Dr. Jamie Gillies of the Department of Communications and Public Policy (seen in photo) and Dr. Tyler Bancroft of the Department of Psychology are this year’s recipients of the Wallace and Margaret McCain Course Release Award.
Dr. Jamie Gillies of the Department of Communications and Public Policy and Dr. Tyler Bancroft of the Department of Psychology are this year’s recipients of the Wallace and Margaret McCain Course Release Award.

The faculty members have each received a 3 credit-hour course release to dedicate more time to their research.

A Look at Presidential Advisers

Dr. Gillies will use the course release to work on his manuscript Bankrupting America: Advisory Entrepreneurship, Fiscal Competence and the Presidency from Carter to Trump.

This research project is an extension of his dissertation research that he conducted in Washington while he was a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution and at Georgetown University. 

The project considers the roles played by fiscal policy advisers within White House administrations from Jimmy Carter through Donald Trump. It is the first sustained study of fiscal policy decision making across seven presidential administrations. 

It extends American political science research on theories of advisory systems in executive leadership and offers suggestions for how presidents might structure their White House. The study concludes with a discussion for future presidents and adviser practitioners on the need to consider strongly the benefits of ensuring advisory systems are balanced with different types of advisers.

“The fiscal policies of the past forty years offer an excellent historical and political lesson for those aspiring to enter the White House,” Dr. Gillies explained. “The case of fiscal policy has demonstrated some remarkably divergent ways in which presidents construct their advisory systems.  Viewing advisers as ‘advisory entrepreneurs’ shifts the focus from studying individual advisers to studying how presidents utilize their advisory systems."

He will use the McCain Course Release Award to complete the sections of the manuscript on Barack Obama and Donald Trump to bring the narrative to date. He hopes to complete his book manuscript in 2019.

How Brains Store Information in Memory

Bancroft will use his course release to dedicate more time to his research on the neural circuitry underlying short-term memory in humans. 

“My research focuses on developing and testing new mathematical models of how our brains store information in memory,” Dr. Bancroft explained.  “This is a major research theme in modern neuroscience, as deficits in memory occur in many medical conditions. The better we understand our brain's memory systems, the better chances we have of developing treatments.”

One of the most influential current movements in psychology and neuroscience is the movement toward formal, quantitative models of the mind and brain. The enormous complexity of the mind and brain renders this an imposing, time-consuming task but also a necessary one.

“Verbal models of how our minds/brains work are woefully inefficient and incomplete, hence the move toward formalization,” Bancroft added. “Human languages are not capable of adequately representing the function of brains that have literally, quadrillions of components that must be dealt with. The only sufficient language is that of mathematics.”

In recent years, Bancroft has been working on developing a model that is biologically detailed and based on the principles of how brains actually develop. 

He says the course release will allow him to dedicate more time to the development of the model.

The Wallace and Margaret McCain Course Release Award was created in 1997 after the McCain family made a generous donation to St. Thomas University to pay for a six credit-hour course release in support of faculty research.