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SPA Honors Program

The SPA Honors Program is a credit-bearing academic program for outstanding SPA students that positions them for graduate or law school and other advanced work in their fields.

Welcome from the Director

Welcome to the School of Public Affairs Honors Program! The SPA Honors Program is a credit-bearing academic program for outstanding SPA students that positions them for graduate or law school and other advanced work in their fields. Highly-selective, the Program offers students with exceptional academic records who are intellectually curious and especially interested in research, the opportunity to take rigorous, small courses in public affairs open only to SPA Honors Program members, and to conduct an original capstone research project mentored by two faculty members. In addition to the program’s course-work, students gain unique access to a supportive community of similarly high-achieving and academically-oriented peers as well as the chance to foster deep collaboration with faculty mentors.

Our website details the structure of the program and the application process. It also includes statements from alums about how the program influenced them. Thanks for visiting!

Kimberly Cowell-Meyers, Ph.D.
Director, SPA Honors Program and Associate Professor, Dept. of Govt.

Why SPA Honors?

SPA Honors Students

A Sense of Community
The SPA Honors Program provides students more than an ability to reach for excellence through unique research opportunities and challenging academics. Our colloquium and capstone classes are open only to SPA Honors students so they are naturally small and uniquely engaging. Our students also engage in a variety of events throughout the academic year – from study breaks to tours around the city - and grow together as a community.

Research Opportunities
Between the course supplements and the capstone, SPA Honors students have multiple opportunities to delve deeply into a topic of interest.

Unique Capstone
The SPA Honors capstone course (SPA 480) is designed to support students in producing a publishable piece of original scholarship over the course of a semester. Students work with both their Faculty Advisor, who is a specialist in the subject matter, and the Instructor of Record for the course, and thus, have the benefit of working with two faculty members on their capstone as well as drawing support from their colleagues in the dedicated capstone course.

Program Details

Students tailor their Honors Program to mirror their own needs and interests but take 12 credit hours. These include:

  • 9 credit hours of colloquia and/or supplements
    • Students take at least one 3-credit SPA Honors Colloquia [SPA 300] (small, seminar-style courses exclusive to the program). Students may take up to three colloquia classes or they may complete supplements to their existing courses.
    • Supplements to 3-credit courses at the 400-level or above may add an extra assignment, add original research or extend a paper to go in more depth than the typical coursework. These are arranged by the student in consultation with the professor for the class.
  • The Honors Capstone [SPA 480] (a one-semester course offered each spring in which students conduct an original research project that makes a distinctive and original scholarly contribution to the field supported by two faculty mentors)

In order to apply for the SPA Honors Program, students must: 

  • Be on track to complete at least 30 credits at AU by the end of the semester in which they are applying (exclusive of AP credit hours), or have completed at least 45 credit hours with a minimum of 15 credit hours completed at American University
  • Have at least four semesters remaining; and
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.67. 
  • Commit to successfully completing GOVT-310 Introduction to Political Research (3) or JLC-280 Introduction to Justice Research (3), by the end of their first semester in the SPA Honors Program.
  • Submit their application, including a statement of purpose, research-based writing sample, official transcript and letter of recommendation by 3/1/2022
  • SPA-480: SPA Honors Capstone (3) Capstone for SPA Honors students to facilitate the integration of knowledge in a public affairs discipline by preparing and producing an honors thesis that makes a distinctive and original scholarly contribution to the public affairs field. Students identify a topic, develop an annotated bibliography, conduct a literature review, and prepare a research proposal. AU Core Integrative Requirement: Capstone. Usually Offered: spring. Grading: A-F only. Restriction: SPA Honors.
  • SPA-300: Topics vary by section. Seminars for students in the SPA Honors Program facilitate the integration of knowledge of public affairs disciplines and prepare students for advanced scholarship in their capstone courses. Usually Offered: Fall and spring. Repeatable for credit with different topic. Grading: A-F only. Restriction: SPA Honors Program.
    • Fall 2021: Health Policy in the United States (3) Health is an intensely personal topic, but one in which the government and the private sector play very large roles. Health policy, particularly the roles of the public and private sector, is widely and passionately debated in the public arena. This course gives students an overview of the structure and functions of the U.S. health care system. The existing financing, organizational structures, and delivery systems, and how these structures and systems would change with implementation and modification of federal health reform policies are described, discussed, and analyzed. Comparisons to healthcare systems and policies abroad are made; however, the focus is on domestic health policy. The course focuses on current federal health reform legislation and implementation.
    • Spring 2022: Law, History, and Justice (3) This course considers to what degree the American founders' thoughts about class, ethics, gender, justice, law, markets, politics, and race should guide the following: framing policy and reform agendas, determining constitutional rights and how they be secured (or advanced), evaluating the allocation of powers in the U.S. political system, and coming to terms with injustices committed in the past and present. Although Americans have been debating such questions since the founding, reaching a consensus over any of the answers still appears no closer. However, the debate itself reflects the important role that history has always played not only in interpreting constitutional doctrines, principles, and rules, but also in construing the authority of judicial precedents in common law tradition. While historians have long been sharply critical of how jurists interpret the past, the course investigates how the ways jurists typically approach history is markedly different from the ways of most contemporary historians and social scientists. In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of law-office history, it is important to both compare approaches from an interdisciplinary perspective and consider how these approaches have changed over time in relationship to one another. The course explores how personal bias, broad cultural assumptions, disciplinary training, ideological commitments, political agendas, and other factors may influence how these approaches are chosen and applied.
    • Fall 2022: Power and Protest (3) This seminar looks at state power and the various ways that ordinary people have attempted to restrain or shape the exercise of state power. We will start by looking at why states exist and how power was organized in early modern Europe, ancient China, and pre-colonial and colonial Africa. From there, we'll then consider popular resistance against states, when it succeeds and fails, and how states adapt when challenged. The course serves as an introduction to theories of state formation and social movements, and readings will be drawn from several disciplines, including sociology, political science, and history. Throughout the course, we will ask the same questions: Why do states differ from one another? What factors explain the success or failure of popular resistance? And how much power do ordinary people really have in shaping history?

Program Director

Kimberly Cowell-MeyersKimberly Cowell-Meyers is an Associate Professor of Government and affiliated faculty with the Women & Politics Institute at American University. Her work focuses on how representative democracy functions, specifically how political parties, social movements and legislatures structure and channel different political identities. Her research centers on two areas of identity politics: women in politics and ethnic politics, particularly in Northern Ireland. In recent years, she has conducted a series of projects on women’s political parties, including case-studies in Northern Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland, a quantitative analysis on a unique dataset of over 50 women’s political parties in Europe, and a framework for research on the topic. These projects and other work on broad aspects of representation have been published in Politics & Gender, Political Studies, Perspectives on Politics, Scandinavian Political Studies, and Foreign Affairs and The Journal of Women, Politics & Public Policy. Cowell-Meyers’ work on ethnic or sectarian politics has appeared in Irish Political Studies and Nationalism and Ethnic Studies. With Carolyn Gallaher (American University) she regularly blogs for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage and other outlets on political developments in Northern Ireland. She has worked in the British Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the US Institute of Peace and as Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Women into Politics at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Zürich, Switzerland. At American University she teaches introductory and upper-level courses in comparative politics, including courses on Northern Ireland, and research methodology. She also founded and currently advises Clocks & Clouds, AU’s undergraduate student research journal in politics and public affairs.

Program Assistant

Katherine Boyko.Katherine Boyko is a senior Honors and Politics, Policy, and Law Scholar (PPL) at American University with a double major in Economics with an International Specialization and an interdisciplinary major in Communications, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government (CLEG). She is also a part of the SPA Leadership Program as well as Roosevelt and Rotaract clubs on campus. As a freshman, she started interning with the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, the leading independent organization in Washington and Kyiv promoting human rights, democratic, and economic reforms in Ukraine and supporting the mutual objectives of both countries and now works for the organization full-time. This fall, she is also interning at LanComm Business Solutions, a local business consulting firm seeking to aid small businesses and business owners from marginalized communities of D.C.. In the future, Katherine hopes to build a career in economic development and stay in the international, non-profit sector. In her role as the program assistant, she coordinates events, recruits eligible students for the program, and stays in close contact with current members and alumni.

Denton CohenName: Denton Cohen (He/His)
Current Job Position: Masters of Public Policy Student and Graduate Researcher at the USC Price School

Born in Columbia, SC and raised in Akron, OH, Denton attended American University from Fall, 2018 to Spring, 2021, studying political science and spanish. As an undergraduate, Denton was involved in several activities on campus, joining AU Chamber Singers, serving as assistant managing editor for Clocks and Clouds, and singing in an a capella group (On A Sensual Note). After taking research methods with Dr. Cowell-Meyers and environmental policy analysis with Dr. Fiorino—in addition to working as a correspondence & environmental policy intern with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—Denton decided to pursue a Masters in Public Policy directly after graduation. Denton is currently a first-year student in the USC Price School, where he works as a graduate research assistant and studies environmental policy & justice.

SPA Honors Impact Statement:
The SPA Honors Program is not merely a career launching pad: it is a dynamic, intersectional academic program that embraces both liberal arts inquiry and cutting-edge research. I never thought I would enjoy a legal studies course; that is, until my first-ever practicum class revolutionized how I see the American legal system. Moreover, the honors program allowed me to pursue a long-standing academic interest of mine (environmental justice & Superfund) as an independent study—an experience that made me realize policy research was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. As a member of the SPA Honors Program, you’ll be part of a highly motivated academic cohort, benefitting from the close mentorship of its affiliated faculty and a tight-knit support system of your fellow students. I would not be where I am today without Dr. Cowell-Meyers and my time as an honors student.


Harrison EichelbergerName: Harrison Eichelberger (he/him/his)
Current Job Position: Economist, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Harrison Eichelberger was born in New Hampshire but grew up in Lancaster, PA. He chose American University because he was interested in politics and public service, and it was one of the best decisions Harrison says he ever made. Double-majoring in political science and economics, he was able to learn the fundamentals of government, public policy, economic theory. Harrison participated in two research programs: Community-Based Research Scholars (CBRS) and the School of Public Affairs Honors Program. He also had the honor of interning for a Democratic congressional campaign, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Treasury Department. Harrison’s experience at AU, along with the internships, helped him achieve a lifelong goal of government service this summer by becoming an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where he now helps in calculating the inflation rate.

SPA Honors Impact Statement:
The School of Public Affairs Honors Program was extremely valuable in furthering my career. I learned how to conduct formal public policy research and became familiar with a number of statistical programs such as STATA and R. I also learned to be more analytical and to work effectively on a team. I genuinely believe that SPA Honors was a big factor in getting me a job after college.


Gabby DellName: Gaby Dell (she/her/hers)
Current Job Position: Director of Alumni Relations at Leading Women of Tomorrow

Gabrielle Dell graduated magna cum laude from the School of Public Affairs Honors Program in May of 2021, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science. Gaby was also the SPA Honors Program Assistant for the 2020-2021 academic year, navigating the position virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At American, Gaby was very active on campus and interned for members of Congress, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and for a congressional re-election campaign in the swing state of Iowa. Gaby also worked as a research assistant for SPA, conducting research into the Affordable Care Act’s impact on minority communities and child marriage laws amongst all 50 states.

Originally from Queens, New York, Gaby is passionate about criminal law and is planning to attend law school in the fall of 2022. Gaby is currently serving as the Director of Alumni Relations for Leading Women of Tomorrow, a non-profit organization that seeks to encourage young women to pursue careers in public service. She credits the skills she has acquired from the SPA Honors Program in helping her attain this position.

SPA Honors Impact Statement: Being in the SPA Honors Program has truly allowed me to go above and beyond course requirements and has enabled me to showcase my talents and potential. In the spring of 2020, I took an honors supplemented course that is offered every four years known as the “Presidential Primaries”. Because I took the course on an honors level, I was able to conduct special interviews with presidential candidates like Amy Klobuchar and Tulsi Gabbard. I would not have been able to do this without the program’s guidance and reputation.

  • What is the SPA Honors Program?
    The SPA Honors Program is a credit-bearing academic program for outstanding SPA students that positions them for graduate or law school and other advanced work in their fields. Highly-selective, the Program offers students with exceptional academic records who are intellectually curious and especially interested in research the opportunity to take rigorous, small courses in public affairs open only to SPA Honors Program members and to conduct an original capstone research project mentored by two faculty members. In addition to the program’s course-work, students gain unique access to a supportive community of similarly high-achieving and academically-oriented peers as well as the chance to foster deep collaboration with faculty mentors. 
  • Where can I find the SPA Honors Application?
    To apply to the American University Honors Program, you must complete the program application.
  • When do I apply for the SPA Honors Program?
    Students apply to the program any time starting from their second semester at AU.
  • What are the requirements for admission to the SPA Honors Program?
    Eligible students will be invited to apply as early as the second semester of their first year at AU, if they are on track to have thirty credits earned at AU by the end of that semester, although students may apply as late as second semester of sophomore year. To apply, a student must be on track to complete at least 30 credits at AU by the end of the semester in which they are applying (exclusive of AP credit hours), or have completed at least 45 credit hours with a minimum of 15 credit hours completed at American University; have at least four semesters remaining; and have a minimum 3.67 cumulative GPA.
  • Can transfer students apply?
    Qualified transfer students with a minimum of 15 credits completed at American University may apply.
  • When is the application deadline?
    October 15th, 2021 at 5PM EST.
  • How many students are accepted into the program each year?
    The SPA Honors Program admits up to 20 students per year.
  • What are the requirements for the SPA Honors Program?
    The following requirements are needed to graduate with Honors:
    • Earn minimum 3.67 cumulative GPA to apply
    • Complete one of the SPA research methods courses- GOVT 310 or JLC 280, within the first semester of enrollment in the program
    • Complete 9 SPA Honors credits, consisting of a combination of SPA Honors colloquia (SPA 300-3 credits), honors supplements to existing 3-credit courses at the 400 level or above, and approved independent study; and
    • Complete the Honors capstone course (SPA 480), in which you will research and write an original thesis.
  • What is the Spring 2022 SPA Honors Colloquium?
    The Spring 2022 SPA Honors Colloquium will be "People, Power and Punishment," taught by Professor Carter.
  • What if I want to pursue the combined Bachelors/Masters program?
    SPA Honors students will receive priority consideration for admission and merit aid funding for SPA's Combined Bachelors/Masters Programs.

Program Application

The next application cycle begins March 1, 2022.

Apply Now

Denton Cohen

Alumni Spotlight

Denton Cohen is currently a Masters of Public Policy Student and Graduate Research at the USC Price School.

Learn More