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Honing Skills through Research

Keep Asking Meaningful Questions

Amanda Gach is putting her excellent skills of inquiry, research, and writing to work in all kinds of ways! A senior Honors student in both International Relations & German Studies from Detroit, Michigan, Amanda is also a US-Brazilian dual citizen. She served in the Alpine German-speaking mission, and perhaps her broad background has contributed to her love for languages. She speaks four of them, including Portuguese, Spanish and German. She also loves to cook new recipes, go on hikes with friends, and travel to new places.

Amanda is accomplished academically as well, and has learned the value of working with excellent faculty mentors. In 2018, she completed the London Mentored Research Fellowship guided by Political Science Professors Gubler and Selway based in London. The team traveled throughout the United Kingdom as part of this research. Afterward, she became one of the co-authors of a project titled, "Motivating Change: Affect, Not Emotion,” which she presented at the 2019 MPSA Conference in Chicago. This year, she won the Outstanding Position Paper Award for her work on another project, "Mixed Affective States and the Fundamental Challenge of Persuasion,” a paper on the dual influences of highly pleasant and highly unpleasant emotions present in the art of persuasion she presented at the University of Washington Model European Union Conference in early March. She was part of a small team trained by Elizabeta Jevtic-Somlai and the late Professor Wade Jacoby. Amanda noted her gratitude for Professor Jacoby’s encouragement and mentorship before his passing earlier this year. "He encouraged me to apply and pursue my dreams of a Political Science Masters in Germany or Austria, which I plan to begin either next year or in 2022," she said. Amanda was also a 2019-2020 team member of BYU’s Model United Nations team, and is currently one of the teaching assistants to the next team, led by Dr. Cory Leonard.

Her focus is now on her Honors Thesis, titled, “Reciprocal Empathy: Reversing Antipathy Toward Immigrant Outgroups in Emotion and Votes.” About her thesis journey, Amanda shared the following:

Shortly after returning from the Alpine German-speaking mission (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), I returned for my first semester back at BYU in 2018. During this first semester, I met with Political Science Professor Joshua Gubler and was accepted to a research fellowship group with about 13 other political science students to perform research in London. We designed and coded a survey that included more than 8,000 participants from Great Britain. I was part of a smaller group of students that observed how Muslim immigrants were viewed by society. I was originally drawn to this topic because I was always interested in immigration issues, having both grown up speaking Portuguese with my immigrant mother and having witnessed the surge in refugees in German cities on my mission. Our study in London focused on what methods of communication best trigger empathy towards "outside groups" from the native population. We then looked at how this would translate to pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant policy support, specifically looking at a five-tier visa program. My thesis topic stems from all this research, using many of the results we found, as well as looking beyond to other policies such as the wearing of the burqa in public areas and the building of the Calais Wall along the border of France.

After her initial research in London, Amanda and a few other political science students focused on an approach called the "reciprocal empathy" treatment. The reciprocal empathy approach does not seek to generate empathy from the ingroup (natives) for outgroup (immigrants) suffering, but rather offers them empathy from the outgroup themselves. Based on the research and analysis conducted in 2018, her team concluded that in comparison with all other methods used, the reciprocal empathy treatment resulted in the highest predicted empathy within the ingroup. In her thesis, she is building on these findings-- including an analysis of new policies, of their effect on women and younger generations specifically, and what this ultimately means for international organizations and human rights groups that seek to support immigrant and refugee integration.

Like many students, Amanda originally decided to join the Honors Program because she was inspired by the atmosphere created by Honors students-- she expected to find a group of students who would push her to hone her skills in thinking and writing. With time, her motivation to stay in the Honors Program grew far beyond this. She loved the courses that combined two subjects, and she really appreciated learning from two professors from different disciplines -- both of whom fostered a higher level of learning for her. Among her favorites was a class combining early 20th Century cultural history and physical science, taught by Drs. Evan Ward and John Colton. Regardless of the class, she always appreciated the environment of hard-working students from different disciplines she found in the Honors Program.

Amanda added that aside from engaging classes and accomplished peers that pushed her to be her best self, her Honors thesis has afforded her the unique opportunity to utilize the skills of inquiry that she developed during her time in the Honors Program. She noted that the research process itself forces us to ask question, and her thesis has allowed her to apply that principle by asking truly meaningful questions. In connection with both her thesis and her personal life, she continues to ask, What might this mean for future generations? What might this mean beyond the immigrant experience? The issue of integration, covered in her thesis, is one that exists between a multitude of groups in the world, including right here in the United States. Amanda asserts that we do not have to travel far to realize the need for better integration, and that the best place to start is with our own selves, considering what changes might need to be made.

For anyone wanting to embark on a similar endeavor, Amanda encourages them to find a mentor! She explained that she was blessed to have had the London Mentored Research Fellowship experience that she did, and to learn among students who were a bit more experienced in research and coding than herself. She is extremely grateful for professors like Joel Selway and Joshua Gubler, who both guided her and her research fellows in gaining knowledge about the United Kingdom and its diverse population. Professor Gubler guided her research specifically, and is now her thesis advisor. She has continued to learn from him through both his Middle Eastern Politics class and his understanding of R coding. Amanda noted the significance of mentors cannot be understated! She recommends anyone in their first or second year to reach out and talk to professors in their major about research opportunities and how to prepare for them. Amanda will defend her thesis and graduate with Honors this December!