• What does a brighter future mean to you?

    Connect with James Madison University and learn more about how our people and programs are making positive change in the world

    Subscribe to Madison; share your thoughts about the future on the Be the Change blog; or perhaps you'd like to nominate a world changer to be featured on this site.

    Consider this your invitation to
    Be the Change.


Join us to Be the Change


The elite graduate school boot camp

Political science major turns prestigious Ralph Bunche Institute into grad school gold
By Amelia Wood ('13)

Christina Grier ('12) has received two graduate school offers after participating in the prestigious Ralph Bunche Institute

Christina Grier ('12) has received two graduate school offers after participating in the prestigious Ralph Bunche Institute

It all started with the literature review of a rushed paper, a paper that would change the life of Christina Grier ('12). Despite putting off writing a paper due in Professor of Political Science Valerie Sulfaro’s research methods and statistics course, Grier threw herself into the research.

Sulfaro, who always stresses the importance of hunting down original sources instead of relying on secondary references, was impressed by Grier’s diligence and thorough research.

“Christina hunted down the original sources for all of her articles and read them, and then read their original sources, and then read those pieces’ original sources. Then, she started to panic when she realized that this cycle would probably never end, and she would never finish her paper,” Sulfaro recalls.

A careful researcher, Grier shrugs and says she just did what she thought she was supposed to do. After reading Grier’s paper, Sulfaro recommended that she check out the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute.

“I knew I wanted to go to grad school eventually, but this program can lead to a doctoral program which can be five years long — five to seven depending on what you study,” says Grier.

She convinced herself to apply to the prestigious Ralph Bunche Institute and accepted, when she received the offer, to participate in the grueling five weeks of intensive study.

The institute is a graduate school boot camp. Well known among U.S. university political science departments, the institute is a highly recommended program for minority students looking to pursue a doctoral degree. Twenty students are chosen annually from well over 100 applicants for the graduate-level classes at Duke University in North Carolina.

“There were students from New York, Texas, California and Michigan,” says Grier, who took two classes at Duke - Race in American Politics and Statistical Analysis.

“The days were just so long,” says Grier, a sentiment she conveyed more than once.

Within those few, short weeks Grier read more than 15 books and numerous articles and produced a graduate-level paper on a research project that she hypothesized and empirically tested. “My paper was 34 pages, and I finished it in the last three to four days. I just stayed up and didn’t sleep or eat,” she says.

Students in the Bunche Institute spent many of their lunch breaks with a writing tutor receiving help with both the research paper and the other class papers due every week.

Added perks included dinners on Thursdays with guest speakers and graduate student presentations; bag lunches with Duke professors; GRE prep courses and practice exams; and a recruitment fair with at least 20 representatives from graduate schools.

Grier says the “crazy summer” and hard work paid off. She has applied to 10 graduate school political science programs as close as American University and George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and as far as the University of Minnesota.

“I really don’t have a top choice,” she says. “I didn’t apply to a school that I couldn’t see myself going to.”

By early February Grier heard from four universities and received acceptance letters from Ohio State University and Penn State University. Additional offers should be coming throughout the spring semester.

Grier plans to focus on American politics and would like to work with election campaigns from the voters’ perspective. Eventually she would like to become a professor and write books about her research and experience.