Democracy and Urban Space: URSCA Abroad

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“Does it matter how public space is organized?” was the question asked by Paul Cancilla, ‘16, and Professor Shannan Mattiace of the International Studies program and Political Science department. While this is a question the general public might not think about, Professor Mattiace and Cancilla found that the answer to this question is an important one.

Cancilla and Professor Mattiace conducted research on the role of public space in the democratization of  Mexico as part of Cancilla’s senior capstone project. With funding provided by the Great Lakes College Association (GLCA) and the Class of 1939 fund from Allegheny College, the pair traveled to Mexico City to do this work. While there, Professor Mattiace and Cancilla conducted informal interviews with street vendors and city officials, and observed how people interacted with and utilized the public transportation system. Engaging with the public transportation system for themselves was an important part of the research process for Cancilla and Mattiace, as it allowed them to experience the social norms that dictate how this public space is organized and experienced. Cancilla described riding a Mexico City Public transport bus noting, “I stood with Dr. Mattiace in the women and children section and it was awkward breaking that sort of social norm in the public space. We considered…how that behavior reflects on the divided society.”

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While professors and students in the Political Science department work together through the senior capstone project, the opportunity to directly collaborate with faculty on larger, ongoing research programs is rare. “This was my first time doing one-on-one work with a student,” said Professor Mattiace, but she emphasized that working with Cancilla was a comfortable and easy experience. Moreover, she noted that the experience was impactful. “Being able to experience the cultural differences with a student was great.” Cancilla echoed similar sentiments, noting that conducting research with Professor Mattiace was a “tremendous experience.” As Cancilla explained, working with Professor Mattiace provided a deeper context for the work and resulted in “a well-rounded educational experience.”

Student-faculty collaboration of this kind is at the heart of an Allegheny College education. In addition to introducing students to research, these experiences help students learn more about their fields of interest and become active participants. For example, Professor Mattiace is currently working on writing an article with a colleague from another university and hopes Cancilla will collaborate on the paper.

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To learn more about how you can find opportunities to work with faculty on their research, please visit the URSCA office, our website, or contact Professor Knupsky at The office provides advice for getting started in research, has funding to support travel to present work at professional conferences, and offers programming designed to build the skills necessary to engage in undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activities.

–story by Natasha Torrence
–photos provided by Shannan Mattiace