Welcome to the School of Public Affairs Honors Program! The SPA Honors Program is a credit-bearing academic program for outstanding SPA students that positions them for graduate or law school and other advanced work in their fields. Highly-selective, the Program offers students with exceptional academic records who are intellectually curious and especially interested in research, the opportunity to take rigorous, small courses in public affairs open only to SPA Honors Program members, and to conduct an original capstone research project mentored by two faculty members. In addition to the program’s course-work, students gain unique access to a supportive community of similarly high-achieving and academically-oriented peers as well as the chance to foster deep collaboration with faculty mentors.
Our website details the structure of the program and the application process. It also includes statements from alums about how the program influenced them. Thanks for visiting!
Kimberly Cowell-Meyers, Ph.D.
Director, SPA Honors Program and Associate Professor, Dept. of Govt.
A Sense of Community
The SPA Honors Program provides students more than an ability to reach for excellence through unique research opportunities and challenging academics. Our colloquium and capstone classes are open only to SPA Honors students so they are naturally small and uniquely engaging. Our students also engage in a variety of events throughout the academic year – from study breaks to tours around the city - and grow together as a community.
Between the course supplements and the capstone, SPA Honors students have multiple opportunities to delve deeply into a topic of interest.
The SPA Honors capstone course (SPA 480) is designed to support students in producing a publishable piece of original scholarship over the course of a semester. Students work with both their Faculty Advisor, who is a specialist in the subject matter, and the Instructor of Record for the course, and thus, have the benefit of working with two faculty members on their capstone as well as drawing support from their colleagues in the dedicated capstone course.
Students tailor their Honors Program to mirror their own needs and interests but take 12 credit hours. These include:
- 9 credit hours of colloquia and/or supplements
- Students take at least one 3-credit SPA Honors Colloquia [SPA 300] (small, seminar-style courses exclusive to the program). Students may take up to three colloquia classes or they may complete supplements to their existing courses.
- Supplements to 3-credit courses at the 400-level or above may add an extra assignment, add original research or extend a paper to go in more depth than the typical coursework. These are arranged by the student in consultation with the professor for the class.
- The Honors Capstone [SPA 480] (a one-semester course offered each semester in which students conduct an original research project that makes a distinctive and original scholarly contribution to the field supported by two faculty mentors)
In order to apply for the SPA Honors Program, students must:
- Be on track to complete at least 30 credits at AU by the end of the semester in which they are applying (exclusive of AP credit hours), or have completed at least 45 credit hours with a minimum of 15 credit hours completed at American University
- Have at least four semesters remaining; and
- Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.67.
- Commit to successfully completing GOVT-310 Introduction to Political Research (3) or JLC-280 Introduction to Justice Research (3), by the end of their first semester in the SPA Honors Program.
- Submit their application, including two short statements, official transcript, resumé and letter of recommendation by 3/8/2024.
- SPA-480: SPA Honors Capstone (3) Capstone for SPA Honors students to facilitate the integration of knowledge in a public affairs discipline by preparing and producing an honors thesis that makes a distinctive and original scholarly contribution to the public affairs field. Students identify a topic, develop an annotated bibliography, conduct a literature review, and prepare a research proposal. AU Core Integrative Requirement: Capstone. Usually Offered: spring. Grading: A-F only. Restriction: SPA Honors.
- SPA-300: Topics vary by section. Seminars for students in the SPA Honors Program facilitate the integration of knowledge of public affairs disciplines and prepare students for advanced scholarship in their capstone courses. Usually Offered: Fall and spring. Repeatable for credit with different topic. Grading: A-F only. Restriction: SPA Honors Program
- Fall 2022: Power and Protest (3) This seminar looks at state power and the various ways that ordinary people have attempted to restrain or shape the exercise of state power. We will start by looking at why states exist and how power was organized in early modern Europe, ancient China, and pre-colonial and colonial Africa. From there, we'll then consider popular resistance against states, when it succeeds and fails, and how states adapt when challenged. The course serves as an introduction to theories of state formation and social movements, and readings will be drawn from several disciplines, including sociology, political science, and history. Throughout the course, we will ask the same questions: Why do states differ from one another? What factors explain the success or failure of popular resistance? And how much power do ordinary people really have in shaping history?
- Spring 2023: Clean Energy Transition (3) This course provides a review, analysis, and evaluation of environmental and energy policies, including energy production and consumption, air and water pollution, climate change, regulation of toxic chemicals, land and resource management, habitat protection, and the effects of new and emerging technologies. The course considers substantive issues, strategies, analytical approaches, and the political perspectives that influence policy framing, evaluation, and implementation.
- Fall 2023: Working in the Criminal Justice System: The course examines the experiences, perspectives, and identities of practitioners on criminal justice outcomes. The course relies on theoretical and empirical scholarship that is foundational to Criminology and Sociology as well as contemporary literature to reconcile pivotal issues in the field including practitioner accountability, implementing alternatives to justice, and racial/ethnic inequalities.
- Fall 2023: Child and Family Policy: This course focuses on major policies related to children, youth, and families, especially those affecting the poor and vulnerable groups such as ethnic and racial minorities, women, and individuals and groups with special needs. Socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and other disparities in access to educational, health and other opportunities and resources and potential policy solutions – in the [post] pandemic and pre-pandemic eras – will be discussed throughout the course. Federal, state, and local policies affecting children and families will be considered. Comparisons to child and family systems and policies abroad will be made; however, the focus will be on domestic child and family policy.
- Spring 2024: The Athlete as Political Activist: This course will examine the role that sports have played in the evolution of social and political change in the United States. Particular attention will be given to the athlete as social and political activist, and how sports mirrored and often led the modern civil rights movement. This course will also focus on whether race and gender create different expectations for athletes as public figures.
Kimberly Cowell-Meyers is an Associate Professor of Government and affiliated faculty with the Women & Politics Institute at American University. Her work focuses on how representative democracy functions, specifically how political parties, social movements and legislatures structure and channel different political identities. Her research centers on two areas of identity politics: women in politics and ethnic politics, particularly in Northern Ireland. In recent years, she has conducted a series of projects on women’s political parties, including case-studies in Northern Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland, a quantitative analysis on a unique dataset of over 50 women’s political parties in Europe, and a framework for research on the topic. These projects and other work on broad aspects of representation have been published in Politics & Gender, Political Studies, Perspectives on Politics, Scandinavian Political Studies, and Foreign Affairs and The Journal of Women, Politics & Public Policy. Cowell-Meyers’ work on ethnic or sectarian politics has appeared in Irish Political Studies and Nationalism and Ethnic Studies. With Carolyn Gallaher (American University) she regularly blogs for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage and other outlets on political developments in Northern Ireland. She has worked in the British Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the US Institute of Peace and as Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Women into Politics at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Zürich, Switzerland. At American University she teaches introductory and upper-level courses in comparative politics, including courses on Northern Ireland, and research methodology. She also founded and currently advises Clocks & Clouds, AU’s undergraduate student research journal in politics and public affairs.
James Carney is a senior in the Honors Program hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, studying Communications, Economics, Legal Studies, and Government (CLEG). He is an active member and team captain of AU’s Mock Trial Team, and enjoys playing pickup basketball and exploring the DC food scene in his spare time. Throughout his time in SPA, James has worked as a Research Assistant studying Congress and as a Core Leader Teaching Assistant in the Government Department. This past summer, he interned in Senator Sherrod Brown’s office, and he spent his summer of 2021 campaigning for SPA alum Justin Bibb, who is now serving as the Mayor of Cleveland. James hopes to attend law school after he graduates, and plans to pursue a career in public interest law or public policy. As program assistant, James coordinates events, recruits eligible students for the program, and stays in close contact with current members and alumni.
Name: Rachel Boose
Current Job Position: Research Assistant for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Rachel graduated summa cum laude from the School of Public Affairs in May 2023, earning a bachelor's degree in Communications, Legal Studies, Economics and Government (CLEG), and certificates in Community Based Research and Advanced Leadership Studies. Originally from Spokane, Washington, Rachel enjoys spending time hiking, camping, biking and generally being outdoors. While at AU, she was President of the AU Mock Trial team, and a member of the SPA Leadership Program and Community Based Research Scholars. Rachel was also the SPA Honors Program Assistant for the 2022-2023 academic year.
SPA Honors Impact Statement: I didn’t expect to join the SPA Honors program, but I am so glad I did! My Honors classes encouraged me to think critically about course material and dive deeper into topics I was interested in. My SPA Honors capstone was by far the most rewarding (and challenging) project I completed in undergrad, and helped me realize a passion for transportation politics I now get to use every day. My biggest takeaway from the SPA Honors program, however, are the connections I made with professors and peers who will support me for the rest of my career, whether that’s going to grad school, law school, or continuing to explore public service!
Name: Katherine Boyko
Current Job Position: Marketing Coordinator for Powers Pyles Sutter and Verville, PC
Originally from Ukraine, Katherine attended American University from Fall, 2019 to Spring 2022, studying CLEG (Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government) and Economics with an International Specialization. During her time at AU, she was involved with the Politics Policy and Law Scholars 3-year Program, the SPA Leadership Program, the Roosevelt Club, as well as the Rotaract Club on campus. In her last semester of college, she also started the Students Supporting Ukraine Organization in response to the start of war in Ukraine. The organization became an official club on campus in Fall 2022 and continues to fundraise thousands to nonprofit organizations through its Art Fair and other initiatives. During her time in college, Katherine also worked full-time as the Communications Coordinator at the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, developing initiatives that supported the bi-lateral relationship between the United States and Ukraine and expanded business development opportunities for Ukrainian entrepreneurs. Her time working in this role developed a passion for the marketing industry in general. After graduation, Katherine therefore ended up going into the marketing field, where she now works as the Marketing Coordinator for Powers Pyles Sutter and Verville, PC. Her multiple years of experience in this field have also led to her in-depth involvement in the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) as well as the American Marketing Association (AMA).
Name: Denton Cohen (He/His)
Current Job Position: Masters of Public Policy Student and Graduate Researcher at the USC Price School
Born in Columbia, SC and raised in Akron, OH, Denton attended American University from Fall, 2018 to Spring, 2021, studying political science and spanish. As an undergraduate, Denton was involved in several activities on campus, joining AU Chamber Singers, serving as assistant managing editor for Clocks and Clouds, and singing in an a capella group (On A Sensual Note). After taking research methods with Dr. Cowell-Meyers and environmental policy analysis with Dr. Fiorino—in addition to working as a correspondence & environmental policy intern with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—Denton decided to pursue a Masters in Public Policy directly after graduation. Denton is currently a first-year student in the USC Price School, where he works as a graduate research assistant and studies environmental policy & justice.
SPA Honors Impact Statement:
The SPA Honors Program is not merely a career launching pad: it is a dynamic, intersectional academic program that embraces both liberal arts inquiry and cutting-edge research. I never thought I would enjoy a legal studies course; that is, until my first-ever practicum class revolutionized how I see the American legal system. Moreover, the honors program allowed me to pursue a long-standing academic interest of mine (environmental justice & Superfund) as an independent study—an experience that made me realize policy research was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. As a member of the SPA Honors Program, you’ll be part of a highly motivated academic cohort, benefitting from the close mentorship of its affiliated faculty and a tight-knit support system of your fellow students. I would not be where I am today without Dr. Cowell-Meyers and my time as an honors student.
Name: Gaby Dell (she/her/hers)
Current Job Position: Director of Alumni Relations at Leading Women of Tomorrow
Gabrielle Dell graduated magna cum laude from the School of Public Affairs Honors Program in May of 2021, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science. Gaby was also the SPA Honors Program Assistant for the 2020-2021 academic year, navigating the position virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At American, Gaby was very active on campus and interned for members of Congress, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and for a congressional re-election campaign in the swing state of Iowa. Gaby also worked as a research assistant for SPA, conducting research into the Affordable Care Act’s impact on minority communities and child marriage laws amongst all 50 states.
Originally from Queens, New York, Gaby is passionate about criminal law and is planning to attend law school in the fall of 2022. Gaby is currently serving as the Director of Alumni Relations for Leading Women of Tomorrow, a non-profit organization that seeks to encourage young women to pursue careers in public service. She credits the skills she has acquired from the SPA Honors Program in helping her attain this position.
SPA Honors Impact Statement: Being in the SPA Honors Program has truly allowed me to go above and beyond course requirements and has enabled me to showcase my talents and potential. In the spring of 2020, I took an honors supplemented course that is offered every four years known as the “Presidential Primaries”. Because I took the course on an honors level, I was able to conduct special interviews with presidential candidates like Amy Klobuchar and Tulsi Gabbard. I would not have been able to do this without the program’s guidance and reputation.
Name: Harrison Eichelberger (he/him/his)
Current Job Position: Economist, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Harrison Eichelberger was born in New Hampshire but grew up in Lancaster, PA. He chose American University because he was interested in politics and public service, and it was one of the best decisions Harrison says he ever made. Double-majoring in political science and economics, he was able to learn the fundamentals of government, public policy, economic theory. Harrison participated in two research programs: Community-Based Research Scholars (CBRS) and the School of Public Affairs Honors Program. He also had the honor of interning for a Democratic congressional campaign, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Treasury Department. Harrison’s experience at AU, along with the internships, helped him achieve a lifelong goal of government service this summer by becoming an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where he now helps in calculating the inflation rate.
SPA Honors Impact Statement:
The School of Public Affairs Honors Program was extremely valuable in furthering my career. I learned how to conduct formal public policy research and became familiar with a number of statistical programs such as STATA and R. I also learned to be more analytical and to work effectively on a team. I genuinely believe that SPA Honors was a big factor in getting me a job after college.
Name: Alice Kahkajian
Current Job Position: TBD
From Rockville, Maryland, Alice Kahkajian studied Communication, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government (CLEG) at American University. Through her enrollment in the School of Public Affairs Honors Program, American University Honors Program, and service as a peer facilitator at the American University Project on Civil Discourse, Alice has had the privilege of collaborating with high-achieving students who are united by a passion for academic excellence as well as an array of distinguished faculty who are committed to educating the future generation of leaders by sharing their expertise. Alice is hopeful that she will be able to expand upon her ability to advocate for the advancement of the public good through attending law school in the fall of 2023.
SPA Honors Impact Statement:
Alice’s passion for humanitarianism is derived from her upbringing as an Armenian American who has witnessed the damaging effects that neutrality can have on the plight of communities locally and globally. A 2021 Public Affairs and Policy Lab undergraduate researcher at the School of Public Affairs, Alice worked closely with health economist Dr. Aparna Soni to produce research that assessed how the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion provision supported the physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing of low-income American adults. This advanced research experience introduced Alice to the power that research has to induce transformative change. The structured research curriculum provided by the SPA Honors Program
facilitated Alice’s ability to continue investigating the relationship between healthcare and individual health outcomes in an effort to improve the United States health care system.
This intensive coursework, supplemented by rigorous SPA Honors Colloquium courses, equipped Alice with the critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills that allowed her to successfully complete graduate-level coursework at the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy as a 2022 Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute Policy and Law Fellow. Alice merits her ability to engage in such intellectually fulfilling opportunities to the instruction and guidance offered by the SPA Honors Program’s faculty and Director Dr. Kimberly Cowell-Meyers.
- What is the SPA Honors Program?
The SPA Honors Program is a credit-bearing academic program for outstanding SPA students that positions them for graduate or law school and other advanced work in their fields. Highly-selective, the Program offers students with exceptional academic records who are intellectually curious and especially interested in research the opportunity to take rigorous, small courses in public affairs open only to SPA Honors Program members and to conduct an original capstone research project mentored by two faculty members. In addition to the program’s course-work, students gain unique access to a supportive community of similarly high-achieving and academically-oriented peers as well as the chance to foster deep collaboration with faculty mentors.
- Where can I find the SPA Honors Application?
The application can be found here.
- When do I apply for the SPA Honors Program?
Students apply to the program any time starting from their second semester at AU.
- What are the requirements for admission to the SPA Honors Program?
Eligible students will be invited to apply as early as the second semester of their first year at AU, if they are on track to have thirty credits earned at AU by the end of that semester, although students may apply as late as second semester of sophomore year. To apply, a student must be on track to complete at least 30 credits at AU by the end of the semester in which they are applying (exclusive of AP credit hours), or have completed at least 45 credit hours with a minimum of 15 credit hours completed at American University; have at least four semesters remaining; and have a minimum 3.67 cumulative GPA.
- Can transfer students apply?
Qualified transfer students with a minimum of 15 credits completed at American University may apply.
- How many students are accepted into the program each year?
The SPA Honors Program admits up to 20 students per year.
- What are the requirements for the SPA Honors Program?
The following requirements are needed to graduate with Honors:
- Earn minimum 3.67 cumulative GPA to apply
- Complete one of the SPA research methods courses- GOVT 310 or JLC 280, within the first semester of enrollment in the program
- Complete 9 SPA Honors credits, consisting of a combination of SPA Honors colloquia (SPA 300-3 credits), honors supplements to existing 3-credit courses at the 400 level or above, and approved independent study; and
- Complete the Honors capstone course (SPA 480), in which you will research and write an original thesis.
- What is the Spring 2024 SPA Honors Colloquium?
The Spring 2024 SPA Honors Colloquium will be "The Athlete as Political Activist".
- What if I want to pursue the combined Bachelors/Masters program?
The SPA Honors Program is entirely compatible with enrollment in the SPA combined BA/MA Programs.