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Jan 31, 2014

The lure of undergraduate research

Opportunities for research in international affairs solidified Zachary Ochoa's decision to come to JMU

By Jan Gillis ('07)

Honors students walk to class with Florence, Italy as their backdrop

JMU senior Zachary Ochoa ('14) is the embodiment of the "know what you want and work to get it" philosophy.

Growing up in a military household, he had an opportunity to see the world at an early age and was convinced that a career in international affairs was in his future.

Coming to Madison was not his first choice for an academic career, but his visit to campus changed his mind. "JMU is much more welcoming than any other college I visited. I fell in love with the environment here," says Ochoa. "Students were friendly. Professors freely shared their research endeavors, and I realized that the research being conducted here was right in line with what I wanted to learn."

Anxious to know more about what his academic opportunities at Madison would be, Ochoa followed through on his initial visit. "Every time I sent an email to a JMU professor, I got a response, usually within 24 hours," says Ochoa—a responsiveness he didn't find at other colleges on his list.

"[During my college search] every time I sent an email to a JMU professor, I got a response, usually within 24 hours … I realized that the research being conducted here was right in line with what I wanted to learn." 

The opportunities for focused research solidified his college choice.

Ochoa has maximized his Madison Experience. "Working as a research assistant, taking on a Senior Honors Research Project, and working as a student assistant with the Department of Political Science have helped me develop important skills for my career," he says.

As a research assistant with Dr. Jonathan Keller, associate professor of political science, Ochoa researched rogue states and analyzed recently declassified CIA documents on the Bosnia conflict. "I read and summarized 100 of those documents and helped prepare a timeline that illustrated 'who knew what' as the Bosnia situation developed. Dr. Keller will use my work as he prepares for his presentation at the Intelligence and the Transition from War to Peace Conference being held at JMU in March."

His enthusiasm for international affairs sparked interest in exploring the balance of power between the world's nations. Ochoa's senior honors thesis will delve into the rise of superpowers. "I am focusing my research on what are known as the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China," he says. Their newly advancing economies may signal a shift of global economic power to developing nations.

A portion of Ochoa's research on superpowers

"Understanding a rising superpower is about analyzing its potential," says Ochoa. "I am concentrating my research on what leads to a country becoming a superpower. This research allows me to make a real contribution to my field and provides an opportunity to do original research, expanding the knowledge and understanding of the subject."

Ochoa will be presenting his research at the 2014 Colonial Academic Alliance Undergraduate Conference in Maryland. The conference forum lets students publicly share their research and present their work to potential graduate programs and employers. It represents another reason he's glad to have made the decision to come to JMU.

Summarizing his Madison Experience is easy: "JMU sets you up for success," he says.

To learn more about the Honors Program: