2011-12 Faculty Member of the Year Award: Virginia Hettinger

Dr. Virginia Hettinger’s path to an academic career took many twists and turns. She graduated from Indiana University with a double major in economics and folklore. Like many liberal arts majors at the time, she had little sense of what to do next or even how to go about finding something to do next.

After a brief stint as a retail manager and assistant buyer, Dr. Hettinger earned a Masters in Public Administration at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her second career took her to the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget and then the Virginia Department of Education. In both agencies she worked on evaluation projects and program reviews. Dr. Hettinger loved working on solutions for problems in areas as diverse as child support, educational equity, prison and jail population growth, and Medicaid expenditure growth, but she also wished to concentrate her focus on the questions she found most interesting as opposed to those deemed important by legislators and bureaucrats. Graduate school called to her again.

Dr. Hettinger earned a Ph.D. in political science at Emory University. She focused on American politics, especially the empirical study of judicial decision making. Her dissertation applied a game theoretic approach to interactions between the Supreme Court and Congress in the interpretation and revision of federal statutes.

While at Emory, she helped develop a measure of judicial ideology for U.S. Courts of Appeals judges. The Giles-Hettinger-Peppers scores are used extensively in the literature on judicial decision making in the intermediate appellate courts. Much of Dr. Hettinger’s published work focuses on the federal Courts of Appeals, especially the factors that contribute to an individual judge’s decision to depart from the norm of consensus by publishing a dissenting opinion.

Dr. Hettinger spent two and a half years on the faculty at Indiana University before arriving at the University of Connecticut in 2001. At UConn, she served as the Director of the Honors Program in political science from 2003 to 2008 and the Director of Undergraduate Studies from 2008 to 2011. She continues to advise Honors students and works with many political science students in the Special Program in Law.

“Working with Honors students is one of the great joys of this profession. It took a long time for me to find what suited me academically and professionally. I enjoy being a part of that process of discovery for as many UConn students as I can reach. Guiding Honors students through their first steps of independent research is one of the ways I am fortunate to be able to help them in this discovery.”