Student to attend top conference

Robert Williamson, a senior finance-political science double major, was recently selected to present his research at the Emerging Scholars Conference at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Emerging Scholars Conference is a program that the University of Michigan’s Political Science Department initiated to encourage high-performing scholars to pursue a master’s degree in political science.

Undergraduate students across the country will attend the conference Oct. 25 to showcase their research and introduce themselves to experienced graduate students.

Williamson will travel with Marek Steedman, associate professor of political science at USM. Steedman received a Ph.D. in political theory from the University of Michigan.

Steedman said USM’s political science department ran a series of internal competitions with Williamson emerging as the top candidate. They then forwarded his name to the University of Michigan.

“What my research is on is ‘political polarization’ and how it affects how people vote,” Williamson said.

Political polarization is a social phenomenon that can affect an individual, a group, a state or a nation in which a shift from moderate-to-extreme views takes place in terms of political values.

“It’s familiar in American politics that at least the politicians are deeply polarized; the question at hand is how much this is related to similar polarization in the American electorate,” Steedman said.

Williamson conducted a two-part experimental study on campus in which USM students filled out a questionnaire to gauge their political views. Students then participated in a simulated election that discovers the possible connection between ideology and voting behaviors.

Williamson is a member of the Honors College where he serves as an Ambassador. The research that will be presented is his Honors Thesis and will come full-circle in the spring.

“My personal opinion is when it’s abstract or in a vacuum, people have the tendency to be a bit more extreme, but in application, they are much less polarized,” Williamson said.

When asked about future ambitions, Williamson stated his dream is to become a political science professor.

“I love the subject, talking about it and teaching it,” he said. “Dr. Steedman is one of the main reasons I thought of this. He’s a big role model—a father away from home.”