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PhD graduate recognized for student leadership

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The President’s Award for Excellence in Student Leadership is awarded annually to five graduating students. The highest honour a graduating student can receive, the President’s Award recognizes students who combine excellent academic achievement with outstanding leadership on campus.

David Coletto, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Political Science

David Coletto is the second PhD student to win the President’s Award for Excellence in Student Leadership. A graduate from the Faculty of Graduate Studies in the department of political science, David combined his passions for politics and leadership to become a well-known figure in both his faculty, and on campus.

Learn more about David, his research and his contributions to campus in our Q&A:

Q: Describe your doctoral research.

Most students of Canadian elections emphasize the role of national campaigns in deciding the outcome of constituency elections. My doctoral research challenged this orthodoxy as incomplete and argued that we need to pay more attention to who runs for Parliament. Without studying what happens in the constituencies and among the individuals who seek to become parliamentarians, we cannot fully understand the process of Canadian electoral politics.

My study is the first empirical examination of the role candidates play in Canadian elections. I classify candidates as being either quality or non-quality based on their previous political experience and occupation. American political science literature suggests that quality candidates are better candidates. They raise and spend more money, they attract more volunteers, and they are more likely to win their elections. Testing this American concept on the 2004, 2006, and 2008 Canadian General Elections, I found that American findings hold true in Canada. Quality candidates, in contrast to non-quality candidates, are more strategic and run when conditions are favourable. They also raise more money and perform better on Election Day, all else being equal.

Q: How did you become involved with the Graduate Students’ Association?

During my undergraduate degree at Carleton University I was very involved in student government. When I came to the U of C, I wanted to get involved as well so that I could balance my course work, research, and teaching obligations with something that interested me. I also knew no one in the city and wanted to meet some new people.

I volunteered as the Political Science grad student representative on the GSA council and since I worked for a polling firm prior to starting my PhD, I offered to conduct surveys for the GSA, including a graduate student experience survey and one on the GSA health and dental plan. In December, the VP (Finance and Operations) resigned and I ran and won the by-election to replace him, and served out the remainder of the term.

I enjoyed the four months as VP and decided to run for GSA President. I wanted to get more involved in the operations of the association as well as the lobbying efforts on behalf of graduate students. Fortunately, no one ran against me and I was acclaimed President.

After my term as President, I stayed involved with the GSA as their Director of Research helping with surveys and student consultations. One of the legacies I am most proud of is changing the culture of the GSA in how it consults its members. We can’t represent graduate students if we never ask them what they think. Surveys and consultations are important for setting the strategic direction of a member organization’s lobbying and service efforts.

Q: You have served on several U of C committees, including the Board of Governors, the General Faculties Council and the Chancellor Search Joint Committee. How did these roles have an impact on your experience at the U of C?

As GSA President, you serve on a number of committees. Committees like the Board of Governors, GFC, and search committees are very rewarding. Most important are the connections you make. As a member of the Board of Governors, I met a number of successful businesspeople, community leaders, and faculty members. By watching and taking part in these meetings I learned a lot about how a governing body of a billion dollar organization is supposed to work.

Serving on university search committees has also been extremely rewarding. This year I was fortunate to sit on the Joint Chancellor Search Committee. The Chancellor is an important ambassador for the university. My job was to ensure that the committee’s ultimate recommendation to Senate was in the best interest of graduate students. In no class room could I have experienced and been a key member of such an important process. It was definitely a learning experience that will help me as I move into my career.

Q: What’s next for you?

Well, after nine years in post-secondary school, I think it’s time that I get a job. My parents would probably agree with that too.

After graduation, I will be moving to Ottawa to start-up a new strategic research firm. It is exciting because my employers are giving me a lot of freedom to set the direction of the firm and build it from the ground up. Abacus Data, the name of the new venture, will help decision makers in organizations, like universities, corporations, or government to make better strategic decisions.

As Chief Executive Officer of Abacus Data, I will apply all I learned in my previous experience in the industry as well as the new skills I acquired completing my doctorate to build a successful, exciting, and innovative research firm. I am really excited and cannot wait to start.

Q: Any words of wisdom for students who are just beginning their studies at the U of C?

I know this will sound cliché but get involved with something outside of your academic program. The U of C has so many opportunities to gain experience you just can’t get in a classroom.

More importantly, you’ll meet new people and building a network. You know that old saying: “it’s not what you know, but who you know”? Well, “who you know” matters just as much in this world as it used to. Your lectures, discussion groups, and exams will cover the “what you know” part. It’s up to you to get involved in extracurricular activities to help build the “who you know” part.