Introducing Our 2022-23 CDDRL Honors Students

Representing nine different majors and minors and hailing from four different countries, we are thrilled to welcome these twelve outstanding students to our Fisher Family Honors Program.
2022-23 CDDRL Honors Students

The Fisher Family Interdisciplinary Honors Program in Democracy, Development and Rule of Law (DDRL) at CDDRL provides undergraduates from different majors and schools at Stanford the opportunity to write an honors thesis in a cohort based on a shared interest in democracy, development and rule of law. Honors students graduate in their majors but receive honors in DDRL.

The aim of our Honors Program is for participating undergraduates to carry out original, policy-relevant research on democracy, development or the rule of law, and to produce a coherent, eloquently argued, well-written honors thesis.

We are thrilled to welcome twelve outstanding students to the class of 2022-23 who represent nine different majors and minors and hail from four different countries around the world.


Meet the Students

Kelsey Hope Carido

Kelsey Carido

Major: International Relations
Minor: Human Rights
Hometown: Vernon Hills, IL
Thesis Advisor: Paul Wise and Stephen Stedman

Tentative Thesis Title: Beyond Policy: How Migrant Families Navigate Deterrence at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law?  The pandemic tested all of the systems of government around the world. Migrants and refugees were one of the most impacted populations with compounding issues such as closed borders and lack of access to public health resources and needs. The U.S.-Mexico border was shut due to the pandemic, which reinforced the policies first started by the Trump Administration to keep migrants and asylum seekers out of the United States. All of those issues around the border are important to the intersection of democracy, development, and rule of law. Democracy and rule of law through the ability of the U.S. and Mexico government to walk the line with the protection of public health and the international obligations to protect refugees and asylum seekers. Development through documenting the conditions and access to resources at the ports of entry and how migrant populations, civil society organizations, and governments work to establish areas of temporary refuge. The debate around immigration has seemed to resort to passing the blame and further polarize our political system rather than truly finding workable solutions. I hope to revitalize the hope and bring light to some real actions that can aid migrant populations.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? The access to some of the most brilliant and forward thinking faculty and research community was an opportunity I felt like I couldn't pass up. I also was very attracted to the multidisciplinary aspect of the CDDRL honors program where I will be able to learn and grow from my peers who each care so deeply about their own topic but also are committed to helping shape mine to be the best that it can be. I hope to grow and strengthen my research, writing, and analysis skills through participation in the cohort and engagement with the research community.

What are your summer research plans? I plan to conduct interviews of migrant families and their experiences through the COVID-19 pandemic with a combination of virtual interviews and in-person interviews in Tijuana, Mexico.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I plan to pursue a graduate degree abroad and later attend law school to become a human rights or immigration lawyer.

A fun fact about yourself: A huge part of my Stanford experience has been singing in an A Cappella group - Mixed Company!

Warren Erdal Christopher

Warren Christopher

Major: Economics
Minor: International Relations
Hometown: New York, NY
Thesis Advisor: Larry Diamond

Tentative Thesis Title: Driving the Dance: Xinjiang, Uyghur Repression, and Inconsistent Economic Partnership between Türkiye and the People’s Republic of China

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? In recent years, China has pursued an aggressive international economic agenda. Through its Belt and Road Initiative and other programs, Beijing has inked investment memorandums and funded critical infrastructure projects in nearly 150 countries, including in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. Despite this, China appears to have adopted a lighter touch towards Turkey. My thesis aims to shed new light on the development policies of the Chinese Communist Party by examining the economic relationship between Ankara and Beijing. This topic will examine Chinese economic initiatives and their global development impacts, as well as the expanding influence of Turkey in its own region and around the world.

Moreover, as a Turkish-American, this program offers a unique opportunity to contribute research and knowledge about an area of the world that is particularly important to me.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I'm excited to work with peers from all across campus, bringing together a wide range of academic specialties and personal experiences. Much the same, the opportunity to work closely with the professors and faculty involved with CDDRL is an immense gift.

What are your summer research plans?  I'm planning on spending time in Turkey, meeting with and interviewing former government officials, businesspeople, and academics to gain their perspective on Turkey-China relations and the Chinese economic presence in Turkey.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I hope to work at the intersection of the United States and Turkey, in the private sector and eventually within government. Currently, I'm working in the venture capital space on bringing new technologies to government and connecting policymakers in Washington D.C. with entrepreneurs around the country.

A fun fact about yourself: Along with friends, I co-wrote a screenplay during my sophomore year in high school.

Alison Cohen

Alison Cohen

Major: Political Science
Minor: History and Creative Writing
Hometown: Tempe, Arizona
Thesis Advisor: David Laitin

Tentative Thesis Title: Grassroots Growth: Investigating the Afghan Local Police's effect on Developmental Aid Outcomes

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? I will be studying the relationship between a localized security program deployed in Afghanistan and developmental aid outcomes like health, education, and literacy. Development in war-torn areas is a precarious topic. On one hand, successful development programs should be a key strategy concern; spurring economic and educational prosperity in regions marked by conflict are pathways to build the capacity of the central government. Deliverers of aid, of course, intend to bolster the quality of life for recipients, but especially in conflicts, there is also a strategic concern for them. Aid programs in Afghanistan for example were envisioned to “win the hearts and minds” of the people and subsequently reduce support for insurgencies. In this way, aid programs are a crux of developmental policy and strategic foreign policy.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I have held a long interest in the fields of Democracy and Development and the chance to work with expert faculty in this field was extremely appealing as a way to round out my Stanford experience. Furthermore, I also wanted a program that would enable me to do a deep dive into some of my most prominent interests: developmental aid, Afghanistan, and American foreign policy. I also look forward to engaging deeply with the cohort of peers who have like-minded interests. An advantage of attending such a stem-focused school is exposure to topics I’d never normally known about. The biggest disadvantage I’ve found though is that I’m missing a community of peers deeply interested in my same interests- namely development. look forward to building camaraderie with my CDDRL peers

What are your summer research plans? I have tentative plans to work with Major Jon Bate, a PHD student at Stanford on researching the Afghan Local Police program. Simultaneously, I also expect to be going through troves of Census data downloaded from the Afghan government's website before it fell that contains information on education, literacy, and healthcare.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: Not sure! I'm interested in diplomacy, venture capital, journalism, and stand-up comedy (in no particular order).

A fun fact about yourself: For a final class project, I once went an entire day without experiencing "modern time". I didn't look at clocks or use alarms for the whole day. It was the best Monday of finals week I've ever had!

Gabrielle Crooks

Gabrielle Crooks

Major: International Relations
Minor: Human Rights
Hometown: Montgomery County, MD
Thesis Advisor: Stephen Stedman

Tentative Thesis Title: An Examination of Accountability Mechanisms in Development Aid in Latin America and Africa 

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Development banks have played a significant role in nation-building and in providing aid to developing nations around the world. However, much of their impact has been measured through the lens of these banks themselves, rather than from the perspective of the communities that receive the aid and support from these institutions. One of the few ways that development banks have shed light on the community perspective is through their accountability mechanisms. In my research, I hope to present a community-facing and community-driven point of view on the work of these development institutions. Alongside organizations like the UN and NATO, development banks and other forms of humanitarian aid have a role in shaping governance in the communities and countries they serve. Examining and understanding their impact from the perspective of communities on the ground is incredibly necessary for the progress of democracy and development in these countries.   

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was really excited by the prospect of designing and carrying out a large-scale research project, something I haven’t been able to do here at Stanford. I’m also really looking forward to connecting with my cohort, especially in seeing the different ways they aim to critically engage with the topics of democracy, development, and the rule of law. The D.C. trip was definitely also a draw!

What are your summer research plans? Though I will be interning with the UNHCR's Innovation Service, I hope to start collecting sources this summer! I will also start combing through the data surrounding accountability mechanisms in regional development banks. I may want to communicate with relevant stakeholders that work around development aid accountability, so organizing that will also be a priority.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After hopefully co-terming in Sustainability here at Stanford, I want to work on development aid policy before going to law school and starting a career that combines these areas of law and policy.

A fun fact about yourself: I have around a two-month streak on Wordle!

Chern Xun Gan

Chern Xun Gan

Major: Political Science
Hometown: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Thesis Advisor: Larry Diamond

Tentative Thesis Title: Democracy in Post-GE14 Malaysia: A Missed Opportunity?

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Malaysia provides an interesting and useful case to study democratization from competitive authoritarianism in divided societies. With academic discussion on democratization more recently focusing on backsliding, a failed democratic transition, which is what I am studying in Malaysia, necessarily provides a novel angle to the study of the global democratic recession. Studying democracy in Malaysia is also inextricably linked to its unique ethnic and religious cleavages, its development in line with modernization, and the position of the Federal Constitution, spanning an interdisciplinary range of democracy, development, and the rule of law, and so studying them in the Malaysian context will further spotlight and contextualize these factors in the study of democracy, and especially advance its study in the region of Southeast Asia.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? During my time at Stanford, I have been fortunate to be able to pursue an interdisciplinary mode of study which I have found to be valuable to furthering my understanding of democracy in Malaysia. Hence, I was attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the program and am eager to interact with my cohort and CDDRL scholars from various fields and learn from them. Much of the research produced from the program has also taken the form of international case studies such as my planned project, and so was the perfect home for my project.

What are your summer research plans? In the summer, I plan to conduct fieldwork in Malaysia, conducting interviews with political leaders, civil society, and journalists. I may also possibly conduct a survey on political attitudes in Malaysia. These will provide important data points on the state of Malaysia's attitudinal and institutional setting related to democracy around the period of the 14th General Elections (GE14) in 2018 to advance the understanding of why democratic transition failed in Malaysia.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I plan to pursue doctoral studies in the area of comparative politics, working toward a future career that advances knowledge and educates people on politics, governance, and social issues in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.

A fun fact about yourself: Both my dream occupation and dream university have changed since childhood, but life somehow found a way for me to spend some (great!) time in both of them.

Matthew Heafey

Matthew Heafey

Major: Political Science
Minor: Mathematics
Hometown: Hillsborough, CA
Thesis Advisor: Larry Diamond

Tentative Thesis Title: A Comparative Analysis of the Roots of Far-Right, Anti-Democratic, Populist Movements in the United States and Europe

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Far-right, anti-democratic, populist movements have proven to be a key factor in democratic backsliding in developed democracies the world over. Acting on their own, or with the backing of authoritarian powers, these movements have already seen significant political success across the United States and Europe, with concerning effects on the health of democratic governance in the countries where they’ve held influence. The similarities in these movements, and the political, historical, economic, and cultural conditions in which they arose, can provide important insights into their motivations for and methods of interference in democratic processes. This topic concerns understanding the factors relevant to and mechanisms of democratic decline, enabling us to better respond and strengthen democratic institutions against domestic challenges.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was attracted to CDDRL’s interdisciplinary approach to issues of critical importance in the modern world. I have a deep passion for questions of democratic development and recession, and the expertise of CDDRL faculty and opportunities for mentorship made the Honors Programs an exciting opportunity. I’m looking forward to learning from my peers and advisors as I write my thesis and gain valuable skills for the future.

What are your summer research plans? I’m looking forward to diving into elections and other movement data from the United States and select European Countries to begin to identify trends that line up with previous research. I’m also intending to compile a literature review.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I intend to pursue further studies in democracy and political science more generally. I’m not certain about my career aspirations, but I am broadly interested in careers in political communications.

A fun fact about yourself: I love music! I play three instruments and sing.

Tara Hein

Tara Hein

Major: Political Science
Hometown: Monteverde, Costa Rica
Thesis Advisor: Beatriz Magaloni and Jeremy Weinstein

Tentative Thesis Title: Unequal Citizenship: Multidimensional Poverty and Political Participation in Santiago, Chile

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Chile has long been considered an outlier in Latin America, revered for its stable democracy and economic growth. However, in 2019, a social crisis rocked the country. The Estadillo Social, as it came to be known, denounced the absence of social rights, emphasizing Chile’s drastic socioeconomic inequality and persistently high rates of multidimensional poverty as access to services like quality healthcare and education remains unaffordable for a large portion of the population. Following the Estadillo Social, a Constitutional Convention with unprecedented levels of representation was created to re-write the nation’s constitution. This process offers an opportunity to renegotiate the Chilean social order, expand citizenship rights for impoverished individuals, and strengthen Chilean democracy. Recent events in Chile speak to a larger global trend of stable democracies feeling the shocks of a citizenry angered by the workings of their democratic politics. As an uprising explicitly demanding a more egalitarian distribution of wealth and political power, the Estadillo Social sheds light on the underbelly of democracy and development, offering insight into what is needed to sustain democracy, starting with citizens themselves. Simultaneously Chile seems to be successfully navigating this precarious moment, potentially halting, or reversing, democratic erosion. Thus, securing a better understanding of how historically marginalized citizens renegotiate their position vis-à-vis the state can contribute invaluable insight into what is needed to fulfill promises of universal citizenship and deepen democracy in Latin America. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I came to Stanford resolved to learn how systems of governance impact impoverished communities and how the complex dynamics that impede development can be dismantled. Throughout my studies, I have become captivated by the interplay between citizens and the state as a centerpiece in the puzzle of poverty in Latin America. By completing an honors thesis with CDDRL, I can continue engaging with the questions driving my ambitions, expand my expertise, and take ownership of my work under the guidance of leading scholars in the field. The CDDRL research community was another critical factor motivating my application. Close relationships with peers and mentors alike are vital for growing as a scholar, and as a person; I am eager to embark on my first venture into independent scholarship in this supportive and stimulating environment. 

What are your summer research plans? In June, I will travel to Santiago, Chile, to conduct fieldwork for my thesis over the course of ten weeks. Fieldwork will primarily consist of in-depth interviews carried out in low-income neighborhoods of the city. While in Santiago, I will be collaborating with Dr. Claudia Heiss, Assistant Professor and Head of the Political Science Undergraduate Program at the Instituto de Asuntos Publicos, University of Chile, joining her research team as a visiting student and researcher. Simultaneously, I will be conducting my literature review, and towards the end of the summer, I will begin analyzing interview data.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: Upon graduating from Stanford, I plan to return to Costa Rica, working in grassroots activism and political organization, strengthening our democracy from the ground up and bridging the academic knowledge I gained through my studies with real-world experience. Later, I intend to pursue a Ph.D. in political science, with a focus on democracy and development in Latin America. Ultimately, it is my goal to contribute to the alleviation of poverty in my region through improved systems of governance, with a focus on citizen participation.

A fun fact about yourself: In Costa Rica, I grew up riding horses in equestrian endurance races!

Brandon Hoang

Brandon Hoang

Major: International Relations
Hometown: Missouri City, TX
Thesis Advisor: Anna Grzymala-Busse

Tentative Thesis Title: Divine Right, Revolution, and Republicanism: Discerning the Catholic Church's Role in Democratic Formation in Western Europe

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? The liberal democracy championed by our contemporary international order is besieged by a wave of backsliding and populism which often appeal to the religious sentiments of voters. This trend is especially prevalent in Europe, a continent with a long and rich heritage of kings and emperors who claimed political legitimacy from the Catholic Church. Yet that same Church has played a key role in restricting those monarchs and laying the foundation for the formation of democratic institutions and the rule of law. At such a critical point in the future of democracy, understanding the informal and implicit link between church and state can provide an invaluable insight into addressing modern sources of tension between religion and our institutions.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? Much of my time at Stanford, from freshman year SLE to seminars with the (off-campus) Zephyr Institute to conversations with classmates and professors, has given me the chance to reflect on the role of religious values in our political order. The CDDRL honors program is a perfect capstone to synthesize everything I have learned over these past few years while surrounded by accomplished mentors, a cohort of enthusiastic peers, and an unmatched research community.

What are your summer research plans? I plan to participate in two fellowship programs in Washington D.C. The first of these fellowships will examine the Catholic Church’s relation to culture and society during the early modern period, and the second will study the foundations of the American political order and democracy. Alongside a literature review conducted in private, I hope to gain an intensive look at the role religious values and institutions have played, whether implicitly or explicitly, in the growth of democracies.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I am interested in taking my curiosity about political theory and practice to law school, after which I hope to eventually pursue a career in public service.

A fun fact about yourself: I carry the banner of the French House of Bourbon in my backpack wherever I go, and I don’t plan on stopping!

Sarah Lee

Sarah Lee

Major: International Relations
Minor: Human Rights
Hometown: Arcadia, CA
Thesis Advisor: Rob Reich

Tentative Thesis Title: Understanding Facebook's disparities in democratic investment around the world

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Facebook was the first social media app I ever used, and as I have grown up, so has the platform. Though Facebook is a US-based company, its reach is global. At the same time, its treatment of its responsibilities to citizens, democratic values, and human rights, such as in the form of content moderation, ultimately vary from country to country—at times with catastrophic consequences. In my thesis, I aim to investigate not only why and how Facebook’s disparities in democratic investment occur but also as we look forward, what potential measures of accountability exist in the legal system and through civil society partnerships.

Using the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a guiding legal framework as to what Facebook’s social and democratic responsibilities are, I hope to investigate the nature of Facebook’s actions (or lack thereof) in relation to global trends of growing democratic backsliding and digital authoritarianism.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? As I approach the end of my Stanford career, I want to culminate all that I have learned both within and beyond the classroom by pushing myself to not only ask big questions but also seek the answers to them through dedicated, thoughtful research. CDDRL is the perfect place for me to do just that—I'm excited to listen to and learn from my incredibly talented peers and the faculty that are a part of this program.

What are your summer research plans? I will be working at a full-time speechwriting internship this summer but look forward to getting started on my literature review and organizing my sources.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I'm not entirely sure yet, but I know that my work will relate to human rights in some way, whether that looks like immigrant and refugee justice or the intersection of human rights and technology. I am interested in going to law school one day, and I would love to work a few years in policy and advocacy first.

A fun fact about yourself: My current favorite artist and writer is the same person: Japanese Breakfast, aka Michelle Zauner. If you haven't listened to her band’s music or read "Crying in H-Mart," you must!

Anastasiia Malenko

Anastasiia Malenko

Major: Political Science and Economics
Hometown: Cherkasy, Ukraine
Thesis Advisor: Kathryn Stoner

Tentative Thesis Title: Evaluating democratic consolidation in Ukraine through failed and successful reforms after the Revolution of Dignity 

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Ukraine has demonstrated extraordinary resilience in the face of reversal to authoritarianism when the war with Russia began last month. I believe that research focusing on the failed and successful domestic reforms, fueled by political and civil society leaders, will allow the broader community to get a deeper insight into the source of the Ukrainian commitment to democracy, development, and the rule of law. Analyzing the democratic resilience and its sources in the face of adversity at the time of the global democratic decline is needed to further our understanding of young democracies and the best ways to support them.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? The collaborative approach of the program, which emphasizes support and feedback, has encouraged me to apply. I am excited to work with the CDDRL faculty and students to leverage the interdisciplinary focus of the program in creatively approaching the questions in our fields.

What are your summer research plans? I planned to conduct stakeholder interviews about the reforms but the plans may change as the war continues.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I hope to use my passion for story-telling and problem-solving to work at the intersection of public and private sectors, shedding light on the previously overlooked problems and mobilizing the community around the solutions.

A fun fact about yourself: I did an exchange program in Colorado as a sophomore in high school.

Sean Foster Michael

Sean Michael

Major: Economics
Minor: Political Science; Modern Languages (Spanish & German)
Hometown: Scarsdale, NY
Thesis Advisor: Erik Jensen

Tentative Thesis Title: Comparing the Effect of Chinese and American Aid on Corruption in Latin America 

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Corruption is an issue that is difficult to define but is incredibly relevant to the pursuit of economic development around the world. Despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, many Latin American countries remain constrained in providing services to their citizens. Instances of both petty and grand corruption present significant obstacles to development organizations. Corruption is also important because it provides an insight into the mechanisms of democratic change. The Lava Jato scandal in Brazil and similar ones in Paraguay and Peru have illustrated the extent to which public dissatisfaction with corrupt behavior could lead to positive change on the one hand and institutional decay on the other. In the era of a multipolar world order, China and the United States offer differing development models that are extended in the ways that the two countries give aid. I want to study the influence that these forms of development can have on corruption in the region: American aid is largely conditioned on quality of governance, and those conditions could have differing impacts on norms of governance in recipient countries. I believe my conclusions could have implications for improving the outcomes of economic development programs such as those used by the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the World Bank.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? CDDRL’s interdisciplinary focus and its innovative scholars drew me to the program. Engaging in research that integrates my interests in economics, international relations, and history will allow me to write a more well-rounded and comprehensive thesis. That breadth will also make the thesis-writing experience one of continuous curiosity, enabling me to connect concepts from a wide range of fields to analyze the root causes of corruption. Looking to the future, connecting with researchers at CDDRL will also inform how I can continue to utilize an interdisciplinary mindset professionally.

What are your summer research plans? I will be continuing my research online, as well as using primary sources from libraries and conducting interviews in Washington, DC, where I will be working. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After graduation, my plan is to work in public sector consulting, preferably at the state and local level. After that, I'd like to go to graduate school to best leverage my skills in development economics, likely in or adjacent to the public sector. 

A fun fact about yourself: My first quarter as a CDDRL Honors student will be spent in Santiago, Chile, where I’ll be doing primary source research into Chilean politics and history.

Sorcha Whitley

Sorcha Whitley

Major: International Relations
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Thesis Advisor: Stephen Stedman

Tentative Thesis Title: The UN and State-building Missions: Democratic Institutions and Legitimacy

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? In the years since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations has been called upon to engage in post-conflict reconstruction and in state-building activities in addition to traditional peacekeeping duties of overseeing peace agreements and patrolling ceasefire lines. These operations are central to the U.N.’s mission to promote international peace and security, as, after all, a cooperative and peaceful international system is far more difficult to achieve in a world of fragile, weak, or collapsing states than in a world of stable ones. I hope to contribute to answering the question of which of the various activities U.N. missions undertake are the most important to creating those stable states. I plan to focus in my thesis on the efficacy of focusing on building resilient democratic institutions, and state legitimacy, in environments that are not necessarily conducive to such things. The institutional structure of democracies and how international organizations encourage the development of states is intensely relevant to the field of DDRL-- in fact, it's even in the name.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was interested in the opportunity to explore the areas of DDRL with students who approach the issues from both similar and vastly different backgrounds to my own and hopefully expand my own thinking in the process. Also, of course, CDDRL fits in perfectly with my own academic interests in international law and development. I'm also excited to be a part of the vibrant intellectual community of the CDDRL.

What are your summer research plans? I plan to read as much of the relevant literature as I can, so I can focus on writing next year.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I will be applying to both law school and PhD programs- I hope writing my thesis will help me choose between the two. Post-graduate school, I want to get involved in developmental policymaking.

A fun fact about yourself: I am trained in classical ballet, and I perform with Stanford's own Cardinal Ballet Company!