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NSU students recognized for best undergraduate research

A trio of Northeastern State University students recently won the Best Undergraduate Research Award at the National Social Science Association Conference in Las Vegas.

The group presented a research paper titled “Democratic Party Voters in Eastern Oklahoma.”

Melissa Weems, a junior from Pryor, Johnny Aman, a senior from Salina, and Casey Ross, a senior from Tulsa, will have their paper published in the National Social Sciences Journal, and have submitted the paper to the Oklahoma Political Science Journal.

“This is the best political science senior seminar at a regional university this side of the Mississippi River,” said Ron Becker, assistant professor of political science at NSU. “What other programs are there where undergraduate students will get published in two different journals in one year?”

The research questioned why eastern Oklahoma is one of the few areas of the southern U.S. where the party affiliation of the population remains Democrat, while many other areas have become Republican. The research team tested a number of possible explanations.

“Data led us to conclude that populism is a significant factor,” Becker said. “Voters are socially conservative, but economically they favor government programs such as Social Security, food stamps and unemployment insurance.”

The researchers suggested that entrenched Democratic affiliation could be due to a large block of older voters whose memories reach to the Dust Bowl era and retain some of the voting tendencies of New Deal Democrats.

“What we found most interesting was that the older voters were more liberal, perhaps being the last of the New Dealers,” Becker said. “Younger Democrats, or what we might call Reagan Democrats, tended to be more conservative. The implication is that eastern Oklahoma will probably follow the rest of the south as older Democratic voters are replaced by younger ones.”

The National Social Science Association is a national interdisciplinary organization devoted to interaction among social scientists through conferences, seminars and publications. The association was founded in 1983 with a series of regional conferences and has become one of the largest interdisciplinary educational associations in the U.S.

“We are so proud of our students," Becker said. "They did the best we could ever hope for. They were so smooth you would have thought they were graduate students. They are proof that if students are challenged they can accomplish much. Given guidance, our students are willing and able to do extraordinary things.”

Becker said the students received no class credit for their efforts and did it simply because they wished to conduct the research. The students also paid for their own airfare, hotel and conference fees.

“We met every Monday, and often on Wednesdays, to discuss how the work was coming,” Aman said. “We would use the professors’ offices to make phone calls to collect our survey data.”

Ross said the group wanted to show that research could be done at regional universities.

“At times it was an extremely tedious process, but the experience was more than worth it," he said. "We are attempting to lay the groundwork for future research and bring further prestige to NSU.”

As members of the Political Science Research Group, Dr. Dan Savage and Dr. Jeonghum Min worked closely with the students on the project. Becker chaired the panel and serves as vice-president of the National Social Science Association.

“Winning this award was awesome and it made me feel like the work we did paid off,” Aman said. “I am proud that with the help of great professors and brilliant fellow students we could present such a superb paper.” 

Published: 5/6/2011 11:08:57 AM

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