Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Sung Kwang Oh - Blueprint for Action

Research Question:

This research project was primarily driven by the following question: How can we create greater opportunities for undergraduate input in the Government Department? In order to answer this question, I was faced with several other sub-questions:


To answer these questions, my research consisted of semi-structured expert and empirical interviews with three groups of people: (1) the Government Department’s Undergraduate Office Administrators; (2) Graduate Student Association (GSA) former and current leaders and member; and (3) Government Undergraduate Concentrators.

Through my interviews with two of the Government Department’s Undergraduate Office Administrators as well as with the Chair of the Government Department, I hoped to examine the currently existing structures for undergraduate input and understand what sort of undergraduate input was currently coming in. Then, through three interviews with former and current leaders and members of the GSA, I observed a relevant structure for departmental input that undergraduates could emulate. Finally, through six empirical interviews with undergraduate concentrators in the Government department, I sought to understand what the current needs were for the undergraduates and to identify the most appropriate structures for undergraduate input to meet these needs.

While preparing for the empirical interviews with the Government concentrators, I engaged in the existing literature, and I learned that student representation often do not fully reflect the entire student body. With this in mind, I came away with a deep commitment to have my empirical interviewees be similarly as representative of the Government concentrators as possible. I interviewed students from all class years, ranging from sophomore (the year students declare their concentration) to super senior (those who have taken time off during college). I also sought to interview concentrators from various paths. For instance, I interviewed students who spent over half a decade in the military prior to coming to Harvard, transferred into Harvard in the middle of college, joint-concentrated in other subjects, changed concentrations multiple times, wrote a senior thesis, and did not write a senior thesis. Through these various perspectives and backgrounds, I hoped to collect a diverse interview dataset in an attempt to understand the needs of Government concentrators.

Key Findings:

Government Department Administrators
Some key takeaways from semi-structured expert interviews with the Chair of the Government Department as well as administrators in the Government Undergraduate Office:
Graduate Student Association: Former and Current Leaders and Members
Some key takeaways from semi-structured expert interviews with a co-founder, a co-president, and a member of the Graduate Student Association (GSA):

Government Department’s Undergraduate Concentrators
Some key takeaways from semi-structured empirical interviews with six undergraduate Government concentrators:

Proposal: Creating a Government Departmental Undergraduate Concentrators Association

Considering the overall success of the Graduate Student Association, the Government Department’s desire to institutionalize greater undergraduate engagement, and most importantly, the needs of the Government undergraduate concentrators, this research project proposes the creation of a Government Departmental Undergraduate Concentrators Association. The work of this body would focus on fulfilling the four main needs discussed in the previous section. As such, the Undergraduate Concentrators Association (U.C.A.) would have four primary responsibilities:One important note that comes with this proposal is the tension that undergraduates seem to have between wanting a systematic, centralized way of having their voices heard and the skepticism of student representation in light of the recent “demolishing” of the Undergraduate Council. One respondent even mentioned that they would prefer to give the feedback themself rather than entrusting another to do so. Yet, despite this skepticism, everyone – including the student who gave this feedback – was grateful that this research project was being conducted. Some mentioned that they had never given feedback before because no one from the Government Department had ever asked for their thoughts. This seems to indicate that a proactive approach is needed, further highlighting the need for the U.C.A. Finally, students indicated that should they serve on such a body, a form of compensation would be necessary. Because serving on a body such as the U.C.A. would require substantial energy and effort, multiple students felt that it was appropriate for students on the U.C.A. should be compensated.


This research project began with the hopes of understanding how we could create greater opportunities for undergraduate input in the Government Department. In my pursuit to answer this question, I have found that there is true potential for change. The Government Undergraduate Office seems eager to further engage the undergraduates, and the underclassmen seem excited at the prospect of further engagement. While I won’t be able to fully see through the implementation of this project because I will be graduating in a few weeks, I hope that the Undergraduate Office and underclassmen concentrators will work together to build on this proposal to create a Government Department that has greater undergraduate engagement, input, and community.

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