Outstanding Graduates Political Science
Chena Underhill and Maddie Weicht
Chena Underhill '20 exemplifies a cheerful love of learning, bringing real enthusiasm to each and every topic she pursues. And her interests are broad! As a true “liberal artist,” Chena is fully at home in a range of subjects—not just in her double majors in political science and data analytics—but across the curriculum and especially in her developing interest in the field of education. But her eagerness is far from uncritical: she brings incisive questions to bear—pushing back on conventional wisdom in her characteristically happy curiosity. Outside of the classroom, Chena brings her joyful intensity to bear as a pole vaulter on the track and field team, her service as Political Science teaching and research assistant, and volunteering in her church. Chena is a scholar, an athlete, a servant, a leader—and we will miss her.
Still waters run deep, and so too with Maddie. Maddie Weicht '20 demonstrates serious intellectual firepower, but is never combative or condescending. Maddie has that rare ability to be curious, thoughtful, and cognitively flexible, while remaining rooted in her convictions and without blowing in the wind of every new idea that comes along. She possesses a knack for asking insightful questions that facilitate deep discussions and bear fruit in her excellent writing. Maddie exemplifies grace and wisdom beyond her years. When Maddie speaks, people listen. Both in and beyond the classroom, her peers have recognized her as a natural leader. Maddie’s intellectual capacity, kindness, wisdom, and generosity of spirit make us proud to call her a Westmont student and political science major.
Hana Iskandar '19, who led a youth group at Montecito Covenant, built homes with Habitat for Humanity and worked with at-risk kids in Egypt, is filled with a passion for life, learning and people, according to her professors. “Her energy and enthusiasm abound, whether it be in the classroom—where she is known for her candor and humor in addition to her intellectual acumen—or in one of her many activities where she joyfully serves her communities,” says Jesse Covington, chair of the political science department.
Iskandar, who wants to pursue a career in law, says she has always had a passion for people and justice.
“The best part of my three years at Westmont was how teachers managed to connect the material of each lecture back to Jesus Christ in ways that I could have never expected,” she says. “My faith has grown in incredible ways just by being surrounded by Christ-centered teachers, staff and friends. Despite being challenged in many of my classes, I can’t think of any class I did not enjoy.”
She says living so close to the beach was also a blessing. “Westmont really felt like home in every possible way and that is probably what I love and will miss the most,” she says.
Hugh Grant-Chapman '18, who has earned a Fulbright Scholarship to be a English teaching assistantship in Taiwan, was one of three students who interviewed Gen. Michael Hayden at convocation following the Westmont President’s Breakfast. He used complex econometric analysis to investigate the relationship between immigration and economic growth in developing countries, co-authored a paper on the intersection of athletics and American courts with Professor Tom Knecht, and served as the department’s teaching and research assistant. “I’m excited to immerse myself in a different culture and community,” he says. “The island I will be living on is small and close-knit, and the ties of community are apparently very strong. I look forward to improving my Mandarin-speaking abilities and getting to use them on an everyday basis.”
During her time at Westmont, Alexandra Nieuwsma '17 was known for her excellent academic work—for her careful reading of texts, diligent preparation, classroom engagement, and focused writing. Embracing the liberal arts, Alexandra played the harp in the Westmont Orchestra, volunteered with Sanare Senior ministry to bring music to assisted living centers, and wrote op-eds for the Horizon student newspaper. Alexandra’s accomplishments are all the more impressive in light of her completing her Westmont education in only two and a half years. Alexandra is currently working as a research assistant for Distinguished George P. Schulz Scholar and Senior Fellow Judge Abraham Sofaer at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Jarrett Catlin’s ('16) professors describe his work as “outstanding,” “unequivocally excellent,” and reflecting “a keen analytical…mind.” Beyond his exceptional academic performance, Jarrett’s involvements reflect vibrant intellectual curiosity, a passion for politics, and a deep concern for people. One professor described Jarrett as thinking “with his head and his heart.” Jarrett co-founded Westmont’s “Convergence Club”—promoting engagement and civil discourse on challenging political issues. Jarrett partnered with Dr. Knecht to research the rather dry subject of California water politics and came up with an ingenious solution to the crisis: more rain. Jarrett completed his coursework early in order to serve on the leadership team for Westmont in Istanbul in the Spring of 2016.
An analytically gifted scholar, Hannah Early '16 is exceptionally bright, focused, and diligent, and has assisted the department with research since her first year. She has worked with Dr. Knecht on a project that examined the electoral success of amateur candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, taking the initiative on the research and finding new and innovative ways to gather data on amateur candidates. Hannah’s writing skills and incisive intellect are impressive, as are her maturity and strong interpersonal skills. Hannah conducted a major honors project on USAID vs. U.S. Aid: The Limited Effectiveness of U.S. Legal Aid to IsraelPalestine’s “New Legal Space,” an applied policy study of great relevance to the discipline.
Sophia Meulenberg '15 is deeply engaged, disciplined, thoughtful, and brilliant. A Monroe Scholar with a formidable intellect, Sophia has done graduate-level work since the day she arrived at Westmont. She is gifted with a keen and inquiring analytic mind, which she pairs with a very strong work ethic. Her writing, preparation, in-class participation, and examinations are all unequivocally outstanding and set the standard to which other students aspire. Sophia worked for the department as a phenomenally talented teaching and research assistant; Professor Knecht was so impressed with Sophia’s abilities that he asked her to co-author a professional paper with him. Sophia is a delightful individual with compassion for others and one of the very best students we have ever taught. We look forward to her bright future working in international diplomacy.
Sophia was one of 30 selected as a Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow. She attended Georgetown University in the Fall of 2018 to complete her master’s degree in foreign service, and will complete a domestic internship at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., and an overseas internship at a U.S. embassy before working for the State Department upon graduation. She served with the Peace Corps in Senegal from 2016 to 2017.