Introducing Our 2024-25 CDDRL Honors Students

We are thrilled to welcome fourteen outstanding students, who together represent fourteen different majors and minors and hail from eight different states and two countries, to our Fisher Family Honors Program in Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.
CDDRL Fisher Family Honors Class of 2025 CDDRL Fisher Family Honors Class of 2025.

The Fisher Family Honors Program in Democracy, Development and the 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.

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

We are thrilled to welcome fourteen outstanding students to the class of 2024-25 who represent fourteen different majors and minors and hail from eight different states and two countries around the world.


Meet the Students

Seamus Allen

Seamus Allen

Major: Public Policy
Hometown: Carnation, Washington
Thesis Advisor: James Fishkin

Tentative Thesis Title: Force of the Better Argument: Mechanisms of Persuasion in Deliberative Polling

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Democracy’s radically egalitarian promise is that the people shall rule themselves. Around the world, this commitment is being challenged. Populism is rising, authoritarians are on the march, and trust in government is falling. Recent experiments in deliberation offer a uniquely strong response to the charge of democratic inadequacy—under the right conditions, ordinary citizens are more than capable of coming to an informed consensus on even the toughest and most technical issues. Yet, we still do not fully understand why Deliberative Polling works as well as it does—is it the social pressure to think deeply about the issues, the exposure to people who are different, or is it the force of the better argument persuading deliberators? My research will dive into the transcripts from a Deliberative Poll to determine how persuasion takes place—potentially further legitimizing their use and providing a greater understanding of how to set up deliberative institutions for success. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I'm thrilled by the prospect of diving deep into not just my research question but the research questions of the other students. I can't wait to meet and work with peers and faculty who are just as excited about these issues as I am.

What are your summer research plans? I've applied for the VPUE Major Grant to allow me to spend the summer working to build my dataset, which involves using AI tools developed to search through discovery documents for litigation to categorize all the arguments each participant made in a deliberative poll.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I could see a lot of paths forward from here. Heading to law school, working as a legislative aide, running for local office, and fleeing from modernity to a cabin in the wilderness are all ideas I'm currently considering.

A fun fact about yourself: I design games. If you're a nerd like me and you like the sound of fighting giant monsters, check out Trail of the Behemoth on DriveThruRPG!

Alex Borthwick

Alex Borthwick

Major: International Relations
Minor: Human Rights & Arabic
Hometown:  San Diego, California
Thesis Advisor: Lisa Blaydes 

Tentative Thesis Title: Historical Memory of the Lebanese Civil War in the City of Beirut

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Lebanon is an interesting case study because, post-civil war, while a lot of development has taken place in the process of recovery, the country still struggles deeply with democratic governance and the rule of law. Post-conflict historical memory is considered to be crucial to national reconciliation, social cohesion, trust-building, and accountability; I am interested in how the issues plaguing Lebanon’s democracy and sustainable development today, including sectarianism and social divisions, relate to or are impacted by the lack of an official process of historical memory after the war. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was drawn to the CDDRL honors program because of its collaborative environment, faculty, and the chance to be part of and learn from a cohort. I’m excited to undertake a project that will challenge me to develop and carry out a long-term project beyond the scope of traditional research papers for class and to have the opportunity to carry out original research.

What are your summer research plans? I plan to look into the vast online archives of work carried out by non-governmental organizations in Lebanon to document and commemorate the events of the civil war and compare such memorialization to the actions taken by official actors within the state. Pending local safety, I am considering traveling to Beirut to study the physical manifestations of the war and the memory of it on the city’s urban landscape. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I plan to take a year or two off to study or research abroad and then go to law school. I'm hoping to go into international/human rights law, potentially focusing on international tribunals, but we'll see! I'm interested in post-conflict studies, transitional justice, and migration. 

A fun fact about yourself: I used to competitively Irish Dance

Elizabeth Evers

Elizabeth Evers

Major: Human Biology
Minor: Human Rights
Hometown: San Francisco, California
Thesis Advisor: Eunice Rodriguez

Tentative Thesis Title: Temporary Guestworker Programs and Circular Migration: A Comparative Analysis of the US H-2A Visa and Spanish GECCO Program

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? This research would compare the U.S.' H-2A visa program and Spain's GECCO program to evaluate their respective systems of governance, specifically how they manage "irregular" migration and protect workers' rights. By analyzing their legal frameworks, decision-making processes, and enforcement mechanisms, the project may offer insights into how these programs — which utilize circular migration pathways — impact migration patterns in practice, labor markets, and development. I hope that this may be relevant for policymakers working on meaningful immigration reform.  

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? CDDRL offers an interdisciplinary environment that aligns with my academic background and interests in evaluating how political systems influence health, particularly in the context of immigration policy and global development. I am excited about the opportunities for mentorship, community, and learning from peers.

What are your summer research plans? This summer, I will be interning at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, D.C. I plan to design my CDDRL project during the spring quarter so that I can begin undertaking research this summer. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After Stanford, I intend to pursue graduate studies related to public policy, law, and/or public health (maybe an MPH, MPP, or JD, not sure yet!). I hope to pursue a career focused on improving the US healthcare system and shaping more effective policies for the provision of health, human, and social services. 

A fun fact about yourself: I am a sixth-generation San Franciscan!

Adrian Feinberg

Adrian Feinberg

Major: International Relations
Hometown: Berkeley, California
Thesis Advisor: Kathryn Stoner

Tentative Thesis Title: Atrocity Denial and State Formation in the Balkans

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Understanding political development in post-conflict contexts requires grappling with state violence and collective memory. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? The honors program is a wonderful opportunity to test out my maybe ill-advised aspirations in academia.

What are your summer research plans? Brushing up on my Turkish and Bosnian!

Future aspirations post-Stanford: Maybe a PhD? Maybe international law? Maybe writing? Suggestions welcome.

A fun fact about yourself: I put pomegranate molasses in 90% of the dishes I cook.

Grace Geier

Grace Geier

Major: Sociology
Minor: Neuroscience
Hometown: Shaker Heights, Ohio
Thesis Advisor: Adam Bonica

Tentative Thesis Title: The American Defense Sector and Disaster Capitalism Complex

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? I plan to research defense spending as a facet of democratic interference. I’ll look into the strategies utilized by defense contractors to entrench their business model in government institutions. This exploration will underscore how profits in the defense sector are fundamentally intertwined with its outsized political activity. For one, my research seeks to explain the extreme capture of regulatory outcomes pioneered by the defense sector through their persistent engagement in political organization. It will also cover how funding and favorable legislation is secured through “revolving door” hiring practices between Congress, the Pentagon, and private defense companies. This falls under a broader investigation of shared pools of employment and the elite skew of government priorities, especially military spending. Overall, my thesis aims to interrogate the American military-industrial complex.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I appreciate the opportunity to analyze developmental policies in a collaborative environment while receiving support to conduct individual research. I also plan to take a more international perspective with my thesis than was typically afforded by my undergraduate programming.

What are your summer research plans? I plan to work on OpenSecrets' Revolving Door and Dark Money projects, as well as contribute to their Defense Industry Political Influence Dataset. Among many objectives, the projects help the public identify key players in the Washington lobbying sector, and reveal how governmental ties provide them with privileged access to power.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After completing my master's in Sustainability, I'd like to continue my education with law school and work in international climate litigation.

A fun fact about yourself: I had the same high school band teacher as Kid Cudi and MGK.

Gabriela Holzer

Gabriela Holzer

Major: Economics
Minor: Human Rights
Hometown: Hyattsville, Maryland
Thesis Advisor: Beatriz Magaloni

Tentative Thesis Title: Rightward Attitudinal Shifts in Post-Dictatorship Democracies: A Chilean Case Study

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? In recent years, there has been a notable global trend towards embracing more conservative political ideologies. In Chile, this is reflected in a rise in public support for the police — which seems counterintuitive given the context of the recent 50th anniversary of the coup that ushered in a violent 17-year-long dictatorship. My study aims to investigate the underlying mechanisms driving this surge in support for the police in Chile, especially amidst heightened awareness of the violence perpetrated by similar authorities during the Pinochet regime. By unraveling this phenomenon, I hope to illuminate the interplay between public memory, security concerns, and political attitudinal shifts in a post-dictatorship context. The broader relevance of this study lies in its potential to contribute to our understanding of how societies grapple simultaneously with the legacies of authoritarian rule and the growing pains accompanying democratization. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was excited by the opportunity to dedicate an entire year to exploring a question in depth, which is often challenging within the confines of a 10-week quarter. The program also seemed like a unique way to engage with a range of subjects that I may not encounter quite as closely through my classes, both through conversations with my peers and through engagement with the CDDRL's exceptional faculty.

What are your summer research plans? I plan to acquire the longitudinal survey data that I need for the more quantitative side of my analysis. I'm also exploring the possibility of conducting interviews in Chile for the qualitative aspect later in the summer. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: Following Stanford, my long-term goal is to pursue public interest law. However, I plan on taking a few years between graduating and starting law school to pursue a Master's in Economics or another closely related field. 

A fun fact about yourself: I did musical theatre for ten years and was in three different productions of "Annie."

Elizabeth Jerstad

Elizabeth Jerstad

Major: International Relations
Minor: Slavic Languages & Literature
Hometown: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Thesis Advisor: Kathryn Stoner

Tentative Thesis Title: Wartime Emigration from Russia Since February 24, 2022: Political Engagement of Émigrés Abroad

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? The wartime flight from Russia is the latest in a series of emigration waves from the country since the turn of the 21st century. However, wartime émigrés differ in key ways from previous waves of emigrants. Broadly speaking, wartime émigrés are younger and more prosperous than the average Russian citizen, have higher levels of education, and are driven more so by political push factors than members of previous waves (Emil Kamalov and Ivetta Sergeeva, A Year and a Half in Exile: Progress and Obstacles in the Integration of Russian Migrants, (January 15, 2024): 12.). Many of the recent émigrés were engaged in political activism against the regime before emigrating, working as journalists, NGO employees, activists, and dissidents of the regime at large (Emil Kamalov, “New Russian Migrants Against the War: Political Action in Russia and Abroad,” Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Russia Programme: The Russia Crisis, Paper No. 5 (June 2023): 5). The political implications of this wartime flight-both on Russia and receiving communities abroad-are not yet well understood, and thus I believe this research topic to be a prudent one given the political moment in the region.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? Last summer, I interned doing research at CDDRL and the faculty and staff drew my attention to applying for the program. Ultimately, I felt that CDDRL honors would be a great way to continue my research on wartime emigration from Russia in a more structured environment while receiving guidance and support from the lovely faculty at CDDRL. In addition to my academic motivations for applying, I love the CDDRL community and am excited to support and contribute to the center's mission in any way that I can! 

What are your summer research plans? This summer I will be in Tbilisi, Georgia doing an immersive Russian language program through the State Department's CLS (Critical Language Scholarship) program. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After completing my undergraduate studies, I hope to apply to law school. I am also interested in continuing my current research projects after graduation, and am looking into avenues through which to do so. 

A fun fact about yourself: I have recently gotten into rock climbing, and I'm hoping to do some outdoor bouldering while in Tbilisi this summer!

Malaina Kapoor

Malaina Kapoor

Major: International Relations
Hometown: Redwood City, California 
Thesis Advisor: Abbas Milani 

Tentative Thesis Title: From Kashf-e-Hijab to the Islamic Republic: Veiling, Unveiling, and State Power in Iran

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law I plan to explore why Iranian leaders enact gendered policies targeted at women, and how they believe these policies will help them achieve their ideological and political goals. I also plan to study the coercive effect of veiling laws on both men and women to understand the link between these policies and subsequent societal transformations. Findings from this research could help explain why the oppression of women is a feature of so many regimes, both in the present day and throughout history. In regards to modern-day Iran, this thesis could illuminate the strategies that the Islamic Republic is using to maintain control as its legitimacy is being threatened, both at home and abroad. This research could also be globally relevant at a time where the veil is used as a political tool by groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, but also by far-right politicians in countries such as France. It could also be useful in understanding how recent rollbacks of women’s rights in countries like the United States are being used in pursuit of political power.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was drawn to the CDDRL honors program for the chance to conduct interdisciplinary research and learn from students with a variety of interests, areas of expertise, and research questions. I also have two friends who have done the program and loved it! 

What are your summer research plans? I plan to spend the summer reviewing literature, studying primary sources (including archives here at Stanford), and conducting interviews. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I participated in the Stanford in Washington program last fall and loved exploring the city, working in government, and learning from incredible mentors. I'd love to go back to D.C. after graduation and work at the intersection of foreign policy and women's rights. 

A fun fact about yourself: I have been a competitive opera singer for twelve years!

Adelaide Madary

Adelaide Madary

Major: Political Science
Minor: Modern Languages & Data Science
Hometown: Lodi, California
Thesis Advisor: Anna Grzymala-Busse 

Tentative Thesis Title: Combating Agricultural Labor Exploitation among Migrant Workers in Italy and California

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? A combination of irregular legal status and economic need makes many migrants vulnerable to labor trafficking and exploitation. In Italy, labor exploitation among migrants, referred to as “caporalato,” heavily plagues the agricultural sector. Unsafe working conditions, wage theft, and intimidation tactics are also widespread in California’s agricultural sector. In an effort to understand the conditions under which exploited workers manage to collectively organize, I aim to compare labor unionization among agricultural workers in both places. I strive to understand how overlooked workers, often undocumented, can become active participants in political change, resist oppressive power structures and advocate for the rule of law. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? As a Political Science major at Stanford, I have often felt a tension between my desire to pursue academics and my desire to bring about tangible change in the world. The CDDRL Honors Program appealed to me as an opportunity to connect academic research with policy implications for pressing world problems. I am excited to explore the potential for social science research to dismantle unjust systems of oppression and protect the most vulnerable people in society while learning alongside an outstanding cohort of students and mentors. 

What are your summer research plans? This summer, I plan to conduct research for my thesis in Italy and California, where I will interview labor union leaders, lawyers, and nonprofits and closely analyze labor statistics. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After Stanford, I would like to attend graduate school, continue to learn languages, and participate in public service projects. 

A fun fact about yourself: I ran my first half marathon in Rome while studying abroad in Florence this past winter!

Josh Orszag

Josh Orszag

Major: Data Science
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Thesis Advisor: Larry Diamond

Tentative Thesis Title: The Impact of Prospective NATO Membership on Democratic Quality in Aspiring Nations

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? The world has been in a democratic recession for nearly twenty years, so it feels particularly imperative to explore the factors that can make democracies stronger. Whether the prospect of a security agreement is one such factor is a relevant and intriguing question. My research seeks to answer this question in part by investigating the impact of the prospect of NATO membership on democratic quality in Bulgaria and Romania. These countries acquired NATO membership before EU membership and therefore will serve as compelling case studies. This research could demonstrate the degree to which security alliances compel aspiring nations to further institutionalize their democracies. My hope is that this, in turn, provides insight into potential new avenues of democracy promotion. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was intrigued by the program because it offered the chance to conduct research I am passionate about in a supportive environment with such incredible faculty and students. I’m very excited to collaborate with and learn from the rest of the cohort.

What are your summer research plans? My plan is to travel to Bulgaria and Romania to conduct interviews with officials about the process by which their nations prepared themselves for NATO membership. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I’d like to find ways to combine my interest in data science with my interest in strengthening democracy and democratic norms.

A fun fact about yourself: My main form of exercise is boxing!

Sofia Raso

Sofia Raso

Major: International Relations
Hometown: New York City
Thesis Advisor: Michael Bennon 

Tentative Thesis Title: Words and Actions: China in the Post-BRI World

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? China’s Belt and Road Initiative is one of the most ambitious and controversial infrastructure programs ever created. A central question among China scholars worldwide is what Beijing’s motivations are for such an expensive (and expansive) program. Now, China has launched a separate Global Development Initiative in conjunction with a Global Security Initiative. Though very similar in function, the GDI emphasizes some of what was lacking in the BRI’s narrative: a greater focus on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and encouragement of multilateralism instead of bilateralism. Are these changes substantial or superficial, and what do they reveal about Beijing’s priorities moving forward?

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I knew I wanted to write a thesis early in my time at Stanford. As I learned more about it ˆ and after taking INTNLREL 114D with Professor Kathryn Stoner in freshman year — CDDRL seemed like the perfect place in which to do so. The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the program, along with its incredible resources and faculty expertise, was very appealing to me. I have been interested in the BRI since learning about it during a high school summer in China, and I am excited to have the opportunity to delve so deeply into this topic. The lovely conversations that I have had with CDDRL faculty and students have only strengthened my excitement.

What are your summer research plans? After finishing my summer internship in August, I plan to explore several datasets that I have found, finalize which lenses of comparison I will focus on, and read a great deal of literature on my topic. Since the GDI is so new, there is a flow of new analyses being published, and I look forward to seeing what additional information comes to light before September.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I hope to work at the intersection of foreign policy and international business. I am interested in how policy change, both directly related to and unrelated to trade, impacts global markets and how this trickles down to individuals around the world. After a few years of working, I also plan to consider graduate school — perhaps a joint MIP/MBA or something similar.

A fun fact about yourself: I have dual citizenship in Italy and the US. I can also type 124 words per minute, which will hopefully serve me well in the next year.

Charles Sheiner

Charles Sheiner

Major: International Relations
Hometown: Toronto, Canada
Thesis Advisor: Jean Oi

Tentative Thesis Title: Exploring Stakeholder Decision-Making and Incentive Dynamics in Chinese Development Projects

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? The Chinese government has committed over $1 trillion to fund infrastructure and mining projects abroad, with varied levels of success. While extensive research has explored the motivations of government actors and impacts on recipient countries, this paper seeks to contribute to the literature by investigating micro-level decision-making among stakeholders in both the lending (China) and recipient nations. It aims to assess how these decisions influence project outcomes and broader development indicators in recipient countries. By understanding these micro-level dynamics, the paper intends to shed light on the efficacy of China's development initiatives and inform aid policy within multilateral lending organizations.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was attracted to the CDDRL program for its emphasis on academic breadth and experiential rigor. Academically, I was excited to leverage my previous research on China in the field of development studies while learning from incredible professors. On the experiential side, I was excited to get close to a cohort of like-minded students through DDRL coursework and a Washington, D.C. trip in September. 

What are your summer research plans? I will be working for Ergo Intelligence, a geopolitical intelligence and advisory firm based in New York City. In my free time, I will begin analyzing Chinese development finance datasets for preliminary trends. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After graduation, I hope to 1) pursue a graduate degree in international policy and/or law and 2) work at a think tank or geopolitical research firm, with the eventual possibility of joining the Canadian government. Climate tech is another passion of mine, so I will always remain open to joining a startup too. 

A fun fact about yourself: People always think being from Canada is a fun fact... but I'll say that I'm ambidextrous.

Avinash Thakkar

Avinash Thakkar

Major: Economics and Philosophy
Minor: Mathematical and Computational Science
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Thesis Advisor: Colleen Honigsberg 

Tentative Thesis Title: Post-NSMIA: An Analysis of SEC Regulatory Enforcement and Priorities after 1996

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Integrity and trust are bedrock principles for political and economic systems. In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) aims to safeguard these values within the financial system. Since its inception in 1934, it has been led by its core mission to protect the interests of investors. With the passage of the National Securities Markets Improvement Act (NSMIA) in 1996, the SEC began to consider not just 1) investor protection but also 2) market efficiency and 3) capital formation during its rule-making process.

I aim to assess how the SEC’s regulatory approach changed with the passage of this law and the extent to which recent developments within the financial system — such as the inversion of the allocation between public and private capital—can be attributed to any such regulatory change. Answering these questions can help us understand the long-term impact of certain regulations on the financial system and the government’s ability to effectively create and enforce securities laws.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? CDDRL’s interdisciplinary approach to research is particularly appealing to me as I aim to consider the economic, political, and legal consequences of regulatory changes. Scholars at the Center who specialize in many fields and have policy experience will be excellent sources of guidance and support. I hope to approach my research in both a quantitative and qualitative manner, and CDDRL’s ability to bridge these two methods will be quite helpful. I can’t wait to start my research!

What are your summer research plans? While staying in D.C., I hope to further my knowledge of the history and nuances of SEC regulations through guided reading and interviews. I would also like to formalize any experimental parts of my thesis during the summer.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I aspire to contribute to making government work better by helping craft and enforce policies that more effectively safeguard public interest. To that end, I’d like to pursue a legal education and ultimately practice within government.

A fun fact about yourself: An avid gardener, I’ve grown more than roughly 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables in my home garden, and I’m always on the lookout for more opportunities to learn gardening chops!

Kate Tully

Kate Tully

Major: Political Science
Hometown: Sacramento, California
Thesis Advisor: Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Kotkin

Tentative Thesis Title: The Sahelian Coup Belt: Authoritarian Capture and Serial State Failure

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? The West African Sahel is a case study in serial state failure and the rapid penetration of militarized, autocratic regimes in an already destabilized landscape. This region is facing the most persistent and looming threat of region-wide serial state failure anywhere in the world and has witnessed eight coups across six nations in only three years. The existence of a coup-belt is a largely unprecedented phenomenon in modern development studies and urgently requires greater research on institutional precepts, the cause of serial military coups, and the role of the state in either mitigating or exacerbating regional instability.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? CDDRL’s honors program is the best forum to investigate authoritarian coups, serial state failure, and nascent attempts at democracy with the support of world-class faculty. I greatly appreciate the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the honors cohort and am excited to embark on a sustained and rigorous original research project. 

What are your summer research plans? This summer, I hope to conduct field research in Guinea and Burkina Faso alongside a UN Fact-Finding mission on unconstitutional changes of governance. I will also begin to aggregate World Bank and Afrobarometer data on civilian perceptions of democracy, state resilience, and violent extremism in the Sahel. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After my undergraduate studies, I hope to pursue a Master's degree in International relations with a concentration on theories of state failure, international policy, and great power competition. I also intend to complete a J.D. program with a focus on national security law. I ultimately hope to serve in the federal government within the diplomatic, defense, or intelligence agencies. 

A fun fact about yourself: I type at 120 words per minute!