Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society, named Wheaton’s Upsilon Psi chapter as one of the best in the nation for the 2021-22 academic year. The chapter was among 23 other colleges — including Purdue University and University of Pennsylvania — that won awards. Political science professor Amy Black was also one of four faculty advisors recognized for service to their respective chapters. The awards come after the department’s launch of a peer-mentorship program, led by Upsilon Psi members.
Upsilon Psi is an honors program for juniors and seniors in the political science department. To gain entry, students must maintain an overall GPA of 3.5 and a major GPA of 3.6 as well as commit to an independent research project their senior year. This year, sixteen returning members comprise the chapter, along with a new group who will be inducted in the spring.
The department launched the peer-to-peer mentorship program during the second quad of the 2021 fall semester. Members of the chapter took on the role of mentor, meeting up with their mentees throughout the remaining school year to disciple them and help them navigate life, classes, internships and other relevant topics.
“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we come alongside students and help them when so many things have been shut down and so much of what we normally do has been so different?’” said Black.
In a department meeting last fall, assistant professor of political science and international relations Alex Haskins mentioned to his colleagues that the department would benefit from a more systematic approach to mentorship. Black, along with associate professor Michael McKoy, discussed the idea with Upsilon Psi members and decided that the chapter could meet the need.
After strategizing and holding a quick training session, then-chapter president Brett Bauman ’22 worked with Black and office coordinator Donna Struthers to pair up students. Most mentors were seniors, among some juniors, who took interested freshman and sophomore political science majors under their wing for the year.
Sophomore political relations major Miriam O’Bert was encouraged by her experience as a mentee last year.
“Wheaton is such a relationship-driven place, so it can be intimidating to get involved with your academic department,” said O’Bert. “The fact that a second-semester senior was willing to invest in a younger student was so incredible to me.”
Despite the new changes, many were surprised when Wheaton was given the award.
“I was quite shocked,” said Bauman. “It was not something we set out to win. A lot of credit goes to Dr. Black, Dr. McKoy and Donna [Struthers]. This is great for a small honor society like Wheaton’s.”
The award for best chapter includes a cash prize of $500 in addition to a feature in a future issue of “Political Science Today,” the American Political Science Association’s magazine. Black is hoping to see the money reinvested into the mentoring program.
“One idea is to get coupons from Sam’s because we ask students to meet at least once a quad with their mentee for a meal or for a cup of coffee, just something informal,” said Black. “We would love to have something where we can give the mentor and the mentee an opportunity to get together.”
Senior international relations and economics major Ann Blakey says the chapter is committed to carrying on the mentorship program.
“I am excited about what we’re doing,” said Black. “We really want this to be a student-driven program, so I was delighted that we were commended for it.”