Originally from northern Kentucky, Zach Thapar graduated in May with majors in political science and global affairs with a focus on international development studies. He was a Menard Family Tocqueville Fellow throughout his time at Notre Dame, joining the program during the spring of his freshman year. The fellowship helped Thapar to explore his academic interests and pursue research and internships–and eventually a job–related to his passions.
“All of the cool things I’ve done throughout college can be traced back to this program,” he said.
Thapar’s academic interests involve international development policy, national security policy, and education, and he researched international education policy through the Kellogg International Scholars Program
After freshman year, Thapar spent five weeks in Peru working with a nonprofit and conducting volunteer education and public health research–a trip funded in part by the Tocqueville Fellowship.
“I knew early on that one thing I was interested in was education policy, both domestically and abroad in terms of international development,” he said, “A lot of my research has been on a niche subject: the impact of the early opportunity for Catholic education on marginalized populations in postcolonial environments.” Thapar is currently working to publish a paper on the impact of Catholic education in New Orleans, LA.
“A study in Benin found that Catholic schools, by providing early education to indigenous and underprivileged populations, helped those populations over time have much higher literacy rates and much higher levels of economic development,” he explained, “So for the last three years, a lot of my research has been looking at that same phenomenon in New Orleans. There was a group of Ursuline nuns present since around 1727, and I’ve studied how the school they founded helped to foster a community of Catholic education and of education more broadly in New Orleans. This led to very high literacy rates and property ownership, among black women in particular.”
Complementing his interest in education and international development, Thapar found that his Constitutional Studies classes were useful in his summer internships. As an intern with the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, he relied on knowledge from CCCG faculty fellow Emilia Justyna Powell’s international law class as he approached foreign policy work.
As a Tocqueville Fellow, Thapar participated in colloquia on topics including free speech, immigration, and the political thought of Frederick Douglass, among others.
“The opportunity to read and talk to people in a seminar format about topics like free speech has been really cool,” he said. “Even if a lot of us agree on some things, there can be a lot of disagreement about these issues when we actually talk about them, so it’s super interesting to think through them, learn from each other, and be able to voice what you’re thinking without being self-conscious.”
He also enjoyed attending the lectures hosted by the CCCG, including the additional events hosted with the speakers for Tocqueville Fellows. Thapar’s favorite event during his time as a fellow was the week spent with Justice Clarence Thomas last fall, but he also enjoyed the abortion debate hosted by the CCCG in the spring, which brought pro-life Alexandra DeSanctis and pro-choice Jill Filipovic together to debate whether legal access to abortion is necessary for the freedom and equality of women. “You don’t get an opportunity to hear that kind of debate that isn’t just held on Twitter,” he said.
Thapar’s next steps are with the Public Interest Fellowship, which is a two-year program that arranges a full-time job placement each year in addition to providing continued educational and professional formation. He became connected with the Public Interest Fellowship through an alumna of the Tocqueville Fellowship.
“I’m obviously really grateful for the experience I’ve had at Notre Dame, and I think having these communities like Tocqueville Fellows has been such a big part of that experience,” he said. “Not only just being able to meet friends through it, but also hearing speakers, meeting various faculty, and having a mentor like Professor Munoz has been really awesome.”