University of Texas at Austin

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Getting Started: Congressional Scholar Jason Casellas

In the Getting Started series, Further Findings highlights the paths that some researchers at The University of Texas at Austin took to the laboratory, the library, the field—wherever they do their work. Jessica Sinn from the College of Liberal Arts writes this installment.

Jason Casellas, assistant professor and associate director of the Irma Rangel Public Policy Institute in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin

Jason Casellas, assistant professor and associate director of the Irma Rangel Public Policy Institute in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin

When Jason Casellas began research for his undergraduate senior dissertation on Latino political participation, he was surprised by the scant amount of academic writings on the topic.

Undaunted by the painstaking hours of research, the experience spurred his interest in pursuing a career as an academic scholar.

“I was struck by how undeveloped the literature was on this topic,” says Casellas, now an assistant professor and associate director of the Irma Rangel Public Policy Institute in the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin. “That’s when I realized there was a niche that needed to be filled.”

After graduating summa cum laude from Loyola University, Casellas earned a master’s and doctorate at the Princeton University, where he continued his research on the political representation of Hispanic/Latino Americans.

“As the son of Latino immigrants, I am particularly concerned with the extent to which Latinos from all over the United States have been able to influence the political system,” Casellas says.

Now a prominent political analyst, Casellas is often quoted in national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, for stories about immigration reform, education policy, voter turnout and election results.

His commitment to furthering the study of congressional politics led him to write “Latino Representation in State Houses and Congress,” the first book-length study of the political representation of the nation’s largest, fastest growing minority group. Based on his dissertation, the book illustrates how Hispanics gain mobility in public office, and why they are unable to rise to leadership ranks in higher-paying, more professional legislatures.

Investigating an area that many political scholars have overlooked, Casellas reveals a variety of factors explaining why the minority group has yet to dramatically alter the landscape of American politics. Although they are gaining more ground in citizen legislatures in states like Texas, New Mexico and Florida with majority-minority districts, they are not making much progress in professional legislatures in states like New York with more white-majority districts.

Looking back at his undergraduate experience at Loyola University, Casellas, who grew up in New Orleans, says he couldn’t have picked a better career. Inspired by his grandfather, who taught Spanish literature at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, he says he always knew he would become an academic.

Now in his sixth year of teaching at The University of Texas at Austin, he has garnered a number of highly competitive fellowships, including a year at the United States Studies Centre at Sydney University in Australia.

“The beauty of this job is that I love what I do,” Casellas says. “I love the interaction with students and the flexibility to research an understudied area of political science.”

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