Honors College Day 3: Inspiring Research

This is the third in a series of blog posts written by the Fisher Family Honors Program class of 2023 detailing their experiences in Washington, D.C. for CDDRL's annual Honors College.
CDDRL honors students at Brookings Institution

The opportunity to go to D.C. on the Honors College trip was one of the things that drew me to the CDDRL Honors Program in the first place, and the visit to the Brookings Institution was exactly the kind of experience I was hoping to get. Obviously, I’m interested in research — I wouldn’t recommend writing a thesis if you aren’t — but in terms of my future career, I’ve always wanted to have a hand in guiding policy, and to me, a think tank like Brookings is exactly the kind of place where research and policy intersect.

It was wonderful to have the opportunity to learn about the specific research interests of the three panelists — for example, Molly Reynolds, a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies, focuses on congressional rules and procedure and had an encyclopedic knowledge of trivia about various House members (though we never did find out which representative from Arkansas was left-handed). I was most interested in hearing about how the panelists view their role in the policy-making process: having the right idea, in the right place, at the right time.

This visit was also particularly exciting for me because all three panelists were women, which was encouraging to see. In fact, over the course of the week, the number of women we met in important and influential positions was fairly inspiring. The week in D.C. certainly influenced my thinking about what kind of work I want to do in the future — even the visits that weren’t directly related to my research interests were fascinating, and an extremely useful exposure to the kind of careers that a CDDRL alumnus might pursue.

~ Sorcha Whitley

Women-led panel at Brookings Women-led panel at Brookings

Honors College gave me the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. (and the East Coast, for that matter) for the first time. I was excited to learn about how people and organizations in government and other practitioners put into practice all that we have learned about democracy, development, and the rule of law. Some visits have left me with new insight and questions that would be helpful in my thesis research.

At first glance, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would have appeared to be less relevant to the study of democracy, development, and the rule of law, but we were quite instantly impressed with the conversation that ensued. We were hosted by Riya Mehta, a CDDRL honors alumna who has been working as the chief of staff at the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) for just less than a year. Just like at Brookings, the session was mainly conducted by two women — Riya and a career civil servant that had been with the USDA for decades. Not only was that inspiring, but seeing the rapport and understanding between them was heartwarming and showed great promise for the mission of the FSA.

We learned about how the USDA delicately balances its role in development with its agenda in maintaining equity and focusing on sustainability, especially reckoning with its history of discrimination. The FSA operates in nearly every county in the United States, and such reach has enabled it to support local farmers and rural communities efficiently. The FSA also works with other agencies in the USDA such as the Foreign Agricultural Service to work toward more comprehensive development goals, a goal that requires increased international cooperation amidst a global food and supply chain crisis. Just like our research, this trip had us seek inspiration in unlikely places, and come out with more questions to ponder!

~ Gan Chern Xun