McKenna Lux ’15
Political Science

McKenna Lux, a fourth year political science major, explains that the most rewarding part of her research experience has been contributing and building upon areas of research that need to be further explored according to other scholars in her field.

“I started to see that [my research] is something that has value,” McKenna describes. “When I’m reading up on a specific country and see little hints of what I’m hoping to find, I realize that this isn’t all for nothing.”

Under the guidance of political science professors Dr. Lorraine McDonnell and Dr. Neil Narang, McKenna is currently studying the effects of border policy on the frequency of human trafficking in the Eastern European Union for her senior honors thesis project.

“I’m looking at this region in Europe and extending into Eastern Europe called the Schengan area. That’s the area where they’ve lifted big border checkpoints, the customs controls for their internal borders,” McKenna explains. “So anyone who has passports for any of those countries [within that area] can travel freely through another country that is within [the Schengan] area, and I’m looking at how that affects human trafficking.”

McKenna conducts her research by looking at several variables, such as the year a country joined the Schengan area, as well as how many external and internal border in each country. McKenna also created her own variable, the “McKenna” variable, which gives each country a value. Each value represents its country’s rank on a scale that explains reciprocity between human trafficking and border management policies. She then studies how these independent variables affect the dependent ones, including the number of victims identified, the number of criminals apprehended at the borders, and the number of counterfeit documents found.

McKenna explains that in current counter trafficking policy, countries where victims are taken and destination countries where victims are transported to and exploited are the most targeted, while the transit points are neglected.

“There’s definitely some research that I’m hoping to build off of,” McKenna explains. “I found just from my initial research that a lot of the trafficking criminals are able to circumvent the laws at the transit points and go under the radar and adapt to the rules. So I’m trying to get inside the mind of the criminal and see exactly what makes a border vulnerable to human trafficking, what makes it permeable and able to let trafficking thrive through those borders.”

McKenna explains that though her experience conducting research has been rewarding, it has not been easy. With the help of her mentors however, she has been able to overcome her obstacles.

“I’ve definitely hit some road blocks where I’d have a freak out and I’d think I found something that’s too similar to what I’m doing or something that goes against everything I’m trying to do,” McKenna describes. “But then I’d go to Professor Narang and have my little melt down and then he would tell me that even if something has the exact same intentions as what I’m doing, there are still ways to study it and put a new twist on things. So he has been really helpful in helping me deal with those meltdowns.”

McKenna suggests that students who are new to research to start small and try a smaller-scale independent research project prior to diving into year-long projects.

“I think the 199 course [in the political science major], most majors have and equivalent, gives you a little taste of research,” McKenna explains. “It’s a good introduction to research and you only have to commit for one quarter so I would say incoming students should try that first before taking on a larger project.”

McKenna prepared herself for her senior honors thesis project by testing the waters in research first with the University of California Washington Program (UCDC) and the 199 course, which then motivated her to pursue her research interests.

“A year ago I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation,” McKenna admits. “But [these projects] really helped me confirm that I want to keep doing research so I’m going to grad school in the fall at Leiden University in the Netherlands.”

McKenna explains she applied Leiden University because it is located in Hague, Netherlands, where many larger organizations related to her field are headquartered. Currently she is enrolled in a graduate program in which she has the option to intern at an office of her choice in Hague.