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Posner Fellowship: A road to research

Professor’s research on U.S. presidents enriched by student’s Twitter skills

Alvin Tillery and Kevin Russell
Political scientist Alvin Tillery mentors Kevin Russell. Photo by Michael Goss

- Part of a special feature on the Posner Fellowship Program, which offers students a chance to learn research skills with the help of a faculty mentor. 


When Kevin Russell ’17, came to Northwestern from the tiny town of Lima, Ohio, the political science major didn’t know a single person in Evanston. But by the time he applied to the Posner Fellowship Program during his sophomore year, Russell had already made lasting Northwestern connections.

Russell had taken courses with political science professor Alvin Tillery in his freshman year at Northwestern, and he was excited to learn that his personal interests aligned with Tillery’s research on American political development, racial and ethnic politics, and media and politics.  Just as Russell was polishing his Posner application, Tillery learned about the program and jumped at the opportunity to contribute.

"Posner opened my eyes to the field of research."

“I became an academic in part because I was nudged to enter a program similar to Posner in 1992,” Tillery says. “Any way that I can give back to Posner and programs like it – which I see as having had a direct impact on my career – is something I want to do.”

Kevin Russell
Kevin Russell

In the summer of 2015, Russell conducted research as part of Tillery’s three-year effort to rank perceptions of U.S. presidents in the mainstream press and historically black-owned media. It was Russell’s first foray into research, and it left a lasting impression.

“Posner opened my eyes to the field of research — what it means, what it looks like,” Russell says. “And now, research is something I’m considering as I go through senior year and start applying for jobs.”

The Posner partnership was also beneficial for Tillery.

“Kevin was really good at helping me think about where people get their media today,” Tillery says. “Kids his age just don’t read The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune the way they read other things, and knowing that helped guide our content analysis.”

Alvin Tillery
Alvin Tillery

Since that summer of research, Tillery has kept in touch with Russell, who completed an internship in Washington, D.C. last year and has done work study and independent projects with Tillery as well. Russell credits Posner, and Tillery specifically, with helping him find his direction.

“Posner gave me the momentum and confidence to discover my potential,” Russell says.

 - The Posner Fellowship Program began with a seed grant from the Davee Foundation secured by Northwestern alumnus Charles Stern ’52. Soon after, the program was, and still is, supported by the generous contributions of alumnus and Board of Trustees member Brian Posner ‘83.

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