Class of 2012: Alexandra Raleigh

Alexandra Raleigh
Alexandra Raleigh ’12 (CLAS) (Photo: Peter Morenus/UConn)

By Lauren Lalancette

To prepare for her dream job of U.S. Secretary of State, Alexandra Raleigh ’12 (CLAS) will begin a Ph.D. program in political science at the University of California-Irvine this fall, specializing in political psychology.

“I am deeply patriotic,” says Raleigh, who is graduating with a double major in psychology and political science. “I care about my country’s values, and I want to work really hard to protect those values.”

Raleigh says that worldwide, five schools offer graduate degrees in the emerging field of political psychology – which she says can help America avoid military actions by solving problems through diplomacy.

Raleigh’s passion for her field of study swelled during her junior year. In 2011, two days before she was due to board a flight to Belgium to serve an internship with the U.S. Embassy, she had a car accident. Her injuries included a broken hip.

“It was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t go to Brussels,” Raleigh says. “I had the whole summer to prepare for grad school and to work on my research, which turned into my senior Honors thesis.”

Guided by Stephen Dyson, assistant professor of political science, with financing through UConn’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fund, the Mathew Jasinski Research Award, Raleigh created a psychological profile of Saddam Hussein. She researched more than 70 of his speeches and interviews, and by using a computer analysis, generated statistical data demonstrating that his words revealed his specific traits and world view.

Raleigh said she wants to help close the “big gap between academic and government profilers, to create practical applications for profiles. I would like to see more people interested in figuring out how the personalities of Middle Eastern dictators affect what they do. Then maybe we can change how we negotiate, or deter them, increasing diplomatic instead of military measures.”

Raleigh honed her political chops in high school in her hometown of Norwalk, when she served as a delegate at a Model United Nations event at Yale. “And also President Obama being elected,” she says. “I’m half black and half white, and following that election got me interested.”

While at UConn, Raleigh gave back to the Model UN program, serving for two years on the executive board and managing the event’s logistics and annual budget of more than $10,000.

“I’m not just about fulfilling requirements – I’m striving to be the best version of myself,” Raleigh says, noting that her goal was inspired by a high school mentor. “When I was stalled trying to start my college essay, he told me that life is about being extraordinary. I remembered that when I decided to be an executive rather than on UConn’s Model UN general staff, and to go straight for my Ph.D. instead of a master’s degree.”

A multiple award-winning student, Raleigh, who has an anxiety disorder, says UConn’s Center for Students with Disabilities was “incredibly helpful” in supporting her. “Being in the Honors program and having a double major can be stressful,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many times I thought about leaving UConn, but each time I’ve been able to continue. If I’ve learned anything at UConn, it’s how to deal with whatever cards you’re dealt. It hasn’t been easy, but it makes graduating that much sweeter.”

Adapted from UConn Today