Heather OndercinHeather Ondercin

Department of Political Science

Sarah Isom Center for Women’s and Gender Studies

A political scientist who focuses on quantitative research on gender and public opinion in American Politics.


Writing is an important component in the upper division courses I teach. I have found students have a hard time synthesizing what has been covered in class or the readings and applying that material to new concepts in their writing. In particular, this is a challenge in my Public Opinion and Political Psychology course. This class requires students to conduct several small data analysis projects and then write up their statistical results in a set of short papers.


I have not taught the POL 309 Public Opinion and Political Psychology class since receiving the grant. However, I have worked on further developing a series of short lab assignments where students will engage with empirical data for that class.

While not part of my original proposal, I have implemented considerable changes to my POL 346/ GST 344 Women and Politics course based on things I learned in the writing workshops. Previously, students completed 5 short formal writing assignments in this course. The purpose of these writing assignments is to have students engage critically with material from the readings and class to help them understand a specific facet of gender and American politics. While I like these assignments, the number of students taking this course more than doubled. Because of the amount of time it takes to grade these assignments and the increase in number of students these formal writing assignments were not feasible. To still incorporate writing into the class, I designed a series of 11 writing prompts and students had to complete 5 prompts.

Student Work

The shorter, informal writing assignments worked well. I was impressed by the quality of thought and level of engagement with the readings exhibited by the students. In fact, the quality of both the thought and writing was higher than I typically receive in formal writing assignments.


My experience with the informal writing assignments last semester was very positive. The informal nature appeared to “free” students of anxiety and pressure to more effectively communicate their thoughts. This process highlights the challenge of how we overcome anxieties about formal writing assignments. Next fall I will further implement the ideas I’ve developed for my Public Opinion and Political Psychology course. In particular, I hope to combine both informal and formal writing assignments as a way to show students that writing is a process and, hopefully, help them overcome some of the anxieties associated with writing. I also hope to develop effective ways for students to learn to edit their own writing. Additionally, I will be teaching a new class on civic engagement and the work done with this grant will be fundamental to shaping this course.