Political Science Professor Wins One of Four Presidential Scholar Awards


Photo courtesy of James Curry.

By Megan McKellar, News Writer


Each year, the University of Utah names four faculty members as the University of Utah Presidential Scholars. The Presidential Scholar Award was created to support the work of promising mid-career faculty in academic units across the main campus, according to the Academic Affairs website. The award provides $10,000 in funding each year for three years and can be used at the discretion of the faculty member.

The four recipients of 2020 are Jim Curry, an associate professor and director of graduate studies for the Department of Political Science; Marco Bortolato, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; Masood Parvania, associate professor and associate chair for research and advancement in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Pearl Sandick, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Science.

As a political science professor and academic advisor to the Hinkley Institute of Politics, Curry focuses on Congress, Washington politics and national policymaking. Prior to his teaching at the University of Utah, Curry worked in Washington D.C. as a staff member on Capitol Hill and worked for members of Congress. He said his time on Capitol Hill was pivotal to his decision to continue research about Congress.

“I left that experience, knowing deep down, that I was probably more interested in trying to study and understand Congress and how it works, and why it works the way it does, than I was in actually spending a lifetime working there because working there is fascinating and exhilarating, but it’s also totally exhausting,” Curry said.

Curry published a book in 2015 called “Legislating in the Dark,” which details the centralization of power in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“We have a constitutional system that makes it very, very hard for parties, or policy activists for that matter, to ever really get what they want in Washington because the bar needed to pass things is so very high,” Curry said.

He attributes his success to his close connections to Washington politics, his deep interest in Congress and his desire for others to understand Congress and the government.  “It’s easy to be productive and do a good job in your research when you don’t tire of it, and you find it endlessly fascinating. I could spend every minute of my waking life reading about Congress, I find it that interesting,” Curry said.

Christian Mickelsen, a recent graduate, said he was deeply impacted by his experiences with Curry both in and out of the classroom. “Being able to work with [Dr. Curry] has been one of the highlights of my career, both academically and professionally, and he is largely responsible for the way my career has progressed… Even if I didn’t end up in political science, he wanted me to succeed,” Mickelsen said.

Bella Fregoso, another recent graduate, worked with Curry on her Honors thesis, which she said was the most interesting part of her time as an undergraduate.  

“Dr. Curry pushed me to challenge myself and to do the best research I could, but was also very supportive and a wonderful resource,” Fregoso said. 

Fregoso’s thesis project inspired her to pursue work in academia in the future, in which she had no prior interest. 

“Dr. Curry is a wonderful researcher and professor, and probably one of my favorite professors from my time at the U… I can’t say enough kind things about him,” Fregoso said. 

Curry plans to use the funding from the award to travel to Washington D.C. for research and to hire undergraduate and graduate research assistants. 

More information about other professors who received the award can be found on the U’s website.


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