M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies

Message from the Executive Director

Spring 2019

Letter Executive Director Spring 2019


As I made my way to class on a Monday afternoon this past April, an undergraduate student stopped me in my tracks. The student had taken my EU politics course last fall. He had suffered through enough classes with me to know that (a) I have a passion for Europe, (b) I support my undergraduate alma mater’s football team, and (c) I have a fondness for English speakers who give French pronunciation their best effort. Given all of this, I was confused when the student thrust his phone in my direction and brought the breaking news to my attention: “Look, Dr. Scherpereel! Notre Dame (pronounced know-ter-dayme) is burning!” What an awful ambiguity—either the centuries-old symbol of the City of Light or the place that my own path of personal enlightenment had begun was engulfed in flames. As I focused on the student’s phone, I realized that it was the former travesty that was unfolding. Developments over the following hours and days produced an intermittent stream of despair and hope ranging from efforts of fire fighters, prayer vigils and statements of determination to images of loss, gestures of one-upmanship, and yellow vests. As we move toward integral EP elections later this month, I hope that this terrible event may at least promote some period of reflection: reflection about European values, the ties that bind the EU together, the fruits of common action, and the necessity of civil dialogue. I hope that the tragedy of Notre Dame continues to spur us to think about the importance of listening to fellow citizens, about how to (re-) build institutions, and about the relationship between religion and public life in the twenty-first century.

As EUPS students watched the events at Notre Dame unfold from the lobby of their Brussels hotel, they were well into their spring semester and settling in after the first day of the annual Jean Monnet academic excursion. In addition to participating in many of the other spring happenings—The Big Event (covered in numerous local press outlets this year), the Louise Weiss academic excursion in Strasbourg, the preparation of policy analysis papers and presentations—students were also taking on various new challenges.

JMU’s Graduate School has run a Three-Minute Thesis (TMT) competition for the past few years. This competition—which brings together students from a broad range of graduate programs—asks grad students to condense their complex, often technical work into a three-minute, TED-talk-style talk that grabs the attention and captures the imagination of an audience composed of non-experts. This is a great exercise, but, since the event usually happens in the fall, The Graduate School’s timing does not sync particularly well with the rhythms of the EUPS program.

Thus, this spring, along with Giacomo Danielli (a JMU Italian instructor who served as this spring’s FMIR), Laura Cangiano (a stateside JMU Italian instructor who has previously served as FMIR), and various other partners in units across campus, we organized a similar EUPS-focused competition. Strictly speaking, ours was not a TMT competition. It was, instead, a TiTM—tesi in tre minuti—competition. Our students did not simply condense complex projects into a three-minute format. They condensed them into an Italian-language format and delivered their presentations entirely in Italian! The TiTM provided a novel way of aligning our students’ work with broader university initiatives, promoting lateral connections between students’ Italian language studies and students’ work in political science, and exposing others (e.g., the upper-level undergraduate students in Harrisonburg who served as an audience for the students’ final presentations) to the boundary-pushing work that our students do.

A second set of innovative activities this spring has involved our partners at the University of Pristina (UP). Readers of past issues of the newsletter will likely remember some of the things that our students have done with UP, such as conferences, simulations, internships, and more. This spring has featured two new “angles” in our continuing efforts to engage with our Southeastern European partners. A few days after the TiTM competition, a number of UP students traveled to Florence and presented papers, alongside and in discussion with our students, at the annual graduate symposium held at the European University Institute. In addition to their participation in the symposium, two UP students will be working exclusively with JMU and EUI personnel this May. They will help organize an EUI conference on EU efforts to address transnational threats, such as terrorism, organized crime, and human trafficking. During their time in Florence, UP students will have the opportunity to deepen relationships and pursue common projects with JMU undergraduates and EUPS students alike.

Beyond these new initiatives, EUPS students continue to be active and visible in a variety of national and international conferences and events. This spring and summer, for example, EUPS students will be visible at JMU’s Showcase of Graduate Scholarship (Harrisonburg), the International Conference on Populism (Prague), the Festival dell’Economia (Trento), the European Consortium of Political Research (Amsterdam), the American Political Science Association (Washington, DC), and beyond.

In addition to encouraging you to read the other pieces included in this issue—including pieces by EUPS alumni (Geoffrey Skelley, M.A. 2011; Briar Dunn, M.A. 2014), students (George Vergara, M.A. 2019) and faculty (Iakovos Iakovidis; Caterina Paolucci)—I would like to say a special word of thanks to program alumni and friends for their continued efforts to support the program. This spring was a high-water mark for Giving Day. Our number of donors was up by 50% compared to our previous Giving Day high, and the dollar amount of donations was more than twice as high as our previous Giving Day record.

The gifts made on both Giving Day and other days support innovative projects like the ones discussed above! However, donations are not the only gestures that matter and go noticed. Thank you, program alumni and friends, for the multitude of ways that you support our program: Thank you for reaching out to prospective students. Thank you for visiting campuses to spread the good word about the program. Thank you for sharing career development advice with current students. Thank you for serving on the alumni advisory board and organizing alumni events. Thank you for completing the alumni survey. Thank you for your efforts to share new ideas and a range of opportunities with the program are. Your time, generosity, and commitment to the EUPS community are invaluable and always most deeply appreciated

Grazie ancora, e avanti JMU!

John Scherpereel

Executive Director, JMU programs in Florence

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Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 6, 2021

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