Project Reflections

Well… I can’t believe the program is almost over! It seems like we just started. Even more though, it doesn’t feel as if I’ve spent six weeks working on my project already! My project has certainly been difficult. Never having done research before (as well as underestimating the amount of time we would be privileged to spend networking with important alumni) I planned a very lofty research project. Even after revising my plan twice, it still has been a lot more work than I expected.

At this point, I’m looking forward to my poster being finished so I can present! But I may not have reached this point without my mentor Professor Ben Bingle. He has been an invaluable resource. Not only has he served as an amazing resource, but NGOLD’s gracious decision to let me work in their graduate student office has helped me immensely. The office has allowed me to work in a pleasant environment, as well as giving me easy access to people knowledgeable about my research. I’ll continue to utilize these resources as I finish my poster and paper.

In terms of lessons… The greatest thing I’ve learned about myself this summer is that I like a great level of autonomy in my research. In the past, this has always been the situation. However, as I’ve spent a lot of time with multiple resources this summer (including my fellow McKearners), I’ve realized I work best with autonomy. This is especially true since I am very much a night owl (in case it isn’t apparent from the late hour of the post). However, I’ve also learned that I need to utilize resources more; something I am working on doing. Even though the end is near, it isn’t here yet! So for the remained of the program, I hope to continue learning and reflecting.

Until next time!


The Challenge of “The Leadership Challenge”

As a required part of the program, we have all been reading “The Leadership Challenge”. While it can sometimes be time-consuming (as perhaps it should be in order to truly comprehend what I’m reading), I have taken an incredible amount of the reading to heart. The opportunity to grow and develop as a leader was a task I was eager to begin when I was accepted into the McKearns program and I feel that it has been my greatest strength during this process.

To choose the leadership practice that I struggled with most, wasn’t difficult. Almost immediately, I knew I was going to choose Encourage the Heart. While this may seem like the most simple of the five, I consider it to be a great challenge. I have been in leadership positions a multitude of times, however, I have always had the privilege of being surrounded by people who were just as consumed with passion for the topic or cause as I was.

In terms of workshops, excursions, etc. the most helpful presentation in this regard was undoubtedly Dino Martinez’s leadership academy. Not only did I gleam a deeper understanding of what encouraging the heart entails (both from listening to Dino as well as my fellow McKearners), but I was given practical tips on how to encourage heart in different contexts. In terms of applying the leadership practice, this is one of the hardest. Due to the individualistic nature of McKearns, I do not have the opportunity to work in-depth with other students. While this has largely prevented the immediate application of my new understanding, I have been brainstorming many ideas on how to apply the practices to my other commitments including Model United Nations and NIU’s NGAGE club. I am absolutely positive that Encouraging the Heart will allow me to be a better and more responsive leader in these positions, and I am indubitably grateful to those around me for aiding me in my discovery of how to encourage heart in situations where there may not initially be much.

Thanks to everyone still reading! Until next week…


Reflection on the Retreat

Thanks for continuing to read everyone!

This weekend all of the programs gathered together to travel to NIU’s Lorado Taft campus in Oregon, Illinois. To be completely honest, I am not an outdoor person at all! I’m still counting mosquito bites and jumping any time something brushes my skin. It could be a spider after all… Despite the fact I wasn’t a fan of my surroundings, I did learn several things about group dynamics and leadership. Most importantly was the reinforcement of the idea that working in a group is a delicate balance between being a leader and allowing others to serve as leaders. As well, I learned what great resources my fellow researchers can be.

By the way, everyone’s projects are really cool!

Until next week, have fun learning!



Prep for Lorado Taft

Thanks for continuing to read everyone!

This week we were asked to take a closer look at the credibility of our source material, which is incredibly relevant figuring we just turned in our annotated bibliographies. In order to make it more relevant to my personal project, I wanted to describe one of my main sources for this project. To review the context a little… My project is examining the relationship between the levels of non-governmental organization (NGO) penetration and the levels of democracy and repression in various governmental structures. While this is a limited part of an extended project, my research this summer will be conducted through a series of case study analysis. I have chosen one nation to represent each of the five major governmental structures, which are as follows: liberal democracy (United States of America), democracy (South Africa), open anocracy (Iraq), closed anocracy (Russian Federation) and autocracy (China). Ideally, once larger patterns can be identified, this will have implications not only as an academic source, but also to legitimate policy makers and NGOs who can use the information to make choices more wisely.


In order to explore the variable levels of democracy and repression, I have chosen to rely heavily on annual rankings from the NGO Freedom House. It is for this reason that I feel it is only just I evaluate them as a source. In a positive light, they were chosen because they are largely trusted by both policy makers and political scientists (though admittedly there has been debate in the academic community in recent years).  As well, the reports examine a wide range of political rights and civil liberties issues, have a wide geographic span and are published annually. Overall, they are a very trustworthy source. Despite this however, the reports still have their flaws. While the reports necessarily can be quite repetitive and sometimes vague, the largest issue is with the presence of a bias. While this bias does not seem to infiltrate into their Freedom House scores (which are consistent with findings from other measures of democracy such as the Polity IV index), the more in-depth explanations/speculations found in country reports show evidence of western bias. (For examples of this, examine the Freedom House country reports for Iraq from 2000-2005 during discussions of the United Nations Oil-For-Food programme and it’s effect on humanitarian and economic conditions in Iraq)

Another major bonus of using Freedom House scores over other measures of democracy is that their country reports are written for a general audience, making it quite easy to translate the information in a way that is accessible to everyone.

Hopefully that satiated your hunger for knowledge! At least for now… Until next week.



Ethics and All That Jazz…

Hello Again Everyone!

Thanks for coming back! I apologize that this post is a little late, my laptop decided to break on me (at least it’s under warranty)! Anyways… The topic for this week was ethics.

Ethics is a hard concept to define. Although I could easily give you the dictionary definition, it can’t really encompass everything that the word implies. So, for my best effort: Ethics is all of the responsibilities, obligations and necessities that arise from or are encompassed by making morally correct decisions. While this may not be the best definition, I feel that it fits my discipline in several ways. First, there are very few universal standards in political science. While of course there are the golden research rules: make sure your research is conducted responsibly, (Yay RCR! ), don’t do any research that could bring excessive physical or emotional harm to others, etc. Many of the areas are very subjective. Cultural and social norms vary vastly between different societies, so doing research in America may be completely different from doing research in Sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia. These differences need to be taken into account when researching.

While I am not doing any research directly with people this semester, making it quite a bit easier on the ethical side, I will have to make sure I am collecting and utilizing data responsibly. This is something that I absolutely can utilize later in my academic and professional career. This aspect will also be especially important as I plan to continue my fellowship research into my senior honors thesis/capstone project and consider submitting it for publication. The knowledge and training of how to do this correctly will also aid me in graduate school, as I am already planning projects that I hope to complete at a later date.

Until Next Time! 🙂



Gratitude and Excursion Reflection

When talking about the excursion, the first thing I want to comment on is the location. The Mid-American Club was unbelievably beautiful! Even though I am terrified of heights, I still had to appreciate being on the eightieth floor (especially since we were right on the lake!). In regards to the actual etiquette training, I was both nervous and excited. I was nervous because I was convinced that I was doing everything wrong! However, intellectually, I knew that such things are important when you enter into a professional setting.

I was most nervous during the actual luncheon, as we were meeting with very important people! I will admit though, that the gentlemen we had the pleasure of dining with made me feel more at ease. The fact that accomplished professionals were just learning proper dining etiquette made the situation much easier. So to say, the playing field felt more level. It also did not hurt that each of the gentlemen we were dining with had a wonderful sense of humor and obviously possessed a strong sense of humility!

I felt much more comfortable during the pre-meal etiquette session. Though I did not necessarily agree with everything she said about how to dress, her input was fascinating. Her tip about wool being a fabric that is appropriate year round (and is durable!) is something that I am going to keep in mind while shopping. I was also more comfortable in this situation because I knew that the practical advice we were being given would allow me to be more comfortable through the rest of the  events associated with this fellowship. As well, this will help me take advantage of future networking opportunities.

Not only did I feel that the training we received will be helpful in the immediate and long term, I also believe that it was helpful in the development of leadership. Knowing the proper etiquette in any given situation allows me to be more comfortable and confident, which are two essential parts of leadership. However, the most important lesson I learned was that it is okay to break the rules of etiquette as long as it is for the benefit of others.


An Open Letter…

Hello Everyone!

Even though we’ve already formally met, I’ll introduce myself anyways! My name is Ashley Palin. I’m 18 years old and am going to be a senior at Northern Illinois University. I’m majoring in International Relations and have a double minor in Community Leadership & Civic Engagement (CLCE) and History. As well I’m considering adding a certificate in Social Entrepreneurship from the business school. In terms of extracurricular activities: I am very involved in both the University Honors program, as well  the Political Science departmental honors program. I am the treasurer of a new Non-Governmental Organization for Leadership and Development (NGOLD) affiliated organization called NGAGE and am involved with various other activities as well. I also feel that I should mention I am a transfer student. I transferred from my local community college, Rock Valley College in my junior year (after getting my associate of arts degree). While I absolutely love being a member of the NIU community, I still take great pride in my educational start.

Now that I’ve introduced myself, I want to say that meeting everyone on the first day of the program was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. Without much prior information I was not sure what to expect or who I would be working with. All I can say is that I was delighted! Everyone involved with summer research is intelligent and kind. Though we haven’t been here long, it is easy to tell that friendships will be formed.

While I prepare to do research (and learn about appropriate methods!), learn how to present myself to the best of my abilities and relate to individuals in other fields, I have to acknowledge those who helped put me in this position. Of course there is the McKearn Fellowship team and all other faculty members who helped to make this program possible. As well, I need to think Benjamin Bingle and Nancy Castle who both graciously agreed to be involved in my McKearns Fellowship experience (despite some uncertainty). However, there are four people that I think deserve special mention.

The first is Thomas Bouril. Regardless of our relationship status, over the past three years, he has been an inspiration and a source of support. His intelligence pushed me to better myself and his support helped me to attain my goals. Second is Professor Robert Brathwaite of the political science department at NIU. I had the pleasure of taking one of his classes during my first semester at NIU. Since that point, I have developed a close relationship with him. His experience has allowed him to give me advice on a professional level. In fact, he was the professor who I consulted when writing the proposal for this fellowship.  The last two individuals, Professor Crystal Dinwiddie and Dr. Martin Quirk of Rock Valley College, deserve special mention. I became acquainted with these two individuals while participating on Rock Valley College’s Model United Nations team. During the three years I spent in the program, these two individuals taught me proper research methods and how to present myself confidently in a professional setting. Much of what I take pride in today can be traced back to a lesson learned from them. They are amazing in their dedication, both as professors and advisers and I am ecstatic to be able to refer to them as teachers, advisers, mentors and friends.

Having spent so much time discussing myself, I am very excited to be able to speak to all of you! Though we have just met, I feel privileged to have the chance to work with every one of you. I am confident that I will be able to learn from your respective strengths and weaknesses. As well, I hope that you’ll be able to learn from mine. In terms of advice, all I care to venture is that we shouldn’t be afraid to lean on each other. I know this is something I struggle with sometimes, so I’m sure it’s something that many of you have a hard time with too!

Considering there has been so much conversation regarding leadership during this program, I should admit that I never gave the concept much thought until I came here. For me to willingly and successfully follow someone, there are a multitude of things that I look for. Compassion and passion are both incredibly important to me. As well, I look for a leader to have dedication, organization, realistic outlooks and the ability to plan for the future. All of these are qualities that I believe I possess as a leader. Preparing for the rest of the program, there is one skill that I believe is essential to effective leadership and takes time to build. I want to learn how to recognize and cultivate the talents of others. When combined with the ability to delegate according to everyone’s skills and passions, this can allow an organization to run efficiently and make everyone involved feel valued and intelligent.

I really look forward to working with all of you over the next eight weeks!