Welcoming the class of 2014 undergraduate honors students

The Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University is pleased to announce the 2014 class of undergraduate senior honors students. 

Honors students will spend four quarters participating in research seminars to refine their proposed thesis topic, while working in consultation with a CDDRL faculty advisor to supervise their project. In September, the group will travel to Washington, D.C. for honors college where they will visit leading government and development organizations to witness policymaking in practice and consult with key decision-makers.

Please join CDDRL in congratulating the 2014 Senior Honors students and welcoming them to the Center.

Below are profiles of the nine honors students highlighting their academic interests, why they applied to CDDRL, and some fun facts.  



Aline Bass

Major: History, minor in East Asian Studies

Hometown: Dallas, TX

Thesis Title: How do the concepts of law and morality in China reflect and impact the development of private property rights, specifically urban land-use rights, in the post-Mao era? 

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? In the Western tradition, clarification of property rights is an essential catalyst for economic development and foundation for the rule of law. China’s unparalleled economic growth and rapid urbanization since the beginning of the reform era offers a counterpoint experience, which I hope to examine through the lens of land use rights, since, historically and currently, land ownership has played a crucial role in determining social security and wealth in Chinese society. My thesis will combine historical and qualitative analysis and examination of the current real property situation in China’s urban areas, which should contribute perspective to the broader study of China’s development as well as urban property rights in emerging countries. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergrad honors program?  An opportunity to work under the guidance of the CDDRL faculty and alongside fellow honors students in an interdisciplinary program provides an ideal and challenging intellectual environment. In addition, CDDRL’s focus on development and its inextricable ties to good governance offers a unique insight into various development situations, their associated successes, shortcomings, and consequences for social improvement.

Future aspiration post-Stanford: I hope to attend law school after Stanford, work and live abroad, and pursue a career related to China.

What are your summer research plans: I will be working in a law firm in Shanghai this summer and conducting research in both Shanghai and Beijing.

Fun fact about yourself: I can consume more ice cream than a Ben and Jerry’s factory tour group.


Meaghan Conway

Major: Science, Technology & Society

Hometown: New York City, NY

Thesis Title: Blended ROI? Analyzing the economic and social returns of private equity investment in emerging markets

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? For my honors thesis I plan to research private equity investments in sub-Saharan Africa. I hope to investigate whether private equity investments (and partnerships with international financial institutions such as the IFC and World Bank) generate robust returns for the investors as well as catalyze development in their communities. I hope that my thesis, while adding to the literature in the field, will more importantly serve as support for further investment in developing economies and promote the power of impact investing.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergrad honors program? The people! I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be mentored by some of Stanford’s most renowned faculty and I am excited to learn from my fellow undergraduates in the CDDRL.

Future aspiration post-Stanford: For my career, I would love to be able to combine my interest in finance and my interest in development. I hope to travel, attend business school, and be a socially responsible investor.

What are your summer research plans: First I will be interning in investment banking in New York and then I hope to head to South Africa to conduct some field research for my thesis!  

Fun fact about yourself: I spent this past summer working in Dubai and had the opportunity to ride a camel and play with penguins!



Mahilini Kailaiyangirichelvam

Major: International Relations, minor in Economics

Hometown: Jaffna, Sri Lanka

Thesis Title: The impact of civil war on food production in Sri Lanka

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? War can pose serious threats to food security within a country. These threats stem from disruption of the economy and institutions as well as from policy changes. It is through understanding the impacts of these factors on food security that food insecurity and hunger can be alleviated or avoided.  The understanding gained from this work can guide development work. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergrad honors program? My research on the impact of war cannot be understood using concepts drawn only from economics or politics. CDDRL views issues using a broader, integrated lens of economics, politics, and law, and it provides a wonderful forum that brings senior scholars and student researchers pursuing a wide variety of topics together for discussions. This interdisciplinary environment offers the perfect academic home for me. 

Future aspiration post-Stanford: I hope to pursue doctoral studies either in international economics or development economics. I would like to become a professor and pursue research and development work in Asia. 

What are your summer research plans: I will be collecting and analyzing food production data and interviewing policy experts and farmers in Sri Lanka so that I can better understand the changes in food economy that results from the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Fun fact about yourself:  I grew up learning sword fighting in the ancient tradition of Tamil kingdom. I also enjoy listening to carnatic music, and playing Veena. 


Haiy Le

Major: International Relations

Hometown: Charlotte, NC

Thesis Title: How is the Media Used to Advocate for Land Rights in Vietnam?

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law?  Civil society actors are using the media network in Vietnam - from the state-owned press to the increasingly vocal blogosphere - to advocate for policy change on land rights. My research will contribute to the literature on how information technology is affecting the media and how it can be directed towards positive social impact.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergrad honors program?  I want my undergraduate education to culminate in a project in which I take ownership of my learning and contribute to scholarly knowledge on a topic that is meaningful to me. I am not sure if grad school lies in the future, and the honors program is a wonderful opportunity to have the resources of the university and the mentorship of the CDDRL community to ask these questions.

Future aspiration post-Stanford:  I hope that the process of completing a thesis will connect me with the resources to pursue my interest in democratic development and liberation technology.

What are your summer research plans: I will be in Vietnam collecting data for my research. I also have plans to travel to Cambodia, Thailand, and Singapore!

Fun fact about yourself: I coincidentally saw Professor Larry Diamond in Hue, Vietnam when I was traveling there. I believe it was fate, and I knew I had to join the CDDRL community and return to Vietnam to work with him on my thesis!


Devanshi Patel

Major: International Relations, minor in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity 

Hometown: San Jose, CA

Thesis Title: How the Chain of Command Structure of the U.S. Military Affects the Reporting and Prosecution of Internal Sexual Assault Cases

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Though the Department of Defense observes a “zero tolerance policy,” in the year 2011 alone 3,191 military sexual assaults were reported. Because most assaults are not reported, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimates that the number is closer to 19,000, translating into a 16.7% reporting rate. Some legislation has suggested developing joint jurisdiction between the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice to prosecute sexual assault cases. Through my thesis, I hope to explore the "rule of law" aspect of the zero tolerance policy, and assess the effects of internal prosecution.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergrad honors program? So far, I have enjoyed deepening my understanding of research methods through the CDDRL weekly seminar. I am drawn to the program because of its interdisciplinary nature that will allow me to blend both quantitative and qualitative approaches to research. 

Future aspiration post-Stanford: I hope to study human rights law and spend considerable time studying and working abroad. 

What are your summer research plans: I will be interviewing members of the military in different regions of the United States, including California and Washington, DC.

Fun fact about yourself:  I enjoy cooking vegetarian food and experimenting with new recipes!  



Janani Ramachandran

Major: International Relations

Hometown: Fremont, CA and Bangalore, India

Thesis Title: Anti-Americanism in Pakistan

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? I believe that the general American narrative on anti-American perceptions lacks nuance, and I hope to present a more complex picture with a framework of the various anti-Americanisms, particularly in Pakistan, a critical geo-political partner to the U.S. I hope such a study can help inform U.S. foreign policy for future relationships with Pakistan and other strategic conflict-ridden states in the non-Western world, to minimize levels of distrust and promote mutual respect and sustainable relations.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergrad honors program? I have always been a fan of the work of CDDRL and its fellows throughout my time at Stanford. As a research assistant for international human rights expert Helen Stacy, I understood the value of close interactions and guidance from scholars at CDDRL. The honors program provided the perfect opportunity to pursue my research passion, along with the guidance of some of the world's most respected scholars in the field.

Future aspiration post-Stanford: To work in the foreign policy and international human rights space in Washington D.C. and abroad

What are your summer research plans:  I will conduct virtual interviews with individuals in Pakistan, and prepare for a research trip to Islamabad in December. I will also be interning at the Ashoka Foundation in Caracas, Venezuela on social entrepreneurship projects, and the Ford Foundation in New Delhi, India, on governance projects. 

Fun fact about yourself: I've visited 23 countries, speak four languages, and grew up in India and the US. I was voted "most likely to be a future leader" in fourth grade.



Danna Seligman

Major: Political Science

Hometown: Newbury Park, CA

Thesis Title: The Origins of Political Gridlock- Institutional and Societal Mechanisms that Inhibit Government Productivity in the United States

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Gridlock has become a paralyzing constraint to our current American political institutions, but little has been done in an attempt to overcome such a significant strain to our democratic system. Legislative productivity and representation in government have been compromised by our government's inability to make, pass and execute laws. In many ways, political gridlock blocks the government from affecting the will of the people and effectively addressing its constituents needs. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergrad honors program? The interdisciplinary nature of the program was truly key for the thesis I wanted to write. I appreciate the freedom to use different methods to approach relevant questions about society and government, and the CDDRL faculty is the best resource any Stanford student could ask for.

Future aspiration post-Stanford: I plan to attend law school after Stanford, but also hope to do some campaign work during the 2014 midterm elections. I hope to pursue a career in national politics and eventually be in a position to implement the ideas and theories my thesis and CDDRL endorses for better democracy and governance.

What are your summer research plans: I will be in Washington D.C. this summer working for Congressman Xavier Becerra, and hope to use my time in D.C. to conduct interviews with prominent political thinkers and actors.

Fun fact about yourself:  I was a Stanford Dollie 2011-2012.


Belinda Tang

Major: Economics & Public Policy

Hometown: San Jose, CA

Thesis Title: The Implications of Women Policymakers in a Natural Experiment in Lesotho

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? A lot of previous research has shown that, when it comes to making decisions on how to allocate resources, women, at both the household and government-level, make different decisions than males do, particularly for health and education-related public goods. If that's also a result of giving women power in local government in an African country, then increasing the institutional power of women could represent a strong mechanism through which we can improve development indicators in the world's poorest region. 

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergrad honors program? The inspiring cohort of students I will be able to work with and learn from (and the abundance of free lunches!). 

Future aspiration post-Stanford: To do research with implications for the lives of individuals in poverty. 

What are your summer research plans: I will be doing fieldwork in Lesotho in July and August. 

Fun fact about yourself: My name in Chinese tells a story of how many small and seemingly insignificant streams can flow together to form a large and powerful one - I like to think this is a metaphor for my life! 



Aditya Todi

Major: International Relations

Hometown: Kathmandu, Nepal

Thesis Title: The role and importance of political parties in consolidating democracy with a focus on Nepal and potentially South Africa and Ghana

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Political parties are an integral part of democracies anywhere, but even so in countries undergoing democratic transition. Nepal has already had two failed "experimentations" with democracy in the past fifty years. The historic elections of 2008 have paved the way for Nepal to move forward and consolidate democracy. Going forward, it will be crucial for political parties to play their part in strengthening democracy in Nepal and to represent the people of the country to the best of their abilities.  

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergrad honors program? Other than the free lunches, it would have to be the faculty and the interdisciplinary aspect of the program. The faculty as well as inter-student engagement makes the program very unique and appealing. 

Future aspiration post-Stanford: Pursue further studies in business and public policy as well as have a chance to travel extensively within Nepal. 

What are your summer research plans: I will be doing some preliminary research in Nepal during the two weeks I am there this summer. I also hope to gather data and learn about the political parties in Ghana during my time as a Stanford in Government (SIG) Fellow at the Center for Democratic Development. 

Fun fact about yourself: I enjoy playing and watching cricket and would be down to watch a Hindi film any time of day.