Focus on Robust Analytical Methodologies Draws Raziel Melchor to MIT Political Science

Political science attracts people who enjoy gathering evidence, analyzing it in creative ways, and using the results to bring new insight to society’s grand challenges. Raziel Melchor is that kind of person, and is finding that Course 17 provides an ideal intellectual framework for his undergraduate studies and a strong foundation for his planned next step into law school.

Melchor, who grew up in Mexico and El Paso, Texas, and now lives in Senior House, originally had his eye on studying finance, and was drawn to the Institute because of the opportunity to take classes alongside Sloan School MBA students – “I felt that would be intense,” he recalls. He’s still taking management science classes, and has also included some mechanical engineering studies, but declared Course 17 after his political science professors opened his eyes to how the discipline can assess and analyze a wide range of pressing issues.

“One of the big benefits for me has been the methodologies, including the statistical approaches,” explains Melchor. “It’s all about trying to see what you actually know, and being able to draw casual inferences. The methods help you rule out factors that may interfere with that, so that you can tell the difference between assumptions and knowledge. That’s why I like it – you learn to what extent you can use evidence to prove something.”

That training has already proven useful for Melchor’s LSAT examination; he is also planning to apply it in his senior thesis. While the final topic is still being determined, he hopes to build on a paper he did for Distinguished Prof. Charles Stewart III’s Political Science Laboratory (17.871) class. It used regression techniques to explore whether Supreme Court justices’ political affiliations and personal attributes (such as urban vs. rural upbringing, and year and region of birth) can explain their votes on a variety of cases, including those related to economics and civil rights.

”Prof. Stewart is very smart, and very dedicated to scientific methods – it’s very motivating to follow his example,” notes Melchor.

He also cites Department Head Prof. Melissa Nobles’ class in Ethnic Conflict in World Politics (17.523) as a strong influence. “It was enlightening, about the role ethnic conflict plays in regions and countries, and how violent the conflict can become,” says Melchor, whose coursework included a three-part analysis of internal Iranian conflicts, with policy recommendations. During the 2013 Independent Activities Period, he took the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. IAP Design Seminar, which touched on the problems faced by minorities and immigrants who need legal assistance.

That type of perspective is playing a role in Melchor’s plans for his future. While corporate finance work is still a possibility, he is also interested in exploring ways of using his legal education to help individuals with problems.

A bonus of Course 17 for Melchor has been the opportunity to cultivate his writing skills, which have won praise from his professors. He has also sought to bolster his speaking and presentation abilities, both in class and on the Institute debate team, and through membership in the MIT Toastmasters Club. “I had always avoided any kind of public speaking,” he explains. “I always thought it was an innate thing people had, but working in those groups has helped me see that lots of people start out bad but get good. It’s helped me put the issue in perspective.”

Melchor played varsity soccer as a midfielder, and is also active in MIT LUCHA (La Union Chicana por Aztlan), which provides support, discussion groups and social events for students who identify with Latino culture.

By: Peter Dunn

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