Published: Oct. 28, 2016 By
shawnna mullenax

PhD Candidate, President of PSCI Graduate Students

When Shawnna Mullenax enrolled at West Virginia University, she had plans to become a chiropractor; however, she quickly learned that it’s never too early to change your major.

“Three weeks into college, I knew it wasn’t for me,” said the fifth-year graduate student. “I was taking exercise physiology classes, a physics class, and an international relations class. And I realized the only class that was really interesting to me was my international relations class.”

Mullenax knew she wanted to pursue a degree in political science, but it wasn’t easy for her to walk away from her future in the medical field.

“I was nervous because I was changing my major from something that seemed a lot more lucrative,” she said.  “I was in a program in high school for first-generation college students, and what we were repeatedly told was that we needed to get medical degrees. I had in my mind that any other degree was a gamble.”

Even so, she was able to overcome her doubts with the encouragement of her family and friends.

“I felt fortunate that my parents were always really supportive of whatever I wanted to do,” she said. “And it all worked out.”

Mullenax graduated with her degree in political science and went on to enroll as a graduate student at CU, where she specializes in comparative politics, international relations, and gender politics. Throughout her years as a graduate student, she has worked as a TA, taught her own class, and now works as a grader for an international political economy course.

“Boulder wasn’t on my radar at first,” she said. “But I had done a semester abroad in Bolivia, and it just so happened that Carew Boulding and Krister Andersson had also done work in Bolivia. So I applied, and I was thrilled when I got in.”

The department has since funded several trips for Mullenax to go to Bolivia and advance her research on the country. After conducting many interviews there, the PhD candidate looks forward to publishing a chapter in Contesting the Transformation, which will focus on the rights of Bolivia's women’s groups and LGBT movement.

In the meantime, she plans to stay busy as both an officer in CU’s graduate student government and the president of the political science graduate students.

“As president, I’m a liaison between the faculty and the grad students,” she said. “I work on taking any issues the grad students have to David Brown and Jennifer Fitzgerald.”

Her term has been both successful and enjoyable, and Mullenax has grown closer to her fellow graduate students throughout the year.

“Overall, I’m incredibly thankful for the grad school experience I’ve had,” she said. “The grad students are especially close in this department, and we’ve really made a commitment to being friends.”