Social Science Scholar: The Effects of College Education on Voter Turnout

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to participate in Carnegie Mellon University’s Junior Summer Institute as a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow. This six-week program focused on training a diverse group of student leaders for futures in public service, with an emphasis on developing applied skills for policy formulation and analysis. The core of this program consisted of graduate-level courses in applied microeconomics, statistics, data science, and leadership; however, these academic experiences were supplemented with a number of workshops and guest speakers from organizations like the U.S. Government Accountability Office and México Evalúa.  

Over the course of the program, I had many opportunities to expand my understanding of the ways that policy analysts shape the process of governing in the United States. For example, in my data science class, we were given the task of selecting and analyzing a dataset in a policy area of our interest. We were then responsible for presenting this data in the context of a policy proposal. My partner and I focused on the impacts of collegiate education on voter turnout—something that I am currently researching for my Undergraduate Honors Thesis—and found that college attendance is positively related to student turnout in elections.  

Later on in the program, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop with the U.S. Government Accountability Office and observe the role that policy analysts play in curbing inefficiencies found in the federal government. Paired with an interactive simulation of a Congressional Committee Hearing, this workshop provided a unique view of how academic research is filtered into the applied policy world—and ways to increase the effectiveness with which that information is presented.  

This experience was truly unforgettable, and I am grateful for the support I received from the Social Science Scholars program throughout the process. Because of this program, I have been able to go beyond the scope of my fellowship and apply the skills I learned as a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow to research I am doing here at Florida State University—namely, the investigation of civics education and its effects on collegiate voter participation. Public policy consists of fixing yesterday’s problems while anticipating tomorrow’s, and I hope to make good on this investment from the Social Science Scholars program by focusing on ways to do just that.  

Chaston Pfingston is an undergraduate at Florida State University, studying political science. Chaston is a Communications Coordinator at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and a 2020 Social Science Scholar at FSU. You can connect with Chaston on LinkedIn.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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