Real-world experience influences political scientist’s research
by Ann Marie Deer Owens
photo by Daniel Dubois
Unlike many college students who become political scientists, Efrén O. Pérez decided to work in real-world politics for four years before attending graduate school. The experience strongly influenced his research interests in public opinion, political psychology and race, ethnicity and politics.
After graduating magna cum laude from the University of San Diego, Pérez was a public policy fellow for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in Washington, D.C. He then returned to his hometown, Los Angeles, to be a media relations adviser for a political consulting firm.
“I worked with both Spanish and English media to generate press coverage of political campaigns in Southern California,” said Pérez, assistant professor of political science. His fluency in both languages ensured that candidates’ political messages reached traditional voters, as well as the growing Spanish-speaking segment of the electorate in the greater Los Angeles area.
In 2003, Pérez and his wife, Tammy, moved to North Carolina so he could pursue his doctorate in political science at Duke University, while she earned her master’s in social work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Pérez received a prestigious National Science Foundation grant and fellowship for research on his dissertation No Way José: The Nature and Sequence of U.S. Anti-Immigrant Opinion.
Pérez notes the influence of his own upbringing in an immigrant home on his research. Both sides of his family are from El Grullo, Jalisco, a small Mexican town with a long history of sending seasonal workers to the United States. Pérez’s parents were the first in their families to decide to make the United States their home, so he and his siblings are the first generation of U.S.-born members of his extended family.
At Vanderbilt, Pérez plans to continue his research on public opposition to immigration.
“I am currently analyzing data on Americans’ implicit attitudes toward Latino immigrants,” he said. “The preliminary results suggest that how one feels about this group automatically influences one’s view toward immigration policies that affect more than just that group, such as the number of visas available for skilled workers.”
The opportunity to carry out his research in Political Science’s new laboratory was important for Pérez.
“The lab relieves some of the biggest impediments to doing experimental work, which can be labor-intensive and costly,” he said. “I know of only a handful of schools across the country with political science labs. Having this lab will increase the productivity of affiliated faculty and enhance the quality of graduate study by allowing students to collect their own original data for research.”
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