Elaine K. Denny

Photo of Elaine teaching

I study how insecurity and resilience affect political behavior, focusing on the psychological links between stressors and decision-making. This includes testing the conditions which shape political persuasion and susceptibility to misinformation.

I am also trained in program evaluation and have consulted in the design and evaluation of initiatives for migrant welfare, social norms change, and gender equity with organizations including UNICEF, the World Bank, UK Aid/DFID, and USAID. Research methods include lab, survey, and field experiments; geospatial analysis; and statistical modeling.

I am passionate about UC Merced’s role in expanding access to higher education for all.


University of California, Merced

Department of Political Science

COB2 318


Curriculum Vitae

Fall 2023 Office Hours:

By appointment


Published & Forthcoming

Works in Progress


I incorporate evidence-based best practices into my undergraduate and graduate teaching, with particular emphasis on approaches shown to support students of color, first generation learners, and low-income students. My teaching style, which views students as co-creators of knowledge, is inspired by Paolo Freire’s work. I highlight some of my teaching strategies in a piece coauthored with undergraduate research teams for PS: Political Science.

I work hard to make my classroom an inclusive space, and feedback from both graduate and undergraduate students suggests that my efforts to foster respectful, well-considered discourse are effective, even in these polarizing times. The following comments reflect student experiences from across the political spectrum and represent a range of race, ethnicity, and gender identities: “Attending her lectures was a big relief for me because I felt safe.” “I could feel like myself in this class and feel comfortable to engage.” “I can say that without a doubt I have felt more welcomed and valued in your class over any other.” “I cannot stress the true extent your course benefited me enough. Now when I engage colleagues, I feel equipped to actually approach social issues in a more nuanced and open way.

“Hands down the best professor I have ever taken at UC Merced.”

“Her teaching and set up allows you to actually learn and for that, I am grateful.”

“Her teaching was amazing, she somehow found a way to teach every student in a way special to them that they can understand.”

"She makes sure all students are set up to succeed."

"There was never a day I wasn't excited to attend and learn in her class"

“Professor Denny is what one would truly call a student's teacher. The level of care and consideration she gives to her students is monumental, and that is outside of her duties of just being a professor.”



Senate Faculty Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award (University of California, Merced)
The award committee describes my teaching as “enthusiastic, responsive, masterful, and inspirational”, finding “the recipient’s impressive track record shows excellence in all areas of undergraduate teaching, including command of the subject matter, innovation in evidence-based instruction methods, student advising and mentoring, and contributions to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
Chancellor's Office "Most meaningful impact"
Named by outgoing seniors as an instructor who "had the most meaningful impact on your university experience"
Nominee: Remote Instruction Excellence Award (UCM Office of Undergraduate Education)
Distinguished Teaching Award (University of California, San Diego)
For "those who exhibit creativity, innovative teaching methods, the ability to motivate students to actively seek out knowledge, and an extraordinary level of teaching commitment."
Bouchet Graduate Honor Society
For "scholarship, leadership, character, service and advocacy for students who have been traditionally underrepresented in the academy"



In the policy arena, I have five years' experience evaluating gender and social norms programming for DfID in Nigeria, and I have worked extensively to measure social norms change. I apply my research on insecurity and decision-making to questions of migration, particularly in North and Central America. I have extensive field experience in El Salvador and Chiapas, Mexico, and have spent five years analyzing Guatemalan survey data, particularly from deported migrants. As a postdoctoral fellow with DevLab@Duke and RTI, I evaluated programming in Ghana and India, while co-authoring a series of successful USAID grants. Other relevant experience includes work at Amnesty International and with NGOs in the U.S., Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Select Publications and Resources