Study of Intervention Models in Destabilized Countries Wins Award

Oct. 24, 2012

The “people” in John McCaskill’s computer program faced a tense situation.

Some were assigned to the military, others were assigned to non-profit organizations, and all of them were dropped in a virtual, war-torn country.

McCaskill, a recent graduate of UT Dallas’ Public Affairs program in the School of  Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, then observed how the cyber-citizens reacted within a computer program he created simulating real-world situations.

John McCaskill, UT Dallas Public Affairs program

John McCaskill hopes to use his program to explore different intervention options in destabilized countries.

The intricate project earned him national dissertation award from the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, the accrediting body for graduate public affairs programs. Eighteen universities submitted dissertations to compete for the award.

“I was looking for a topic to research for my dissertation, and I became very interested in an article describing the intertwined boundaries between humanitarian operations and military operations in Afghanistan,” McCaskill said. “The military in that area is attempting to do some of the same things traditionally considered to be in the realm of non-governmental agencies.”

The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) dissertation award committee consisted of professors from universities across the country. McCaskill’s dissertation was selected for “the timeliness of its topic, the comprehensiveness of [the] literature review and the depth of [the] analysis.”

“This is a complex topic, but one that fascinated me,” said McCaskill, who has a military background himself. “Some of my classmates presented an example of agent-based modeling with simple rules, where you could see interactions of groups and individuals. I was immediately hooked.”

McCaskill taught himself how to work with the software programs necessary to complete his project – a task he described as both challenging and fulfilling.

“We have submitted dissertations in the past that we thought would be competitive – and this one stood out. John’s deserves the credit and I am very happy for him. This says a lot about the direction of our school and the university, and it demonstrates the strength of our program.”

Dr. Douglas Kiel,
professor of public affairs
and administration

“After I set up those parameters in this model, it turned out that in these simulations coordinating the parties involved wasn’t particularly helpful,” McCaskill said. “We want to use this data to create different paradigms to help explore intervention options in destabilized countries.”

Dr. Douglas Kiel, professor of public affairs and administration at UT Dallas and McCaskill’s advisor on the project, felt the work was strong enough to submit for consideration by NASPAA.

“He provided an in-depth analysis of what happens in war-torn countries when you have military and non-governmental organizations with very different approaches to stabilizing a region,” Kiel said.

After McCaskill completed his project, which took about a year, Kiel felt the work was strong enough to submit to NASPAA.

“We have submitted dissertations in the past that we thought would be competitive – and this one stood out,” Kiel said. “John’s deserves the credit, and I am very happy for him. This says a lot about the direction of our school and the University, and it demonstrates the strength of our program.”

For his efforts, McCaskill received a $500 award and attended a luncheon in Austin at the NASPAA national conference. Now that he has completed his doctoral degree, McCaskill accepted an administrative position at UT Dallas as director of assessment.

“I was thrilled and quite flattered when they submitted my dissertation,” McCaskill said. “I learned a great deal in this process.”


Media Contact: Katherine Morales, 972-883-4321, kmorales@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, 972-883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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