Placement Candidates

James McCann, Placement Director

Heather Cann, May 2019 


  • Fields of Study: Public Policy (Major), American, and Ecological Sciences and Engineering
  • Dissertation Title: Beyond the Climate Science Wars: Elite Framing and Subnational Climate Change Policy Conflict 
  • Committee: Leigh Raymond (Chair), Rosalee Clawson, Erin Hennes, and Manjana Milkoreit 
  • Summary: Debate around climate change and the implementation of climate-energy policies is highly polarized in the United States. Stakeholders involved in these debates shape public conversations through different “frames”: message units or narratives that strategically emphasize particular aspects of an issue while downplaying others. This project investigates the presence of different frame types within current climate change discourse and their political influence on the generation of subfederal climate-energy policies. Special attention is given to types of frames that have been especially salient within the contemporary climate debate: science frames versus non-science frames that describe instead the economic or public health benefits of acting on climate change. Messages based on science frames have historically played a key role for both actors who support and oppose climate policy action, yet recent scholarship has argued instead for more focus on non-science frames. I investigate these issues by first using qualitative content analysis to catalogue the framing strategies of elite climate policy supporters and opponents, generating an overview of the different frames employed by both groups as well as the frequency of science frames versus other frame types. Building upon these content analysis findings, I then use process tracing and in- to investigate the political influence of different frames in an on-the-ground case of subnational climate change policy conflict in action. This work thus generates novel findings central to ongoing debates in the climate change framing literature by considering the “real world” of political communication coupled with an on-the-ground policy conflict. 
  • Noteworthy: Peer-Reviewed Publication: Cann, Heather W., and Leigh Raymond. 2018. “Does Denialism Still Matter? Alternative Frames in Opposition to Climate Policy.” Environmental Politics. 27(3), 433-454, DOI: 10.1080/09644016.2018.1439353. Awarded the Purdue Bilsland Dissertation Fellowship in 2018 ($20,000). A competitive fellowship that provides support to outstanding Ph.D. candidates in their final year of degree completion. Awarded the Purdue Research Foundation Research Grant in 2017 ($17,645). A competitive fellowship for one year of dissertation research support.

Paul Danyi, Ph.D. 


  • Fields of Study: International Relations (Major), Public Policy, and Comparative Politics
  • Dissertation Title: Bypassing Democracy: Why Domestic Human Rights NGOs in Stable Democracies Appeal to Multilateral Forums 
  • Committee: Ann Clark (Chair), S. Laurel Weldon, Daniel Aldrich, and Aaron Hoffman 
  • Summary: In 2006 the member states of the United Nations altered the central human rights body of the UN, creating the Human Rights Council and instituting a periodic human rights review of all UN member states, to be conducted by the Council. Since the formation in 2006 of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, over 400 reports have been submitted representing approximately 800 domestic civil society organizations’ concerns from 21 stable democracies alone. Existing theories of transnational activism do not provide a sufficient answer to why civil society groups divert resources away from local highly democratic local institutions toward less democratic and distant international organizations (IOs). The project explains the decisions made by domestic nongovernmental human rights groups – groups that advocate for human rights in their own countries – in stable democracies to expand activism beyond their national governments and submit human rights reports to the Universal Periodic Review at the UN. Evidence gathered through interviews with leaders of NGOs in the USA, Canada, and Germany, and an analysis of group submissions to the UPR from all stable democracies shows that structural variables like political opportunity structures are insufficient to explain venue choice among NGOs. I advance explanations based upon group identity and the adoption of a human rights frame for activism as well as how the failure of democracies to respond to persistent issues alters the perception of political opportunities among activists, making contestation within international venues more attractive. 
  • Noteworthy: Eastern Illinois University College of Sciences Student Advisory Board Outstanding Faculty Award in 2016, German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Research Grant from 2012-2013, Clark, Ann Marie & Paul Danyi. 2014. “The International Human Rights Movement.” In Handbook of Political Citizenship and Social Movements. Ed. Hein-Anton van der Heijden. Edward Elgar Publishing. 440-463. 

Summer Forester, Ph.D. 


  • Fields of Study: Public Policy (Major), Women Studies, and International Relations
  • Dissertation Title: Security Threats and The Policy Agenda: Understanding State Action on Women’s Rights in the Middle East 
  • Committee: S. Laurel Weldon (Chair), Patricia Boling, Alicia Decker, and Aaron Hoffman
  • Summary: Dr. Forester's dissertation examines how domestic and international security issues shape policies on violence against women, legislative quotas, and family law in countries of the Middle East and North Africa. The dissertation combines primary data collected during 18 months of fieldwork in Jordan with a quantitative analysis of the relationship between security threats and women’s rights for seventy countries over forty years. In the latter, she shows that an increase in security threats is positively associated with state action on violence against women and negatively associated with state action on family law reform. Dr. Forester develops a theoretical account of the causal mechanisms underlying these counterintuitive results through comparative case studies of Jordan, Morocco, and Kuwait. The case studies show that security threats shape the policy agenda, raising the profile of women’s rights that are framed as bolstering defense interests. Conversely, women’s rights that are seen as undermining state security are less likely to gain support in militarized contexts. This dissertation contributes empirical models and theory that bridge women’s studies with feminist security studies, offering new insight into the politics that underscore women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa. 
  • Noteworthy: Purdue University College of Liberal Arts Distinguished Dissertation Award in 2018, Purdue Research Fellow from 2016-2017, Fulbright Fellow (Jordan) from 2015-2016 

Toby L. Lauterbach, Ph.D.


  • Fields of Study: International Relations (Major), Comparative Politics, and Public Policy
  • Dissertation Title: Strategic Culture and the Iraq War
  • Committee: Keith Shimko (Chair), Ann Clark, Louis Rene Beres, and Harry Targ
  • Summary: This work concentrates on how cultural assumptions about the conduct of war among US policy makers influenced the Iraq War. Students of international relations generally use the classic logic of power politics to explain national security choices. However, my study reveals that this kind of thinking was distorted by the beliefs that U.S. policymakers held about America’s unique role in the world. As a result, President Bush’s war advisors believed that it would be fairly easy to remake Iraq into a free market democratic society that would serve as a springboard for transforming the Middle East into the image of America and its Western allies. A faith in the superiority of the American way of life, rooted in the belief that the U.S.’s vision of economic and political freedoms are universally applicable, fueled the premise that Iraq would greet American troops as liberators. My analysis illustrates the role culture plays in international security and its impact on specific foreign policy choices such as the Iraq War. 
  • Noteworthy: Peer-Reviewed Publications: Winter 2011. “Constructivism, Strategic Culture, and the Iraq War.” Air and Space Power Journal (4) 13, 61-92. Book Reviews: September-October 2013. Review of The Battle For Hearts and Minds: Uncovering the Wars of Ideas and Images Behind the Global War on Terror by Timothy McWilliams. Air and Space Power Journal (5) 27, 144-147., March-April 2013. Review of Navy Strategic Culture by Roger W. Barnett. Air and Space Power Journal (2) 27, 171-174.

Fernando Tormos, Ph.D.


  • Fields of Study: Public Policy (Major), International Relations, and Politics of Social Groups
  • Dissertation Title: Mobilizing Difference: The Power of Inclusion in Transnational Social Movements
  • Committee: S. Laurel Weldon (Chair), Ann Clark, Rachel Einwohner, and Jackie Smith
  • Summary: Does identity diversity and inclusion strengthen or weaken social movements? This book presents the first large-scale assessment of the political impact of diversity and inclusion on transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs). While advocates of diversity laud it as a social ideal with tangible benefits diversity skeptics claim that diversity is damaging for social movements, in that it prevents groups from working together efficiently and reduces their political impact. This book counters social movement diversity skepticism and argues that, contrary to common belief, diversity extends the life of movement organizations and increases their political influence. The book uses a combination of statistical analyses (including survival analysis) of an original, cross-sectional time series dataset on movement organizations with qualitative case studies to test the claim that diversity precedes movement downfall. I find that while diversity presents multiple challenges for movements, these are not intractable problems. Movements that adequately prepare and manage to diversify are more innovative, resilient, and more legitimate representatives of the groups that they advocate for. Diversifying does not always require investments of resources, but when it does, movements must be prepared to incur in these costs or risk their financial viability and long-term survival. If these challenges are ignored, diversity may in fact be damaging for movements. Yet, movements can address their internal differences proactively by adopt norms that allow them to cope with internal divisions.
  • Noteworthy: SMU Research Fellowship, Scholars Strategy Network Research Grant in 2018, “Polycentric struggles: The experience of the global climate justice movement” with Gustavo García-López. Environmental Policy and Governance 28 (4). 

Elis Vllasi, May 2019 


  • Fields of Study: International Relations (Major), Methodology, and Comparative Politics
  • Dissertation Title: Sabotage: When Motherlands Ruin Foreign Democratization Efforts 
  • Committee: Aaron Hoffman (Chair), Kyle Haynes, James McCann, and Scott Gates
  • Summary: Why do some international efforts to export democracy fail? A few conventional answers: the target country lacks the necessary institutions; leadership is incapable of making the changes required; and third-parties have insufficient influence needed to motivate a new system. My research shows an additional but often overlooked predictor of democratization outcomes— the presence of nearby ethno-national homeland, or motherland. My findings show that motherlands can act as spoilers when they are a non-democratic regime that has recently lost territories populated by ethnic kin to a nearby state. 
  • Noteworthy: Fellowships/Grants: Ludwig Kruhe Fellowship, Purdue Research Foundation Grant, and Ross Fellowship 

Sara Wiest, Ph.D.


  • Fields of Study: Public Policy (Major), American Politics, and Research Methodology
  • Dissertation Title: It's All Local: Civil Society and the CDBG Program
  • Committee: Eric Waltenburg (Co-Chair), Daniel Aldrich (Co-Chair), James McCann, and S. Laurel Weldon 
  • Summary: This research examines contrasting patterns of population stability and decline at both the city and neighborhood levels. Using a mixed methods approach combining multilevel modeling and spatial analysis techniques, I test the hypothesis that stronger civil society, characterized by greater collective capacity and a denser organizational resource base, is the key determinant in whether a city will stabilize, grow, or decline. I also argue that local need-based targeting of community development resources will bolster the positive effect of civil society. First, the analysis explores divergent patterns of population change at the city level using an original time-series, cross-sectional dataset on 231 cities over four decades. At the city level, strengthening the collective capacity of civil society is an effective way to mitigate decline. Targeting local allocations of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding and reducing socioeconomic disadvantage can also stimulate population growth over time. To see how these forces work at the local level, I explore neighborhood variation in Detroit, MI. The analysis looks first at local CDBG allocation decisions and then examines the forces that influence population change in Detroit neighborhoods. Geographically weighted regression results reveal significant nonstationarity in relationships between the explanatory variables and population change. In general, stronger civil society leads to greater population stability. Local CDBG investment strategies, however, tend to weaken the positive effect of civil society with a few notable exceptions. In more racially and ethnically diverse and residentially stable areas, neighborhood organizations effectively broker resources. In these neighborhoods, the combination of a strong civil society and local government investment best predict population stability. 
  • Noteworthy: Wiest, Sara, Leigh Raymond. and Rosalee A. Clawson. 2015. “Framing, Partisan Predispositions, and Public Opinion on Climate Change." Global Environmental Change 31(2015): 187–198. Wiest, Sara, Eric N. Waltenburg, William P. McLauchlan. 2012. Exploratory Data Analysis: A Primer for Undergraduates. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company. 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 Purdue Research Foundation Research Grants

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