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Hasselmo winner Wood fascinated by human conflict

March  26, 2014

This year’s winner of the $5,000 Hasselmo Prize for Academic Pursuit is Joseph Wood of North Henderson, Ill. A junior majoring in economics and political science, Wood is president of Augustana’s politics club, a student leader in the American Model United Nations delegation, has been a member of the college’s classical guitar ensemble, and is on track to graduate as an Augustana Honors Scholar.

The annual Hasselmo Prize is intended to enrich the experience of an Augustana student who has demonstrated academic excellence and who plans to pursue higher education teaching and/or research. Wood’s interests lie fully within both arenas.

In fall of 2013, he presented a paper on the Colombian drug cartels at the annual conference of the Illinois Political Science Association. This spring he’ll present his honors thesis, about the civil war in Lebanon, at the Illinois State University Conference for Students of Political Science.

According to Dr. Mariano Magalhães, a professor in the political science department, “Joe’s research skills are superb and his ability to think critically is second to none.”

As for teaching, Wood works as a faculty assistant to Dr. Magalhães. Wood creates writing assignments, helps select readings and, Dr. Magalhães said, “encourages me to develop course assignments that require students to reflect on their role in a global world.”

A good reason to learn Arabic

The global world is top of mind for Wood, whose primary concern is in “reducing the factors that push people toward violence—rioting, interstate wars, civil wars.”

Having just completed his honors capstone on the civil war in Lebanon, Wood has turned his attention to topics for his Senior Inquiry capstone project. He is weighing two options. The first is a study of how the level of economic investment in an international intervention affects the results of that intervention.

“For example,” he wonders, “in a military intervention in a civil war, is there a clear connection between a higher cost of an intervention and more favorable outcomes?”

It’s a good question and combines both of his fields. However, Wood will spend his summer doing research at the University of Meknes in Morocco, two hours east of Casablanca. He therefore thinks a good topic for his Senior Inquiry could be an investigation of the role of national or ethnic identity in secessionist movements, especially as it pertains to Morocco.

Wood’s interests in the Middle East and North Africa spurred him to explore study programs in that part of the world, though travel options have been limited by instability in the region. He began learning Arabic even before he was selected for the Morocco program.

Plans for the prize

His $2,000 through Augie Choice will help fund the trip to Morocco. How does he plan to use the Hasselmo Prize?

“I asked my grad school friends, and their overwhelming response was ‘workshops and conferences,’ ” he said. “If they could go back, they would have focused on ways to become more prepared researchers, and workshops are vital to that.”

The Hasselmo Prize will allow him to participate in methodological workshops in the summer or during break, and take part in conferences of the American Political Science Association or the Midwest Political Science Association.

After graduate school, Wood plans on continuing research and teaching in a university setting. Yet he is “torn between the research, and the teaching and advising aspects that are so central to Augustana.

“The individualized attention here, the personal investment of the professors, has been priceless,” he said. And, he added, “had I gone to a larger, more research-oriented university, I probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

The Hasselmo Prize was established by Dr. Nils Hasselmo, Class of 1957, in recognition of the ways in which his Augustana education both informed and transformed his life and vocational calling. Dr. Hasselmo served as the president of the University of Minnesota from 1988 until his retirement in 1997. From 1998 to 2006, he was president of the Association of American Universities.

Beth Roberts