivera, Aleksia Minetos, and Professor Jessica Feezell, second from left.

Related article