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Office of the Vice President for Research

  • International Studies/Economics major Clayton Armstrong spent part of summer 2015  in Washington, DC for an internship.

Clayton Armstrong's Magellan Story

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Name: Clayton Armstrong
Hometown: Elgin, SC
Majors: International Studies, Economics
Magellan Program: Magellan Navigator
Magellan Project: "Exploring how political affinity affects the provision of bilateral official development assistance (ODA) by G7 countries and the consequential change in private development assistance"
Magellan Mentor: Dr. Timothy Peterson

Clayton Armstong hunches over his laptop in his room in Maxcy College, scrolling through the hundreds of rows and thousands of columns in the raw dataset he's studying. He adds information, takes it out, runs regressions and probability tests, makes graphs. He is seeking to understand the relationship between US foreign aid and lending by the World Bank and regional development banks. But before he can find an answer, he must first find a question.

“I’m looking for something that doesn’t make sense,” he explained. “Something unexpected.”

He learned this strategy of combing through research for unanswered questions to study from his mentor, Dr. Timothy Peterson. Clayton went to Dr. Peterson last year with a simple question: how do countries decide who they will give development assistance? Dr. Peterson’s own work focused more on trade than foreign aid, but he was able to set the young researcher off on a path to find the answers he sought.

The first step on this path was to learn how to use R, a programming language for statistical analysis. Learning this difficult language required completing online modules, reading textbooks, and eventually enrolling in a 500-level Political Science course where he was one of only two undergraduate students. Another preliminary step was reading – lots of it. Clayton estimates he read close to 50 papers this past summer, taking notes and preparing a literature review.

All of this laid the groundwork for his research project "Exploring how political affinity affects the provision of bilateral official development assistance (ODA) by G7 countries and the consequential change in private development assistance," funded by the Magellan Navigator program. The grant money frees up time for Clayton so that he is able to devote the hours necessary to explore this complex topic.

Clayton came to college with a general interest in political science and economics but didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do. He explored internships, working at local nonprofits, and other beyond-the-classroom learning activities as ways to define his goals. However, it wasn’t until he discovered research that things clicked for him. “Research is great because it’s all about what I want,” he said. “I can tailor my project to exactly what I’m interested in so it’s easy get passionate about it and it’s fun to do.”

His future is still uncertain but his Magellan Programs experience has had a big influence on Clayton’s next steps. He plans to apply for PhD programs in economics or political science and wants to do research in areas that can improve development practice. He might want to work for an organization like the World Bank. He says he also has given a lot of thought to becoming a college professor. “I’ve had a lot of great mentors here at USC and I want to give that back. I want to be the person that’s mentoring an undergraduate through their research experience,” he said.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.