Born and raised in Mexico City, it’s no surprise that Mexico and its neighboring countries are a primary focus for associate professor of political science Cecilia Martinez-Gallardo. “My family all still lives in Mexico City, so I’m very connected to what’s going on there and the politics of both the city itself and the country.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México in Mexico City, Martinez-Gallardo moved to New York City to pursue her doctorate at Columbia University. “I’ve always been very interested in political institutions and the idea that how you organize them can change political outcomes drastically,” she says. “I started studying governments — how elite politicians make decisions, how they impact political outcomes, who was named to cabinets, how they organize themselves for work — all of that fascinates me.”

Following her time at Columbia, Martinez-Gallardo returned to Mexico City as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching at Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE). In 2007, after three years in her home country, Martinez-Gallardo returned to the United States when a position arose in the political science department at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she now serves as associate professor in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Currently, Martinez-Gallardo teaches an introductory course on Latin American politics and a course on the politics of Mexico, which surveys the country’s politics in the 20th century and contemporary issues, such as the upcoming elections in Mexico City. “Given the current administration, I have seen a lot more concern and discussion from students around topics like immigration, security and the role of the U.S. as it relates to Latin America,” she says. “They’re very keen to talk about that relationship between the U.S. and Latin America.”

In addition to teaching, Martinez-Gallardo has a number of research projects in the works, including an expansive project studying presidential cabinet systems in which she has recruited experts to gather data about cabinets across different Latin American countries. “We’re tapping into the expertise of local scholars to really help us describe the cabinets and gather data, profile cabinet ministers and study party affiliations,” Martinez-Gallardo says. “The data set will be published on a website, where hopefully it will serve as a public resource for students and scholars studying this subject.”

Martinez-Gallardo was recently appointed as the first William Wilson Brown Jr. Distinguished Term Professor in Latin American Studies, an award which she says will help support her research. “I’ve been very involved in the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the work they do, so it’s a great honor for me to be the inaugural recipient of this award,” Martinez-Gallardo says. “This will allow me to secure the resources to further these [current research] projects, and get the output needed to make the projects a success. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

The professorship, awarded by the Curriculum in Latin American Studies and the Institute for the Study of the Americas, serves to recognize a member of the UNC College of Arts and Sciences faculty at the rank of associate professor who has demonstrated sustained progress toward promotion to the rank of full professor. The appointment is in recognition of a record of professional excellence as a result of scholarly accomplishments, demonstrated by publications in journals or presses of distinctions and presentation of scholarly papers in important professional venues.

“We are thrilled to present this award to Professor Martinez-Gallardo, who has demonstrated an incredible commitment to the field of Latin American studies in the course of her research and teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill,” says Lou Perez, director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas. “As we launch this new term professorship, we look forward to seeing what Cecilia accomplishes and commend her on the continued contributions she has made to scholarly advancement in this field.”

By Jamie Gnazzo ’13

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