Reflections from the South Lawn

By Cassy Dorff

I write this while sitting on the sunny South Mall lawn, near the Tower, glancing around at the crowds swiftly walking to and fro. The University of Texas is big in both size and reputation and has some of the most sophisticated, fast-paced academic programs in the nation. It is easy for students to get lost, not because we lack talent, or even motivation, but because often students are as dynamic as the university. Determining a path to
take can be overwhelming. Everyone says to pursue your dreams, but finding a way to pursue them all in a parallel, productive way, can be daunting.

In the end, I seem to have survived the hustle and bustle. But my experience at UT was not crafted from some internal spark of ingenuity; it was largely shaped by the support of advisors and professors. To have people willing to sit down and parse out all your options with you, suggest more ideas, or wipe a few off the table, is like a secret weapon in the race for an education and a career.

Although I began and concluded my studies at UT as a Government major, I was increasingly interested in journalism, human rights, international conflict and academic research. Because of the resources at UT, I was able to work at The Daily Texan for a couple of years, be a communications intern at a non-profit in NYC, research for a human rights commission in Mexico, and take part in T.I.G.E.R. Lab, a research center in the Government department that focuses on political violence.

After some time, my involvement with academic research at UT took center stage, and I had the privilege to work with Professor Ami Pedahzur on several projects. I presented at two professional political science conferences and learned a wealth of information about terrorism, insurgencies, political violence, statistics, research methods, and more. I eventually began a project on political assassination for my honors thesis.

This semester, T.I.G.E.R. Lab began a course for undergraduate research. I have worked one-on-one with other undergraduates, sharing ideas for data collection methods and how to handle the challenges of researching terrorism. Our class days are spent debating how to define difficult subjects like state sponsored terrorism and suicide terrorism. It is a unique opportunity for students to get involved with research and a perfect medium for them to express their own original research ideas.

The sun is finally out after an odd winter here in Texas; it even snowed on this lawn not long ago (but was a bright 70 degrees the next day). Many times I have sprinted across this lawn to hand in a paper or eaten lunch on the welcoming green grass with a friend. I am glad to say my experiences here leave me prepared to move on.

Cassy Dorff receives her B.A. in government, with honors, in 2010. She is a 2010 College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Distinguished Graduate and is currently completing her honors thesis, “Deadly Politics: The Riddle of Political Assassins,” before beginning graduate study toward a Ph.D. in political science.