ROBERT KEOHANE receives James Madison Award in American political science

PHOTO BY SAMEER A. KHAN/FOTOBUDDY

PHOTO BY SAMEER A. KHAN/FOTOBUDDY

Robert Keohane, professor of public and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School, received the 2014 James Madison Award from the American Political Science Association (APSA).

The award, given once every three years, “recognizes an American political scientist who has made a distinguished scholarly contribution to political science.” The official citation describes Keohane as a “complete scholar” and cites his extensive writing in the field of international politics, his mentorship of generations of students, his dedication to the discipline, and his commitment to the association as the basis for his award.

APSA also cited Keohane’s past work, including After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (1984) and Designing Social Inquiry (1994), as having had an impact on scholarship in international affairs for many years.

“We are thrilled that Bob received the James Madison Award,” said Cecilia Rouse, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School and the Lawrence and Shirley Katzman and Lewis and Anna Ernst Professor in the Economics of Education. “His work has had and continues to have a profound impact on the profession. We celebrate his honor as one of the leaders in political science.”

–By Eric Wilkens

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DANIEL KAHNEMAN Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman (Photo by Larry Levanti)

Daniel Kahneman, the Eugene Higgins Professor of psychology, emeritus, and a Nobel laureate in economics, is one of 16 people who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian honor in the United States — in 2013 from President Barack Obama.

The citation for Kahneman issued by the White House reads: “Daniel Kahneman is a pioneering scholar of psychology. After escaping Nazi occupation in World War II, Dr. Kahneman immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces and trained as a psychologist. Alongside Amos Tversky, he applied cognitive psychology to economic analysis, laying the foundation for a new field of research and earning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002.”

Deborah Prentice, dean of the faculty and former chair of the psychology department, said she was delighted that Kahneman received this honor. “Danny was also one of the first to see the enormous potential for behavioral-science research to improve public policy,” Prentice said. “Here at Princeton, he created and co-taught the first course on behavioral policy and championed the appointment of many talented behavioral scientists to faculty positions in the Woodrow Wilson School. Behavioral approaches are now gaining in prominence in policy schools, think-tanks and government agencies, thanks in large part to Danny.”

–By the Office of Communications

Focus on undergraduate research: Power grid solutions in Nigeria

Oladoyin Phillips

For her senior research thesis, Oladoyin Phillips, Class of 2014, explored solutions to the electricity shortage in her home country, Nigeria. (Photo by Christopher Kwadwo Ampofo Gordon)

GROWING UP IN LAGOS, NIGERIA, Oladoyin Phillips was accustomed to the power outages that struck just as she was about to use her computer or charge her cellphone. “I was frustrated on those afternoons,” she said, “but I would remind myself that I was lucky because many Nigerians have no access whatsoever to electricity.” When it came time to select an independent research project for her senior thesis, required of all Princeton undergraduates, Phillips chose to examine solutions to Nigeria’s power problems.

Although home to vast stores of oil and natural gas, Nigeria delivers just 2 percent of the electricity typically needed to serve a nation of 168 million inhabitants. Over the last few years, the Nigerian government has privatized the power industry with the goal of improving its efficiency. But Phillips noticed that while Nigeria’s plan called for new power plants, it failed to address bottlenecks in the electricity supply chain. “I saw the opportunity to look at the entire system, from generation to transmission, and to develop strategies for improving the power sector,” she said.

Using skills she acquired while majoring in operations research and financial engineering, Philips analyzed large systems by gathering data and creating computer models. She focused on the natural gas-fired power plants that produce 80 percent of the country’s electricity (the remaining 20 percent is from hydroelectric power).

Warren Powell, professor of operations research and financial engineering, was Phillips’ adviser. “She is the kind of person who, given a few years, could have a real impact,” he said.

Using daily reports compiled during 2013 by the Transmission Company of Nigeria, a publicly owned company appointed to run the power grid, Phillips built a model that simulated the flow of energy from the fuel source to electricity generation, through the national transmission grid, and to distribution points just prior to consumer delivery.

From her analysis emerged a large-scale picture of the bottlenecks at each stage of the chain. One of the surprising findings was that most plants did not operate at full capacity, either due to maintenance issues or a shortage of natural gas. Nigeria has the largest proven natural gas reserves in Africa and the ninth largest in the world, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, but there are not enough gas plants or pipes to bring the fuel to the plants.

Phillips also found that Nigeria’s transmission network was too limited to serve the existing power generated, let alone the planned expansion. The transmission lines were also organized as a radial system with few or no alternative routes for electricity to travel when blockages or backups occur.

Her conclusion: Fix existing bottlenecks before building new plants. “The first and most crucial goal while making investments in the power sector should not be to increase the available capacity in the country,” she concluded, “but rather to ensure firstly, that all of the capacity that is already available, is delivered to the end users.”

Phillips graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 2014 and is working at an energy and transportation company based in India.

–By Catherine Zandonella

 

Globalization raises new ethical questions

Eric Gregory

Eric Gregory, a professor of religion, studies our obligations to strangers in a world of ever-growing connectedness.
(Photo by Brian Dorsey)

As strangers become more accessible to us through global markets and new media, so too do questions of our obligations to them. For Eric Gregory, who examines religious and philosophical ethics, our ever-growing connectedness to people around the world has necessitated a closer look at how and why we should help those in need.

“We have all sorts of relationships to our family, our friends, our fellow citizens,” he said. “Is it justified to show preference to family and friends in terms of how you treat them versus the person with whom you don’t have that kind of relationship? How do we think about those who might be suffering in terms of more distant relations?”

Gregory, a professor of religion, explained that Christian theologians such as St. Augustine have tackled the question of what people owe strangers in their writings, but lived in a time when strangers were far more distant than they are at present. Today, an individual can plausibly interact not just with their next-door neighbor, or with someone one village over, but with an entire globe. Yet global realities such as nationalism and religion can impose constraints on our dealings with others whom we have yet to meet, Gregory said. This tension, he explained, means we now need to balance our understanding of concern for distant others with the particularity of our relations with more immediate communities.

The calculus is a complex one, and the debate typically centers on efficiency. But Gregory, with support from The Tikvah Center for Law & Jewish Civilization at New York University School of Law and the National Endowment for the Humanities, is examining classical texts by authors from the religious and secular traditions to move past a utilitarian approach for investigating the question. “I think one of the virtues or hopes of the humanities is that there’s an ongoing conversation about how best to live a life,” he said.

-By Tara Thean

Fragile families, fragile children

Sara McLanahan

Sara McLanahan is the principal investigator on the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which found that children of unmarried parents encounter a great deal of instability. (Photo by Larry Levanti)

Relationships are complicated in the best of times, but even more so for unmarried parents and their children. Children born to unmarried parents encounter considerable instability in their family life when their biological parents end relationships and form relationships with new partners, according to data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, an initiative spearheaded by family demography expert in the Woodrow Wilson School Sara McLanahan.

The study found that just over a third of unmarried parents who are romantically involved at birth are still together by the time their child is 5 years old, compared to 80 percent of married parents. More than 60 percent of unmarried mothers have by then also changed residential partners — that is, had one or more new partners move in or out of the household.

Children encounter an even wider cast of characters if researchers take account of mothers’ more casual dating partnerships, with more than 75 percent of unmarried mothers experiencing a change in either a co-residential or short-term dating relationship. Half-siblings are also part of the picture: nearly 50 percent of children born to unmarried mothers live with a half-sibling by the time they reach age 5.

“The bottom line is that very few children born to unmarried parents are living in stable single-mother families,” said McLanahan, the William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs. The Fragile Families study is funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and several foundations.

That unmarried parents are more likely to have low education and income levels means that their children often fare worse as well, reporting more physical and mental health problems. Children of unmarried parents also tend to score lower on reading and math tests. McLanahan explained that while economic adversity accounts for much of this disadvantage, a high level of instability and family complexity may contribute to these negative outcomes.

–By Tara Thean

Green roofs’ energy savings hinge on climate

Green roofs

Green roofs, such as these above the dormitory at Princeton’s Butler College, must be designed so that they take advantage of local climate conditions. (Photo by Brian Green)

Urban planners who want green roofs in their cities need to remember that the roofs may not work the same way in different climates. Green roofs, which are covered with a layer of a vegetation to keep the building cool, perform differently according to the amount of solar radiation and precipitation present, according to Elie Bou-Zeid, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.

In a study published in the journal Building and Environment, Bou-Zeid and his team found that the green roofs on the campuses of Princeton and Tsinghua University in Beijing performed similarly when the researchers controlled for the radiation and precipitation levels in the two areas, indicating the levels’ importance in green roof function. With support from the U.S. Department of Energy through Pennsylvania State University’s Energy Efficiency Building Hub and the National Science Foundation of China, the researchers used surface temperature, heat convection from the Earth’s surface to the atmosphere, and the amount of incident energy conducted through the roof as performance measures.

Bou-Zeid

Elie Bou-Zeid, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, stands with a wireless sensing station that measures wind speed and direction, air temperature, relative humidity, surface temperature, and incoming and reflected solar radiation from black and white roofs. (Photo by Elle Starkman)

Bou-Zeid said he hopes his work will help city planners account for the specific climatic conditions in their cities when integrating rooftop gardens into their building decisions, and assess the potential benefits of irrigation that improves green roof performance in dry periods.

Highly effective green roofs are important in cities, which suffer from the “urban heat island” phenomenon: a sustained period of excessive heat in metropolitan areas caused by buildings that absorb heat and release it into the atmosphere, a lack of vegetation, and high human activity. Increasing the number of green spaces will trap rainwater, Bou-Zeid explained, thereby providing a “heat sink” in which evaporation of that water encourages heat loss and cools things down.

The New York City Office of the Mayor is taking the heat waves of the city particularly seriously, Bou-Zeid said. New York’s asphalt and concrete roads and buildings actively absorb heat, making the area sometimes up to seven degrees warmer than its neighbors. Bou-Zeid is working with representatives from the NYC Cool Roofs program, a citywide initiative to promote the use of reflective, white rooftop coating, to examine which areas of the city will suffer most during a heat wave. He later hopes to relate physical maps of area-specific heat stress in the city to physical health indicators.

“Heat waves are the deadliest natural disasters,” Bou-Zeid said. He noted that the 2003 European heat wave, which produced the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest-ever August, caused up to 70,000 deaths in the region. “They are silent killers.”

–By Tara Thean

The rising cost of health care: Students examine policy solutions

Economics students

Five members of the Class of 2013 were honored by Princeton’s Benjamin H. Griswold III, Class of 1933, Center for Economic Policy Studies for their senior thesis work. Left to right: Jio Park, Samuel Dresner, Maeve Drablos, Ameer Elbuluk and Shirley Lee. (Photo by Kevin Birch)

With health care costs soaring, opinions abound on the best way to control costs without sacrificing patient outcomes. This past academic year, as part of their senior thesis research, several top students from the Department of Economics took a closer look at the link between health care costs and quality of life.

Merger fever

Jio Park examined the impact of hospital mergers on the quality of medical care. “Much of the existing literature focuses on the effects of mergers on costs and prices,” Park said. “I wanted to explore whether or not they affect patient outcomes.”

Park examined mergers that took place in California between 1996 and 2010. She found that mergers are associated with higher mortality rates, reflecting a reduction in quality. She concluded that the adverse effects of mergers are especially strong for patients with high-risk medical conditions such as congestive heart failure and pneumonia.

Park’s adviser, Nancy Reichman, a visiting professor in the economics department and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and a professor of pediatrics at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, praised the research, which earned the Department of Economics’ highest honor for a senior thesis, the Wolf Balleisen Memorial Prize. “Jio used many types of statistical techniques to look from all angles at hospital mergers and their effect on mortality,” Reichman said. “This is an exceptional piece of work.”

Hospice versus hospitals

Ameer Elbuluk examined how patients decide between aggressive hospital-based treatments versus palliative hospice care.According to Elbuluk’s research, most patients with serious illness would prefer to die in the company of family and loved ones. He also found that even with aggressive treatment, people were not living longer. Yet the cost of aggressive treatment was significant, according to the studies that Elbuluk found. For example, a 2011 study found that Medicare, the government program that serves the elderly, spends about one-third of its total budget on patients with chronic illness in their last two years of life.

To study the factors associated with increased hospice use, Elbuluk used data from the National Home and Hospice Care Survey (NHHCS). Elbuluk found that hospice use was more likely among patients who had a living will or advance care directive. Patients were more likely to choose hospice if regular doctor visits were provided.

The largest barrier to hospice use, Elbuluk found, stemmed from Medicare policies. Elbuluk noted that before approving hospice care, Medicare requires a physician’s diagnosis that the patient has less than six months to live if the illness were to run its natural course. In his research, however, Elbuluk found that physicians are reluctant to make such a diagnosis.

Elbuluk’s thesis yields policy suggestions that could help increase the use of hospice care and reduce unnecessary expenditures, according to his adviser, Elizabeth Bogan, a senior lecturer in economics. “It is wonderful that we have students who are excellent scholars,” she said.

Park and Elbuluk presented their findings with three other seniors, Maeve Drablos, Samuel Dresner and Shirley Lee, at the annual undergraduate student research forum hosted by the Benjamin H. Griswold III, Class of 1933, Center for Economic Policy Studies.

“Each of these students has conducted a sophisticated work of analysis,” said Uwe Reinhardt, a leading authority on health care economics and the James Madison Professor of Political Economy, and professor of economics and public affairs at the Wilson School. Reinhardt is a co-director of the Griswold Center with Hyun Song Shin, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of Economics.

–By Catherine Zandonella

Activism Shapes Africa Scholar

Leonard Wantchekon

Princeton Professor of Politics Leonard Wantchekon has built upon his past as a political activist in the West African nation of Benin to forge an academic career focused on studying — and working to shape — governance and institutions in Africa. (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

Leonard Wantchekon’s education began  as a young child in his home village of Zagnanado, in the West African nation of Benin, where elementary school classes gave way to long soccer games and evenings of storytelling by aunts and uncles whose tales became informal history courses.

He left village life behind in a search for academic success that took him to the nation’s most populous city, Cotonou, to the National University of Benin to study mathematics, and eventually to North America and Princeton.

During his student years in Benin, Wantchekon became a pro-democracy activist. Planning meetings became his classes, fellow activists his classmates and acts of protest his final exams. Through the 1970s and ’80s he rose to a prominent place in the opposition that helped hasten the end of the oppressive regime of Mathieu Kérékou.

“All the time I tried to be two different persons in one,” Wantchekon said. “On the one hand I wanted to be the next big thing in academics in Africa. I wanted to be a top mathematician and was very ambitious, driven and enthusiastic. … At the same time, I was an equally ambitious pro-democracy activist. I was at the center of a social movement that was pushing for major political reforms in Benin.”

His twin paths of academic study and political activism frequently diverged and intersected until a morning in December 1986, when he escaped across the border into Nigeria following 18 months of incarceration as a political prisoner and three months on the run from authorities.

“It was — or rather, I was determined to make this — the dividing line between my past and my future,” Wantchekon wrote about that moment in his autobiography Rêver à contre-courant (Dreaming Against the Grain), published in French by L’Harmattan in 2012.

A quarter-century after leaving his home country, Wantchekon has built upon his remarkable past to forge an academic career focused on studying — and working to shape — governance and institutions in Africa.

He has emerged as one of the rare political scientists who works directly with politicians, using their campaigns as laboratories to study how best to engage voters on policies. He also studies how the benefits of education spread through a society, using his home village as one of the study sites. And he’s hard at work on his most ambitious project, establishing a graduate school and center for social science research in Benin.

“We shouldn’t underestimate how crucial it is that ideas that will help Africa develop have to come mostly from Africa and have to involve more Africans,” said Wantchekon, who joined the Princeton faculty in 2011 as a professor of politics and associate faculty member in the economics department. “This, of course, cannot happen overnight. So we need to set up great institutions of higher education with the hope that, over time, we develop enough talent to make a difference.”

Political campaign as laboratory

In Benin, Wantchekon is experimenting with ways to engage voters using the nation itself as a laboratory. “As a researcher and someone who has political experience, I’m interested in the following question: How can a candidate best communicate a policy platform to the electorate that is both good for the country and can help the candidate win?” Wantchekon said.

Town hall meeting

In his research on engaging voters, Wantchekon compared the effectiveness of two campaign strategies, a town-hall meeting versus a large campaign rally. He found that the town-hall meeting is more effective at getting people to vote for the candidate, and it was far more cost effective. (Photo courtesy of the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy, Benin)

With the cooperation of the candidates and funding from the International Development Research Council of Canada (IDRC), he is evaluating the effectiveness of two campaign techniques: town-hall meetings focused on issues versus the usual large and costly rallies that emphasize financial incentives for voters.

Wantchekon found that town-hall meetings are more effective than rallies both in terms of getting people to turn out to vote and getting them to vote for the candidate. “Not only are the people more informed,” he said, “but those who attend share what they have learned with others.” Some of the project results were published in the October 2013 issue of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics. He completed a similar experiment in the Philippines earlier this year with support from Princeton’s Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice, and is awaiting the results.

His next project is to explore the conditions under which holding primary elections within political parties, as is done in the United States, could encourage candidates to develop more thorough expertise on policy areas. “Competition between two candidates from the same party, running on the same platform, I think will encourage candidates to go deeper into the issues with the voters,” Wantchekon said.

Peter Buisseret, a Ph.D. student studying comparative politics, is collaborating with Wantchekon on this work. “Leonard is enormously enthusiastic about the projects we work on together, and also my own work,” Buisseret said. “As a co-author, he is truly collaborative: I feel very much an equal in the projects we work on, but at the same time I recognize how much intellectual and professional benefit I get from working with someone with his experience and knowledge.”

Wantchekon said his experience in graduate school shapes the way he relates to students. After fleeing Benin, he found his way to Canada, where he earned master’s degrees in economics from Laval University and the University of British Columbia.

In 1992, he went to Northwestern University, where he earned his doctorate in economics. But the transition to the American academic system — and an environment where only English was spoken — was difficult. He overcame the challenges, though, and secured a position as an assistant professor of political science at Yale University and later on the faculty of New York University.

Far-reaching benefits of education

Wantchekon’s experiences spurred him to explore how education has benefited people within villages and across generations in Benin, a country that experienced Western colonization. When Benin, then known as Dahomey, was colonized in 1895 by France, Catholic missionaries began setting up schools throughout the region. The missionaries’ goal was religious conversion, Wantchekon said, while the colonial government aimed to train local people to work as translators, nurses, accountants and security guards.

Colonial school 1936

Wantchekon studies the benefits of education on the income levels of descendants of the first students of missionary schools in Benin. One such school shown above in 1936 operated in Wantchekon’s home village, Zagnanado. (Copyright African Missions)

Using colonial archives, school rosters and oral histories, and with financial support from IDRC, Wantchekon identified 240 of the first students to attend school in the early 1900s at four sites in Benin. He noted that these students were not smarter or wealthier than the average Benin child but merely were fortunate to live near a school, so they can be thought of as randomly selected and representative of the population. He compared each group of 60 students to a representative sample of children from a village that lacked a school.

He found that the educated individuals experienced better incomes and living conditions. For example, only 14 percent of the educated students become farmers, whereas farming was the primary occupation among the uneducated (about 80 percent). He also found that the educated were more likely to have electricity and running water in their homes and to own a bicycle, motorcycle or car.

Wantchekon also found lasting effects that went beyond the individuals who received education. The children of the first students exhibited better outcomes, as might be expected, but what is particularly striking, Wantchekon said, is that the children of uneducated parents living in villages with schools did markedly better than descendants of uneducated parents in villages without schools.

“What I draw from this is the importance of aspiration,” he said. “When you see someone who makes it, he or she is your reference point, and you want to make it too. This is a very important finding for education policy. It is how you use the success of a few to encourage the success of many.”

Wantchekon said his findings resonate with his own experience. His mother, who was mostly uneducated, would show him pictures of his successful and educated uncle and urge her children to be like him. Of the children he went to school with in the village of Zagnanado, 10 others have earned Ph.D.s. “Entire villages in Benin have been completely transformed by education,” he said.

With a small team of students sponsored by Princeton’s Health Grand Challenge program, Wantchekon is now exploring whether the beneficial effects of education have continued to spread to the grandchildren of Benin’s first students in an era of increased competition for jobs.

Returning to Benin

Wantchekon isn’t just studying Africa’s past and present. He’s working to shape its future as founder of the African School of Economics (ASE), which is set to open in Benin in fall 2014. The goal of the ASE, Wantchekon said, is to create a center of excellence for social science research in Africa.

African School of Economics

Wantchekon is working to establish the African School of Economics (ASE), whose offices and a related organization, the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy, are currently housed in the building (top) in Abomey Calavi, Benin. Plans for a new ASE campus, pictured in the architectural renderings (bottom), are underway. (Photo courtesy of Serge Boya; architectural renderings courtesy of ASE)

The school, which has its roots in a research institute Wantchekon established in Benin in 2004, has received funding from the Women for Africa Foundation and SES, a satellite company based in Luxembourg, and is scheduled to open with about 300 master’s degree students.

“I’ve always thought that the way to promote social science research in Africa is to have a better African representation in social science research

in Africa,” Wantchekon said. “We need to solve development problems on the continent through original thinking and indigenous generation of knowledge.”

The ASE will bring together students and faculty from Africa and beyond with an academic focus on informing social science within the context and history of Africa. Classes will be taught in English. The school’s structure and curriculum have been established. The design of the school, to be based near the city of Cotonou, is nearing completion.

The ASE is also pursuing academic partnerships with universities around the world that he hopes will lead to a free flow of students, faculty and ideas. Earlier this year, Princeton announced a partnership involving Wantchekon and the University of São Paulo, the Center for Teaching and Research in Economics in Mexico, and the Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy in Benin. As part of this program, ASE hosted a summer school and conference involving 12 graduate students from Princeton and 10 from African universities.

“One of the things the University is very excited about in terms of this initiative is the opportunity our faculty will have to collaborate with scholars in Western Africa and possibly in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa later,” said Diana Davies, vice provost for international initiatives. “Also, this allows us to engage in the activity of capacity building and helping to build up the next generation of scholars in Africa, which is something that’s very important to us.”

“Africa is part of the University’s larger internationalization effort,” said Jeremy Adelman, Princeton’s Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professor in Spanish Civilization and Culture, professor of history and director of the University’s Council for International Teaching and Research. “But the strategy has to be adapted to Africa. Figuring out how it’s going to work in Africa requires working with Africans.”

Wantchekon knows that much work remains to reach his goals for the ASE. “I am really determined to get there,” he said. “ASE enables me to nourish big ambitions and dreams for Africa while being among the best academics in America.”

By Michael Hotchkiss

Race and incarceration rates: Student researcher explores solutions

Image of razorwire

Danielle Pingue, Class of 2013, focused her research on the ways in which nonprofits are contributing to policy reform in the criminal justice system.

African Americans made up 40 percent of incarcerated individuals in the United States in 2012, despite being only 13 percent of the American population, according to the United States Census Bureau. Danielle Pingue, Class of 2013, wanted to know what could be done to change that statistic.

Danielle Pingue, Class of 2013 (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

Danielle Pingue, Class of 2013 (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

For her senior thesis project, Pingue analyzed three nonprofit organizations engaged in incarceration reform. She found that, while these programs were promising, additional policy changes and judicial reforms are needed to shrink the racial disparity in incarceration rates.

“One thing scholars agree on is that mass imprisonment has produced a host of undesirable consequences, particularly for African Americans,” Pingue said, “including the loss of the right to vote and barriers to employment, purchasing a car, and access to quality health care. These disadvantages can affect entire African American communities, including non-offenders.” To find out what nonprofits are doing to address the issue, Pingue conducted in-depth interviews and reviewed policy briefs and other documents. Pingue focused on three organizations — the Sentencing Project, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Project.

These groups advocate for reforms such as reduced drug-related sentences, rehabilitation rather than prison for nonviolent offenders, placement services for ex-felons re-entering society, and job training for economically disadvantaged youth. Additional reforms include ending biased police practices such as racial profiling.

Pingue found that nonprofits have had a positive effect on government incarceration policies. For example, lobbying by the Sentencing Project and the NAACP LDF contributed to a reduction in federal drug-related sentences through the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

She found room for improvement, however. “One of the more surprising findings of my research was that the reform that nonprofits are pursuing — mostly litigation or lobbying — may not represent what a large bulk of the affected population feels needs to be done,” Pingue said. She concluded that nonprofits need to do more to connect with affected communities.

Imani Perry, professor of African American studies, advised Pingue on the project. “The problem of racialized mass incarceration devastates communities, families and individual lives,” Perry said. “I’m very impressed by Danielle’s research into the range of policy recommendations and lobbying efforts of nonprofit organizations working on how to address this problem.”

During her undergraduate education, Pingue interned at Princeton’s Center for African American Studies and concentrated her studies in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs with a certificate in African American studies.

Pingue, who was born in Jamaica and moved with her parents to Worcester, Mass., when she was 10, will enter Harvard Law School in the fall. After law school she hopes to enter politics, perhaps as a representative working with disadvantaged communities. “My long-term goal is to go back to Jamaica and work on social policy and developmental issues, bringing the work that I’ve learned in the United States back to my birthplace,” she said.

–By Catherine Zandonella

The social network: Program combats bullying

New laws and policies to address harassment and intimidation in schools are sprouting up in every state. But can laws and polices put a stop to bullying, or do students play a role?

Psychologist Elizabeth Levy Paluck has set out to demonstrate that students can change the climate of a school from one that tolerates bullying to one that promotes positive behavior. She is leading a research program in 58 New Jersey middle schools that harnesses the power of students’ social networks to change behavior and reduce bullying.

Elizabeth Paluck

Elizabeth Levy Paluck, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs, is pursuing research in New Jersey middle schools to test whether it is possible to change social norms regarding bullying by targeting students’ social networks. (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

The project tests the premise that the best way to change social norms is to target the most socially connected people, and then allow the change to diffuse through the group, said Paluck, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs. “People construct their ideas of acceptable behavior by observing others, especially influential individuals,” she said. “We would like to know if we can change the culture of a school by first changing the attitudes and behavior of these individuals.”

Paluck stressed that while some of these students are “popular,” others are the unofficial leaders of non-mainstream social groups organized around a common interest such as skateboarding or glee club.

Paluck is conducting the project, which is supported by the William T. Grant Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and Princeton’s Educational Research Section, with Hana Shepherd, a postdoctoral research associate in the psychology department and Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The first step in the project, which began in fall 2012, was to identify a school’s influential students, or “social referents.” The researchers asked the entire student body to fill out a questionnaire listing the other individuals in his or her network. Privacy was preserved via use of anonymous codes. Using a mathematical algorithm, the Paluck team then constructed models of every social network in the school and combed for individuals with lots of connections within networks.

Social network

Elizabeth Levy Paluck, assistant professor of psychology and public affairs, and her team mapped the social networks of middle school students to identify influential individuals (social referents), who were then randomly assigned to either participate or not participate in an intervention program designed to reduce conflict in schools. In a pilot study, the researchers found that students (first-degree and second-degree connections) in the networks of social referents who participated in the antibullying program were less likely to view conflict as acceptable at the school, and were less likely to be disciplined for peer conflict, compared to students in networks of social referents who did not participate in the intervention program. (Original illustration courtesy of Elizabeth Levy Paluck.)

Once identified, some of these well connected individuals were randomly selected to join a group where they learned about bullying prevention and created an intervention program to spread positive social norms through efforts such as student assemblies, posters and wristbands. “It was important that the students design the program, to ensure that it meets their needs,” Paluck said.

Prior to starting the intervention program, the researchers conducted a baseline survey of attitudes toward bullying. At the end of the 2012-13 school year, the team conducted a follow-up survey of attitudes and collected information on behaviors. While the New Jersey results are not yet in, a pilot project in a school in Connecticut found improvements in attitudes about bullying and in reduced incidents of harassment and intimidation.

The much larger New Jersey study should allow the researchers to compare schools that received the intervention to those that did not. Within each school, the researchers can compare the attitudes and behaviors of students who belong to the networks of socially influential students who participated in creating antibullying interventions to students in the networks of influential students who did not participate.

“We need to know whether we changed the climate of conflict, did we set into motion a new expectation of what behaviors are desirable, did we make an overall difference?” Paluck said. “You cannot test this with only one social network, you have to compare to other networks where intervention was not done.”

–By Catherine Zandonella