Not many undergraduates would try using math to predict Turkish politics, but Matthew Lillehaugen ’17 is doing just that.
Lillehaugen is majoring in political science and global studies at Concordia. He also has minors in physics and math. This summer he combined his academic interests to pursue a research project at a level usually reserved for graduate students.
The inspiration for the project began when he studied the political scholar Henry Hale in a course on Russian politics. The following summer, he went to Norway as a Peace Scholar. One of his fellow Peace Scholars was a student from Turkey and Lillehaugen’s subsequent visit to her home country nurtured his interest in that country’s politics.
Later, Lillehaugen took a mathematics course that expanded his understanding of how networks could explain Hale’s work.
These experiences inspired him to develop his own summer research project. Lillehaugen’s project has three parts: evaluating if Turkey fits Hale’s model of patronalism, exploring if he can explain Hale’s model using math and examining if his own hypothetical model fits Turkey.
To do this, he’s using data analytics software to run simulations, something political science majors don’t usually do until graduate school if at all. He’s also teaching himself the basics of Turkish so that he can get the main points of current events directly from Turkish newspapers.
Dr. Daniel Biebighauser, mathematics, and Middle East specialist Dr. Sonja Wentling, history, are his advisors for the project.
Biebighauser was hoping students would make connections like this in his networks course and is impressed with Lillehaugen’s passion to connect different experiences into one project.
“I think it’s very unusual for an undergraduate to be doing this research and even more unusual for an undergrad to come up with the idea,” Biebighauser says.
Wentling says she hasn’t seen someone attempt anything like it before.
“The project is ambitious, not just for an undergraduate student but for any researcher,” she says.
Wentling hopes Lillehaugen’s project sets a precedent for interdisciplinary collaborations and says Turkey is a key country to research. “Turkey is situated in the crucible of contemporary crises,” she says.
As a crossroads between Europe and the Middle East, the country plays a key role, especially when it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis. By extending Hale’s model to look at Turkey’s patronal networks, Lillehaugen hopes to gain a better understanding of the country’s political structure.
Following graduation, Lillehaugen hopes to pursue a career related to foreign relations and international affairs. Gaining a better understanding of Turkey and its position in the world should help him to achieve that.
“When you start learning about other countries, you gain a better awareness of how your own country works, as well as the world as a whole, and I think that’s been really beneficial,” he says. “It’s helped to enhance my perspective and realize how interrelated things are.”