Introducing Our 2023-24 CDDRL Honors Students

We are thrilled to welcome ten outstanding students, who together represent eleven different majors and minors and hail from four countries, to our Fisher Family Honors Program in Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.
Fisher Family Honors Program Class of 2024

The Fisher Family Honors Program in Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (DDRL) at CDDRL provides undergraduates from different majors and schools at Stanford the opportunity to write an honors thesis in a cohort based on a shared interest in democracy, development, and rule of law. Honors students graduate in their majors but receive honors in DDRL.

The aim of our Honors Program is for participating undergraduates to carry out original, policy-relevant research on democracy, development, or the rule of law, and to produce a coherent, eloquently argued, well-written honors thesis.

We are thrilled to welcome ten outstanding students to the class of 2023-24 who represent eleven different majors and minors and hail from four countries around the world.


Meet the Students

Michael Alisky

Michael Alisky

Major: BA International Relations, MA International Policy
Minor: Computer Science
Hometown: Aurora, CO
Thesis Advisor: Scott Rozelle

Tentative Thesis Title: Common Prosperity and China’s Social Volcano

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? In China, urban-rural inequality impacts how education is perceived and valued. While the link between education and migration has been studied extensively, I hope to contribute to the literature by examining micro-level decision-making and assessing how important citizenship rights — primarily, those related to children's education — are to migrant parents. Understanding these sorts of decisions can shed light on the success of China's reforms and better characterize its development path moving forward.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was drawn to the CDDRL honors program because of its collaborative environment, world-class faculty, and focus on original research. I am excited by the opportunity to delve deep into a topic I don't yet know much about, and I hope to synthesize my IR coursework in a way that makes a difference.

What are your summer research plans? I plan to spend the first few weeks doing an intensive Chinese language program in Beijing. I hope to design my own project over spring quarter that I can undertake toward the end of the summer.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I might just keep coaching speech and debate. Diplomacy, academia, and international policymaking would also be cool. I'd also love to work at an Ethiopian restaurant.

A fun fact about yourself: I keep a Quizlet of pretentious vocabulary words.

Isabelle Coloma

Isabelle Coloma

Major: International Relations
Minor: Translation Studies and Economics
Hometown: Walnut Creek, CA
Thesis Advisor: Christine Wotipka

Tentative Thesis Title: “A Chicken Coop without a Door?” Investigating Civic Education in the Hong Kong Context

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Hong Kong presents itself as a compelling case study: its decolonization process did not lead to nation-building efforts for a new state but rather centered on reintegration with China. This transitional process from colony to SAR has notably been far from simple. During colonization, the island developed its own local identity and inherited British-designed democratic institutions, a capitalist economic framework, and an educational system — all of which inform its current political and economic organization. Following the 1997 handover, the political concept of ‘one country, two systems’ was formed to ease integration into China’s distinctly different system. Through the lens of civic education curriculum, I hope to dissect the challenges of constructing a national identity and communicating the dimensions of citizenship through textbooks.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? Taking “The Spirit of Democracy” in my freshman fall prompted a deep curiosity in democratic development and subsequently shaped my research interests in historical memory, sovereignty, transnational migration, and anti-corruption policy. I was eager to join a program that would grant me the academic flexibility to explore these interests as well as challenge me to develop a long-term project that would creatively synthesize all my questions of the past four years. I was equally eager to join a community of students with diverse backgrounds, to be inspired by the new perspectives gained in this collaborative environment, and to learn from amazing faculty with ranging research methodologies and backgrounds.

What are your summer research plans? I plan to identify and gather civic education textbooks from local schools across 1997-2019 for my longitudinal study. With the recent development of a “Citizenship and Social Development” curriculum, I will also be closely following HK education news and connecting with HK sociology professors to engage their perspectives on the issue.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: Looking towards post-grad, I intend to (1) pursue graduate studies in international policy and law, and (2) explore how academia and policymaking can more effectively inform each other. As I consider the US Foreign Service or human rights NGO work as a future career, I ultimately aim to ground my future work (whatever that may be!) in public service, community engagement, and within the international affairs space.

A fun fact about yourself: After my study abroad in HK, seal engraving has become a new hobby of mine!

Liza Goldberg

Liza Goldberg

Major: Earth Systems
Minor: Data Science
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Thesis Advisor: Erik Jensen & Stephen Luby

Tentative Thesis Title: Investigating Chronic Climate Stress Impacts on Psychological Poverty Traps among Bangladeshi Youth

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? The results of this study will provide a novel understanding of the potential impacts of climatic stress on the income trajectories and future well-being of the next generation of the rural poor of Bangladesh. Canonical poverty trap literature often fails to consider the potential impacts of climate stress on cycles of income loss. This study will revise common conceptions of financial behavior change and stress adaptation among Bangladesh's extreme poor by investigating youth decision-making under extreme climate exposure, providing a key needs assessment on future aspirations and vulnerabilities of at-risk communities across Barisal Understanding key pathways from climatic exposure to long-term planning capacity is key to determining the most effective aid mechanisms to lift impoverished communities post-disaster, informing massive-scale implementation of sustainable development policy for households at the frontlines of the impending climate-poverty crisis.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? As an Earth Systems and Data Science student, I am excited to have the opportunity to formally cross my interests in climate science and development policy through this program. I have also been very fortunate to receive extensive mentorship from my two CDDRL advisors throughout my time at Stanford, and I very much look forward to continuing to work together — as well as with the entire outstanding CDDRL faculty group - throughout the course of writing my thesis.

What are your summer research plans? I will be conducting fieldwork in climate-vulnerable, impoverished communities across Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, India. I will also be continuing my ongoing research with NASA to apply satellite technology in informing deforestation policy across low- and middle-income nations. Finally, I will be traveling across India, Ghana, and Nigeria to launch a major capacity-building initiative to train hundreds of young researchers in using satellite data for environmental monitoring.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After I finish my undergraduate degree, I will pursue a PhD program in sustainable development. I seek to dedicate my education and career to applying groundbreaking satellite technology in aiding climate adaptation across low- and middle-income nations.

A fun fact about yourself: I'm currently learning Hindi, and hope to be at least conversationally fluent by summer!

Teiana Gonsalves

Teiana Gonsalves

Major: Political Science
Minor: Native American Studies
Hometown: Kailua, Hawaiʻi
Thesis Advisor: Hakeem Jefferson

Tentative Thesis Title: U.S.-Hawaiʻi Trade Reciprocity in the Hawaiʻi Sugar Industry: A Vessel for Increased American Political Power in the Islands

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? In this thesis, I discuss the factors that motivated the desire for a treaty of reciprocity between Hawaiʻi and the U.S. in the late 1800s. I outline the political and economic landscape preceding reciprocity, the key arguments for and against reciprocity, the relevant sets of actors involved in its discussion, and the processes by which these actors pursued reciprocity. By analyzing the justifications and stakeholders entangled in the preferential trade agreement, I provide the foundation for an understanding of the effect of the sugar industry's development on political change in Hawaiʻi's domestic government. Insight into these developments, which unraveled over several decades in conjunction with Hawaiʻi's agricultural maturing, illuminates the immense sway the sugar industry held over Hawaiʻi life and landscape in the 19th century and beyond. This history is one of political economy and imperial aspirations, not mere economic development. I contend with these complex, interlocking sets of interests that shaped Hawaiʻi development and governance.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? As a Native Hawaiian who has researched and experienced the implications of Hawaiʻi's unique developmental arc, my passion is to better understand our political and economic history to address modern issues. I am especially drawn to CDDRL's strong interdisciplinary structure, empowering me to analyze these complex histories in a rigorous and uplifting environment. The CDDRL community is an incredibly vibrant and intelligent group of fellow honors students, scholars, and mentors.

What are your summer research plans? Over the summer, I conducted my literature review, organized my sources, and created my thesis outline. I explored historical documents and books on the Hawaiʻi sugar industry and political and economic development.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After graduating from Stanford this spring, I will work as a Litigation Paralegal at Paul, Weiss in New York City. I later plan to pursue a joint Juris Doctorate and Master's in Public Policy degree. I strive to work in the federal government and serve my home state, crafting policy addressing issues in my community and increasing Hawaiʻi's economic diversification and sustainability.

A fun fact about yourself: I’ve competed in outrigger canoe paddling and kayaking throughout my life, including paddling in a forty-one-mile canoe race between two islands in the Hawaiian chain (Molokaʻi to Oʻahu). I also ran a cupcake and cake business in high school!

Samantha Hasani

Samantha Hasani

Major: Political Science
Minor: Data Science
Hometown: Orange County, CA
Thesis Advisor: Lisa Blaydes

Tentative Thesis Title: Exploring External Actor Influences on Innovation Ecosystem Development in West Asia

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Authoritarianism is on the rise, primarily in developing countries. Concurrently, digital governance is increasingly favored as a future model of democracy; with that being said, technology can and is being weaponized for repression in burgeoning free societies. This topic is vital to understanding the ways in which we can enable a productive confluence of technology innovation, democracy, and development in a key region.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was excited by the opportunity to take a development-centric approach to a region historically and more often studied from a national security perspective.

What are your summer research plans? I will be working at the Schmidt Special Competitive Studies Project, analyzing pressing tech-related national security issues.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I would like to attend law school and then work in national security in a development-focused position.

A fun fact about yourself: I hate the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

VinhHuy Le

VinhHuy Le

Major: Economics
Hometown: Allen, TX
Thesis Advisor: José Ignacio Cuesta

Tentative Thesis Title: Big Pharma Mergers and Their Effects on Medicare Drug Prices 

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Under the Biden administration, antitrust enforcement has reinvigorated public debate on the role and size of large corporations, especially in healthcare. While some point to healthcare mergers as a vehicle for greater operational efficiency, others attribute these mergers as a reason for rising healthcare prices. I believe the most effective way to draw conclusions in this debate is with concrete, empirical analysis. By analyzing the impact of pharmaceutical company mergers on Medicare costs, this thesis can help guide decisions on antitrust enforcement, which can have significant implications for the healthcare industry.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? My time as a Stanford undergraduate has taken me across drastically different fields, from political campaigns to intellectual property law to UN Peacekeeping to video editing. The opportunity to learn new things without restrictions has allowed me to thrive. Indeed, CDDRL embodies this pioneering spirit. As a result, our cohort is rich with different academic experiences and professional backgrounds. I’m certain that my honors thesis will be stronger and more complete because of these different perspectives.

What are your summer research plans? I’ll be teaching English and filmmaking in Argentina this summer. But, I’ll get a head start on my thesis research this summer by sorting through public datasets and developing an empirical strategy.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: Taking a gap year after graduation to teach English abroad, then coming back to go to law school.

A fun fact about yourself: I’m an avid rock climber, and I’m working on my pilot’s license, even though I’m afraid of heights.

Susan Lee

Susan Lee

Major: Political Science
Minor: Notation in Cultural Rhetorics
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea
Thesis Advisor: Jim Fishkin

Tentative Thesis Title: Implementing Citizen Consultations in the Asia Pacific

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? My thesis will draw on the perspectives of civil servants, academics, and NGO consultants who actually organize and implement citizen consultations after they are commissioned. A "how-driven" approach can add ground-level insights to the existing research-namely functional explanations- for "why" states institute consultative exercises and the impacts of citizen engagement on political development.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I work in deliberative democracy as a practitioner, and I transferred to Stanford last year, in large part, because of the Deliberative Democracy Lab. While I was often stuck in the weeds of process and design as a practitioner, studying the field in school sparked my interest in how these innovations can fit into the broader process of political development. The CDDRL program provides me with a good scaffolding to investigate this question.

What are your summer research plans? I plan to read as much of the relevant literature, both within and outside deliberative democracy, as I can, and begin designing my first round of interviews with practitioners.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: In the long run, I want to work as a deliberative practitioner and innovate better ways for people to make decisions together. I’m less certain about the road I want to take to get there, but more school is one compelling option!

A fun fact about yourself: My twin brother is less than a minute older than me, but I had to refer to him by the Korean honorific for “older brother” growing up. I’m still bitter!

Melissa Severino de Oliveira

Melissa Severino de Oliveira

Major: Political Science
Minor: Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Hometown: Manaus, Brazil
Thesis Advisor: Beatriz Magaloni & Soledad Prillaman

Tentative Thesis Title:  "Chemical castration as gender justice: How punitive attitudes inform gender policy preferences and voting behavior among Brazilian women."

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? Brazil is the largest democracy in Latin America, but the quality of this democracy has been decreasing significantly in the past years, culminating in a coup attempt at the beginning of 2023. At the same time, gender has played a very important - and contradictory - role in the politics of the country in the past decade. My thesis will explore how much gender matters for Brazilian women’s electoral behavior in terms of substantive representation, aiming to understand what they prioritize when it comes to women’s issues and policies and if these priorities are reflected in their voting choices. This is a particularly important question in the current turbulent context of Brazil, where the country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, was followed by Jair Bolsonaro, widely known for his public misogynistic statements. At the same time, there is a concurrent growth in feminist female representatives and anti-feminist ultra-conservative representatives. With this thesis, I will contribute to the field of gender substantive representation, which remains extensively unexplored, providing information on how gender informs these voter decisions, and adding to the literature on identity politics. Understanding how women see gender policy and comprehending how they vote can provide valuable insights on how to advance female participation in politics as well as how to advance gender equality, therefore leading to an increase in the quality of democracy in the country.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? During my undergraduate studies at Stanford, I have worked as an RA for different labs and explored many classes inside political science, with a special focus on Latin American issues. However, I wanted to have the opportunity to research in-depth a topic that I am really passionate about. The CDDRL Program will allow me to do so, taking a multidisciplinary approach and working with incredible faculty. In addition, I would like to work with politics and public policy in the future, and I believe that this honors program will allow me to better understand how to use research in these fields.

What are your summer research plans? During the summer, I intend to conduct fieldwork in São Paulo, Brazil. I will be interviewing women from the ages of 23 to 61 to understand their views on gender issues and policies and how this reflects on their voting behavior. Simultaneously, I will be conducting an online survey and literature review at this time, as well as coding and analyzing interview data. 

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After my undergraduate studies, I will be coterming in Latin American Studies. Upon finishing my master's, I intend to go back to Brazil and work in the government, both in public policy implementation and in representative politics directly. I particularly want to work with gender policy.

A fun fact about yourself: My home city, Manaus, is located in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, and it is one of the few places where you can have a real açaí bowl.

Arabella Walley

Arabella Walley

Major: International Relations
Minor: Human Rights
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Thesis Advisor: Jeremy Weinstein 

Tentative Thesis Title: Migration in the Digital Age: How the Internet and Social Media Have Transformed Migrant Networks

Why is this topic important to the field of democracy, development, and the rule of law? My topic is important to the field because the implications of migrants using social media as a resource are not yet fully understood. Before we can understand if social media benefits or harms migrants, we must understand what has changed. The goal of my thesis is to identify this change so that future researchers can dedicate themselves to ensuring the safety of migrants going forward. In turn, the safety and well-being of migrants is crucial because they make up such a large percentage of the US population and contribute to our democracy and economy in so many invaluable ways.

What attracted you to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program? I was attracted to the CDDRL undergraduate honors program because of the many wonderful conversations I had with current members of the program. They told me about how inspiring it is to work alongside members of the cohort and how fulfilling it is to dedicate your time and energy to a year-long project.

What are your summer research plans? Depending on whether or not I get my security clearance, I will either be interning at the State Department this summer or conducting fieldwork for my thesis in the Bay Area. If I don't get the clearance, I will spend 10 weeks (hopefully with major grant funding) conducting 40 in-depth interviews with Mexican immigrants about their experiences using social media as a migration resource.

Future aspirations post-Stanford: After Stanford, I would like to work toward reforming the current US immigration system. Specifically, I could see myself doing this as an immigration lawyer or by working for the State Department under the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

A fun fact about yourself: I used to be a competitive rock climber between the ages of 8 and 18.