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As a double major in art and psychology, her academic schedule hasn’t left much free time to pursue other interests. But thanks to the EXCEL Scholars program, Melissa Mazer ’07 (Jericho, N.Y.) was able to spend time examining her third love – politics.

In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

As a research assistant working with Bruce Allen Murphy, Kirby Professor of Civil Rights, Mazer was responsible for updating Approaching Democracy, a political science textbook, with current information on people, events, and issues. She also assisted Murphy in a side project that examines the lives of politicians through famous sociologist Daniel Levinson’s Seasons of Life Theory.

“We did research that has to do with life cycles and the psychological aspects of a man’s life and its application to the world of politics,” she says. “We looked at patterns and accomplishments in the lives of major politicians to see if this theory really works – to see if the past actions of political figures are useful in predicting future actions.”

Not only did working with Murphy provide a way to stay involved with politics, the research helped Mazer hone her critical thinking skills.

“Combining these major theories and trying to develop your own theories to see if it can actually become something – it’s like everything else,” she explains. “You have to try and see if it works out. You have to take that chance to see if it happens and if it doesn’t, you just have to go in a different direction.”

Murphy says a goal of the project was for Mazer to acquire that skill.

“The fun part of this for someone like Melissa was that not only did she learn how to do some research, but she learned something about how to create her own theories and develop her own questions,” he says. “Hopefully she learned something about the critical and analytical skills that professors use in framing some of their projections.”

Mazer’s work benefits other students – her theoretical research might be used in the revised textbook to illustrate ways that the lives of American politicians could be predicted.

“It’s a never-ending process,” Murphy says. “The material for these chapters is changing on literally a daily basis because American politics changes on a daily basis. We tried to make the chapters in the textbook as relevant as possible to the student reader, which means trying to get the material in each chapter updated to the point where the chapter is being written.”

Murphy believes there was no student better suited for the job than Mazer.

“The reason I asked her to join is that she was such a talented student in my American politics introduction course, and while I knew even then that she was not a major in political science, I knew she wanted to do political analysis,” he says. “She brought a lot to the table as well. She’s a psychology student, and she’s able to take that interdisciplinary training and apply her understanding to both the political literature and the psychology literature.”

Mazer credits Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program with allowing her to branch out and discover connections between her interests.

“I chose a small college with the intent of being able to work closely with a professor and explore different theories and really get into something – not just go to class and learn the basics,” she says. “This program has really afforded me the opportunity to put that all together. I’ve developed a sharper critical eye and I don’t think I would have had the opportunity or taken the time to really do such in-depth research on these people.”

Mazer is a photographer for The Lafayette and participates in volunteer activities. She graduated from Syosset High School.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Thirty-nine students were accepted to present their work at this year’s annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News