Autistic Learning in Out-of-School Spaces (Professor Erin McCloskey, Dea Oviedo Vazquez ’20, Zoë Bracken ’19)

During the summer, we examined multiple ways in which autistic individuals learn from and partake in organized activities outside of the traditional classroom setting. These “third spaces” included a Judo Dojo and a music and creative arts program. At these sites we observed and considered the alternative ways in which individuals learned, grew, and managed their behavior, mainly through the pedagogical framework introduced by Paulo Freire. Our goal throughout the project was to learn more about accessible teaching approaches that empower Autistic students and how these may be implemented into mainstream education. Successful approaches to behavior management and learning are promising in creating viable alternative options for Autistic individuals and their communities. They have the capacity to put into question rhetoric regarding traditional approaches that have dominated the field (such as Applied Behavior Analysis) and the monolithic shadows they cast.


In our work we: researched potential field sites to explore in the future (theater, equine therapy, and music therapy programs), analyzed visual and auditory data, transcribed interviews and presentations, took field notes, and compiled and annotated relevant scholarship and research. Our work especially focused on the Judo program and the ways in which it provided increased self-confidence, impulse control, relaxation, and socialization in students without compromising their sense of agency and individualism. We considered the ways in which the teaching practices and the nature of this program yielded these results, looking to the narratives of the involved community the Dojo serves. These approaches were rooted in and shaped by community, Autistic voices, mutual respect, sensory stimulation, deep touch, and gentleness. The results and observations of this work will contribute to ongoing research and the development of an upcoming manuscript.

A volunteer black belt guides two students as they practice throws and falls.

The Life of Garbage in Dutchess County – James Boyd ’19 and Dr. Seungsook Moon

Over the course of the past eight weeks, I have been working with Dr. Seungsook Moon of the Sociology Department to further understand the systems of garbage and waste that are inherent to consumer capitalism. This project worked as preparation for Professor Moon’s six-week class of the same name to be taught in the Fall of 2018.

Collection Day in Arlington!

For the first two weeks of this project, I hunkered down in the library to research and discover theoretical texts to understand the processes of waste and garbage. Though many of these texts were not centered around Dutchess County, they helped us to understand how the county fits into the global systems of waste production, collection, management, and trade. The literature review portion of this project has been crucial to the formation of the syllabus for the class in the fall.

Following the theoretical portion of the project, we began to dig through the archives of the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Miscellany News to craft a historical timeline of the local laws around garbage, recycling, and composting throughout Dutchess County, with some comparisons to other local counties (specifically Ulster), as well as a thorough examination of policies on campus.

Simultaneously, I began to create visual representations of the data presented in the “Rethinking Waste” plan, presented by the Dutchess County Division of Solid Waste Management in 2012. This included understanding the composition of the waste produced in Dutchess County, as well as creating visual representations about where garbage and recyclables from the county are transported.

One of the visual representations that I created showing where and how much garbage from Dutchess County is being distributed at various landfills throughout New York State.

The final part of our project included scheduling and conducting interviews with local officials involved in garbage and waste management throughout the county. Though we had some difficulty with this portion of the project, as finding relevant parties who were interested and available took longer than expected, we were able to interview Atticus Lanigan of Zero to Go, an education-based waste management company based in Beacon, and have scheduled further interviews with the Deputy Commissioner of Solid Waste Management for the County, and tours of waste, recycling, and composting facilities in the Mid-Hudson region.

James on a field trip to the DSNY garage in NYC

Conducting research through the Ford Program allowed me to develop a greater knowledge of sociological theory and interest in conducting independent research throughout an extended period of time. As I prepare to write a senior thesis beginning in the fall, I am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me by the Ford Program which have strengthened my research capabilities and nurtured my interest in pursuing academic research further.

Seungjun (Josh) Kim – Research on 2017 Tax Repatriation Holiday

I researched with professor Esteban Argudo and Ningyao Geng about the tax repatriation holiday which is part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) enacted by President Trump on December 22, 2017. Our main research questions were the following:

■ Looking at differences in Multinational Corporations and Domestic Firms

■ Does the introduction of the Tax Repatriation Act affect the behavior of firms? If so, how?

■ Looking at differences in firms that will repatriate and those that won’t

■ Assess if the proposed one-time tax repatriation of the TCJA reform will lead or not to higher investment, output, wages, and employment

■ Look at how firms use repatriated foreign earnings

However, due to limitations and challenges to data collection, we mainly focused on the first two research questions. We used the CSV and TSV files uploaded at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) site. The final dataset we got had 10148 unique firms, 45604 rows and 30+ columns (variables).

Previous Literature that performed research on the repatriation tax holiday from U.S. The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (AJCA) generally concludes that repatriation had little to no effect on domestic investment, employment, and R&D. Instead, repatriated foreign profits were used to buy back shares and increase the dividends given to their shareholders.

To keep the firms for analysis constant, we kept only the firms that had values for all fiscal years 2013 to 2016 (Because our data for those years matched well with BEA data) and focused on the manufacturing industry which had the most data points.

The following are some findings from exploratory data analysis:

■ Decrease in UFE doesn’t correspond to higher R&D for both domestic firms and MNCs which supports findings from previous literature

■ R&D for MNCs seems to be pretty stable between 3.5%-3.6% level of assets. Repatriation of funds doesn’t really seem to affect R&D behavior of MNCs

■ For both domestic firms and MNCs, liabilities are increasing over time. Liabilities keep increasing regardless of repatriation, so repatriation doesn’t seem to affect liabilities

■ Has the introduction or announcement of the repatriation tax holiday incentive firms to stockpile money overseas? (Hence, the increase in UFE in that period)

■ But increase in foreign income in that period would have also contributed to the increase in UFE.









This summer I worked alongside Professor Kagy in the Economics Department on a project titled “Poor Bargaining? Theory and Evidence on How and Why Liquidity Affects Price Negotiations.” We worked alongside two other co-authors, Morgan Hardy (NYU – Abu Dhabi) and Lena Song (NYU). Our project, centered in Ghana, looks at the bargaining patterns of garment makers.

In many developing countries, the process of purchasing a garment requires haggling between the seller and the buyer.  For the sellers, how they haggle directly affects their income, so the concept of bargaining is very important in developing countries. Classic economic bargaining models only take into account seller cost and buyer value, and we are interested in if a person’s liquidity (availability of liquid assets) affects how they bargain. Our theory is that those with lower liquidity feel more constrained and thus offer lower prices during bargaining because they urgently need the sale.

Our paper consists of a theoretical section in which we model bargaining with an added liquidity constraint, as well as observational evidence of this from our data. We are working with data that Professor Kagy and her co-authors took themselves in January of 2018, in which we surveyed 312 small garment firm owners about their business and personal characteristics. In the survey, we included a bargaining exercise where we asked to purchase a shirt and haggled over the price. From this, we can test the relationship between the final price and the personal liquidity of the garment maker. What we found is a clear positive relationship between liquidity and final price in the bargaining exercise. Those with higher liquidity charge significantly higher prices than those with lower liquidity, which supports our theory that people with higher liquidity feel less constrained.

I have learned so much this summer about the process of designing surveys, conducting research, programming in STATA and Latex, cleaning data, and creating figures for statistical use. I am very grateful for this opportunity and hope to continue conducting research in the future.

Return Migration and Local Labor Markets: Evidence from Mexico

Remy Beauregard and Professor Sarah Pearlman – Economics

I worked with Professor Pearlman on a project examining the effects of a falling US-Mexican net migrations rate (since the 2007-2008 Great Recession) on the Mexican labor market, wages, and employment. Migration between the US and Mexico is a widely-studied migration channel, as Mexico historically sends a significant portion of its migrants to the US. Following the Great Recession, however, this rate fell significantly, with net migration dipping below zero at times. We sought to explore this significant decrease in out-migration and its effects on the Mexican labor force.

To begin the project, I conducted a literature review to determine the presence of positive, intermediate, or negative selection of Mexican migrants to the United States. I found that significant differences in the literature could be mostly attributed to the systematic undersampling of low-income and low-education individuals and sampling bias. Surveys that took these biases into account found that those most likely to migrate are young males from rural or small-urban parts of Mexico who come from the middle of the education distribution. Next, I used several datasets from the INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía) website, which collects national and state-level data on many economic measures in Mexico. Using these data, I constructed maps of state-level migration rates from two separate surveys and compared them (Figure 1) as well as breaking down the most common reasons for migrants to leave and re-enter Mexico. Finally, in support of the regression results obtained by Professor Pearlman and her co-authors, I constructed employment and salary graphs for different sectors within the Mexican economy to demonstrate the presence of a positive labor demand shock following the period of the 2007 recession, one of which is presented below (Figure 2). While previous literature has examined the effects of a rising net migration rate, our results speak to the opposite scenario and find opposite and anticipated results for a falling net migration rate.

This project was a wonderful opportunity and I am thankful to Professor Pearlman for guiding me through the process of finding and synthesizing all this data. Along the way, I learned LaTeX, mapping, advanced graphing, and many other useful skills applicable to future work in Economics and beyond. I look forward to seeing the final version of this paper and am glad to have contributed.

Figure 1. Out-migration rates for each state in Mexico, as reported by the 2014 ENDADID (Encuesta Nacional de la Dinámica Demográfica) and the ENOE (Encuesta Nacional de Ocupación y Empleo), a time-series and panel data set, respectively. 

Figure 2. Changes in employment rates for manufacturing jobs in Mexico, divided between the 5 states with the highest historic levels of out-migration to the United States (noted in the graph) and the remainder of Mexican states, relative to the first month data is available, January 2007. This data is drawn from the EMIM (Encuesta Mensual de la Industria Manufacturera), from INEGI. 

*All graphics used were produced in Stata by Remy 

Project with Professor Su

This summer, I worked with Professor Su on the topic of Chinese resource export in global developing countries. The study was a supplement for Professor Su’s paper on Chinese export and the case of resource curse of developing country. I was responsible for writing the case study in his paper.

We spent most of our first 2 weeks find the most appropriate subject for study. After we were certain that our case will be on Zambia, a country that was heavily invested by Chinese companies, we analyzed the economic and political situations that the Zambian government faces before and after the Chinese influences started to go their way in Zambia. We set the time framework for two groups as “2003-2007” and “2009-2013”. In the first time period, China was only a minor player in the export market, but from 2009, China becomes one of the biggest importers of Zambian Copper.

The last two weeks of our research, we had two more case studies, namely Ethiopia and Chile. Chile has the same product for export as Zambia: copper ores; Ethiopia was geographically close to Chile and was also very tight in its relationship with the Chinese government. However, Professor Su and I argued that Chile was different from Zambia that Chile’s institutional set-up was much more democratic than Zambia; Ethiopia, alternatively, exports a very different product to Zambia. As Zambia focuses it export industry in products such as Copper, Ethiopia specialized in oily seeds and other agricultural goods.

What we find throughout the data in two time periods was that Zambia, as well as Ethiopia, experienced a fall in the manufacturing sector’s share of GDP, indicating an increasing level of de-industrialization within these economies. However, Chile, with a more robust political institution, was more resilient to the possible consequences of resource curse.

This summer I worked with my Ford mentor, Professor Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase from the Chinese and Japanese Department on Environmentalism in Japan, a four-week joint program with Professor Peipei Qiu and Yunling Yang.

From the 1960s through the 1990s, Japan enjoyed remarkable economic development known as Japan’s “bubble economy”. However, behind such rapid economic growth and massive accumulation of profits were a series of serious and some of which irreversible environmental and social problems. Under the Ford project, I set out to explore various environmental issues that plagued Japan towards the end of the twentieth century and helped collect course materials for my Ford mentor’s new fourth-year Japanese course in the spring of 2019 on environmentalism in Japan.

During the first days, I researched with Yunling books and articles that dealt with various forms of pollution and environmental issues in Japan since the 1960s including but not limited to air pollution, water pollution (Minamata disease), nuclear radiation, earth erosion and natural disasters. The annotated bibliographies and book list we compiled out of our research not only enabled us to contextualize those environmental issues, but would also serve as an important resource for third-year Japanese students. Moreover, our research also pointed us to some impactful Japanese film producers and writers who confronted environmental issues in their works. By the end of the second week, I had read, under the guidance of my Ford mentor, original Japanese texts such as articles and artworks by “the God of Manga,” Osamu Tezuka, two books by the science fiction writer Shinichi Hoshi, as well as viewing Isao Takahata’s animated film Pom Poko with my mentor. Set in the late 1960s, this film depicts Japanese racoon dogs’ resistance against humans’ suburban development that threatened their forest habitat. After a careful discussion of the film and literary works, my Ford mentor and I were able to select the crucial course materials and create the syllabus for the new fourth-year Japanese course.

Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga in Japan.

For the second half of the project, I was committed to transcribing NHK animated videos of Osamu Tezuka as well as clips from Takahata’s film Pom Poko, which would be used as listening and reading materials for the fourth-year course. My final focus of the project was to prepare a presentation on Haiku, a traditional form of Japanese poetry that depicts the beauty of nature and advocates for human-nature coexistence, which I shall present in Professor Dollase’s class next semester. A field trip to the Met Museum to see the Edo period paintings — “the Poetry of Nature”, as well as a visit to Ms. West, a former Japanese instructor at Vassar and a Hiroshima bomb survivor, also significantly added to my understanding of environmentalism in Japan.

The Ford project with Professor Dollase this summer was definitely one of the most rewarding, fulfilling and enjoyable experiences I have ever had at Vassar. Not only did I make great progress in my understanding of various environmental issues in Japan as well as in my Japanese language skills, but also I felt incredibly lucky to spend time with and learn from my Ford professors and fellow Ford scholar on a personal level. It is an experience that I am and will always be grateful for.

Pom Poko, “Heisei Japanese Raccoon Dog War” (1994)

Environmentalism in Japan

This summer I worked with Professor Peipei Qiu on Environmentalism in Japan, a project jointly carried out with Professor Hiromi Dollase and Ford Scholar Xiaoting Hu in the Chinese and Japanese Department. My work was primarily to compile materials to be used for the third-year Japanese course in the spring of 2019, incorporating the study of environmental issues in Japan into language learning. At the third-year level students still need to learn Japanese grammar by using a textbook, therefore our project is to add a research component to have the students examine Japan’s environmental issues through a digital story telling assignment.

In preparing the teaching materials, we divided the environmental issues into the following areas: air pollution, water pollution, earth erosion and forest preservation, endangered species, nuclear radiation, natural disasters, environmental policy and environmental activism, human-environment interaction, waste management, and energy saving. Students would need to select a topic from one of the areas above and create a story in Japanese based on their research and make a digital presentation.

During the first days we compiled thematic bibliographies of books, articles, videos, and images for each category, so that students can have an informed starting point for research. In order to make sure that our sources are comprehensive with diverse genres, we took two trips to New York City, collecting materials from Japanese bookstores and watching relevant play and artistic exhibitions. We watched Time’s Journey Through a Room, an English adaption of a Japanese play by Toshiki Okada. It is a non-linear narrative of how the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami changed people’s lives. We also visited the Metropolitan to see the exhibition “The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection.” These activities deepened our understanding of the tradition and current conditions of Japan’s environment.

The project team at the Japanese art exhibition

Towards the end of the project I helped Professor Qiu prepare reading and listening comprehension materials on environmental issues, and also learned how to use Final Cut Pro to create digital stories. These tasks required me to use Japanese language extensively and learn how to use a digital editing tool. As a follow-up activity of the Ford Scholars Project I will use both my language and computer skills to help the students in Japanese 306 to create their digital stories.

One of the highlights of our research activities was an interview of Mrs. Tomiko West, the founding member of Vassar’s Japanese program and an atomic bomb survivor. She survived the Hiroshima atomic bombing at the tender age of thirteen. It was poignant to hear her personal experience of the nuclear bombing, radiation, and black rain. The horrifying images of nuclear catastrophe and radioactive diseases took concrete shape in the abrupt deaths of her parents and grandparents. With a video camera we recorded her testimony on the catastrophic impact of nuclear weapon and her statement calling for world peace and environment protection. These recordings will be preserved in Vassar’s Chinese and Japanese Department as powerful educational materials for generations to come. The interview with Mrs. West was an unforgettable moment when the traumatic events that seem so far away actually intersect with our lives in the Vassar community.

Mrs. West telling us her experience during the Hiroshima atomic bombing.

The ultimate goal of this Ford project is to help students in Japanese classes realize how environmental issues are both local and global, thereby cultivate a sense of personal responsibility.

How Partisan are NGOs?

This summer I worked with Professor Benjamin Ho from the Economics department studying NGO partisanship. This is a rather funny question to tackle as Non-Governmental Organizations are legally required to be non-partisan. They cannot support or oppose  political parties, candidates, and the like or they face the risk of losing tax-exempt status. However, NGOs can take positions on political issues. Because of this, when looking through a list of popular NGOs, one usually has some intuition on whether it is right or left leaning, despite the non-partisan status. A good is example is the organization Planned Parenthood, which has associated itself with liberal values.

While it is not surprising that NGOs have partisan bias, there is a lack of research that specifies how much, or to what degree. We wanted to give every organization some sort of score, which would then allow each to fall somewhere on a partisan scale. We decided to utilize CharityNavigator, a website that evaluates charities’ performance by analyzing their financial records, accountability, and transparency. This provided our list of organizations to study. There are a few categories that CharityNavigator collects for each organization including but not limited to: program expenses, tax information, mission statements, etc. With a wealth of information on each charity, we then had to figure out what was relevant to us on our quest to tease out partisanship. So began my first task: researching the different methods people have used to determine partisanship.

Naturally, the are several ways to do this, but the method that became apparent to use was some form of text analysis. This was surprising to me at first, and slightly daunting. If my task was to create some sort of numerical score, the last thing I wanted to work with was words. Luckily it’s been done before. At this point it’s common knowledge that Fox news is more conservative than the New York Times, but the research that proves this was done by researchers Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro. Here is their basic idea: liberals and conservatives use different vocabulary, therefore language choice is an indicator of partisanship. They created a liberal and conservative corpus (basically a compilation of words) by collecting congressional records (a daily document that contains all the speeches made in congress) and sorting each speech based on whether the speaker was a Democrat of Republican. Then, they compared the language from various media outlets to each corpus and developed similarity scores.

I set out to do the same thing, which meant I had to first learn some technical skills. As I mentioned before, CharityNavigator conveniently has each organization’s mission statement (we would use these to compare to the liberal and conservative congressional documents), but there are over 8,000 charities. Collecting these mission statements by hand would be impossible. Likewise, the daily congressional record PDF document is usually over 200 pages. I had to learn how to webscrape, which is an automated process of collecting data off of web pages, and to do this, I had to learn the coding language Python.

Luckily, I have coding experience, so learning these skills wasn’t too difficult and actually ended up being one of the most satisfying parts of this project. The idea of having to somehow collect 8,000+ mission statements was panic-inducing, but once I had worked out the code, pressed the ‘run’ button, and watched as all the information I wanted showed up in my excel document, I finally had confidence that I could successfully complete this project.

We decided to use Bayes’ Theorem as our text analysis method, which again was inspired by work done by Gentzkow and Shapiro.

We use this equation to answer this question: Given a certain word or phrase, what is the probability that the speaker is Republican?

We did this for all relevant words and phrases in each mission statement. Let’s take a look at the ACLU Foundation of Maryland’s mission statement: “The Maryland ACLU works to ensure that all people in the state of Maryland are free to think and speak as they choose and can lead their lives free from discrimination and unwarranted government intrusion. We are guided in our work by the United States Bill of Rights and the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The Maryland ACLU acts without partisanship to achieve these goals. We work in the state and federal courts, the Maryland General Assembly and local governments, and in communities across the state to realize this goal.”

It explicitly states that it is a nonpartisan organization, but it’s compilation of words and phrases have a .18 score, which indicates that democrats are more likely to use the language that this organization used. In turn, we see this as an indicator that this organization is more likely to be liberal-leaning. We attempt to verify this by checking the voting data from the county the organization is located in, the assumption being that liberal-leaning charities are more likely to congregate in liberal-leaning counties. While this is not accurate for every single charity, it helps us gauge the accuracy of our Bayes’ theorem method.

Overall, our findings have mostly lined up with our natural intuitions, which is a good sign. The nature of this project doesn’t quite lend itself to discovering groundbreaking results – if our measure said Planned Parenthood was actually conservative, it would cause me to take a second look at my code rather than get excited about publishing my surprising findings. This has been the first time that I’ve looked for comforting results, rather than exciting ones.

Our next stage is a survey that will examine the link between people’s partisanship and their relationship and perception of these very same organizations that we’ve already scored. Whether the results are comforting or exciting, I’m greatly looking forward to continuing with this project and am incredibly grateful for the experience I’ve had this summer.

Taxation and Governance by Armed Groups

This summer, I worked with Professor Zachariah Mampilly from the Political Science Department studying taxation by armed groups in conflict zones. The work undertaken this summer is part of a continuing project by Professor Mampilly that seeks to better understand and explain the underlying logic of taxation by rebel groups in areas under their control.

We started by compiling and reviewing existing literature on taxation and its relationship to rebel governance. Much of this work relies on a paradigm of economic instrumentalism to explain why and how armed groups engage in taxation. This body of work paints a broad picture that tends to obscure or ignore the varieties of practices that characterize taxation by different active and historical rebel groups globally. In order to better account for the diversity of practices and goals of different rebel groups, we identified a number of active groups in different parts of the world to focus on and researched their tax practices to evaluate existing and proposed hypotheses about the economic and non-economic motivations for rebel taxation.

 (NSCN-IM Camp Hebron, Nagaland, India)

One group we focused on was the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), a nationalist insurgent group based in northeastern India that is known for its heavy taxation of the region under its control. In July, Professor Mampilly traveled to India to conduct fieldwork in Nagaland, while I remained at Vassar to analyze data collected from the trip. His interviews in India yielded data from civil society groups in Nagaland about current and historical NSCN-IM tax collection practices that allowed us critically evaluate purely economic explanations for rebel tax structures in existing literature, specifically their reliance on the idea of time horizons determining tax behaviors as proposed by Mancur Olson. The primary source tax data about the NSCN-IM seems to point instead toward other motivations behind taxation, which will require additional data collection and analysis to fully explore.

Overall, working with Professor Mampilly in early stage research for a long-term project was a rewarding and illuminating experience.