Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 4, 2023

Humans of Hopkins: Harvey McGuinness

By AIMEE CHO | November 14, 2023

COURTESY OF HARVEY MCGUINNESS McGuinness describes how his interdisciplinary interests played a role in shaping his unique academic journey.

Harvey McGuinness is a student enrolled in the International Studies B.A./M.A. Program. He is currently a fourth-year undergraduate at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and a first-year graduate student at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In an interview with The News-Letter, he shared his passion for exploring the information ecosystem, the intersection between policy and mathematics, as well as his work in forming a disability training program in his home state, New Mexico.

The News-Letter: Why did you choose to major in International Studies (IS)?

Harvey McGuinness: I thought that it was the best opportunity for me to continue a public service track that’s also interdisciplinary — International Studies is such a mixed bag. My particular interest has to do with the political ramifications of information systems, and IS gave me the opportunity to look at a mix of the technical side and the foreign policy surrounding it.

N-L: What about information systems are you studying, and when did your interest begin?

HM: I started writing for my local town newspaper called The Santa Fe New Mexican as a sophomore in high school. The first article that I wrote was about fake news because this was in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, and that was everything everyone was talking about. I was looking at how young people were particularly affected and bought into that whole information ecosystem.

After that, I worked on evaluating how different learning behaviors affect consensus dynamics. People tend to evaluate information in one of two ways: either socially, which is what my friends or people around me believe and think, or individualistically, which is like “I'm going to do binary search online.” So [I studied] how the interplay of those two behaviors affects how a whole group of people come to a decision.

Then I got to Hopkins, where I threw myself more at the policy side, and I started looking at active measures taken by state actors, like Russia's disinformation campaign in U.S. elections or China's Great Firewall. [My work] ranges on the topic of “Why do people believe what they believe?”

N-L: That sounds a bit philosophical.

HM: It's equal parts philosophical, mathematical and pragmatic. A lot of people think that they have total control over what they believe, and that's just not true at all. Most things happen subconsciously, so it's the math of the subconscious.

N-L: Since you touched upon math, can you walk through how you published work on applied mathematics despite being an IS major?

HM: Before I wanted to go into policy, I really wanted to be a physicist. I've always been interested in sets of rules, which [related to] physics. Law is just rules but slightly more flexible and with words, and that's how I see physics and laws as basically the same thing.

With the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), I was really curious as to how our behavior evolved, essentially as how social systems evolve. There's only so much you can explore with words until eventually, you have to start using variables. That was just the natural, logical sequence of events. Right now at SAIS, I'm drafting up another model similar to the NAS publication that is also highly technical and quantitative.

I haven't taken a math class since freshman year, so if anything, it's proof that being curious pays off.

N-L: You’re publishing a lot of papers as part of your academic journey.

HM: The day that I moved into Hopkins was the same day that my NAS paper came out. At the end of sophomore year, I published a project called the Good Web Report on foreign policy implications of taking an infrastructural viewpoint on the dynamics of information online. What [the project] simplifies down to is that the Internet is a really big place, and it needs a lot of work done because otherwise, it is just going to become the playground of dictators. So what and where do we go from here? 

There was something that was supposed to come out at the end of junior year but got delayed a little bit, and I'm hoping that that should come out in the middle of this year. And there's the quantitative model that I talked about earlier, which should hopefully come out this summer, which would have me [publish] one paper per year.

N-L: I heard that you played a role in New Mexico’s neurodiversity hiring training system. 

HM: I'm epileptic. One of the things I'm fortunate enough, though, is that I'm really outspoken about that. I worked for the New Mexico State personnel office in two back-to-back summers. [In summer 2022], one of my assignments was to help design a recommended training for hiring personnel, and that initial training went really well.

I pitched in the next board meeting that we needed something that directly addressed what I called invisible disabilities. To be an equitable hirer, you need to know how to interact with individuals who may not necessarily disclose that they have a disability or don't even have documentation. For example, my family is spread out all across the autism spectrum, which means that there are certain communication barriers that come up in day-to-day life. If an untrained person is conducting an interview, they might walk away thinking that the candidate was rude or some other negative qualifier, when really it's just a completely different manner of communication. I pushed very heavily for the development of disability training that was inclusive of those non-visual, more social neurodevelopmental issues. That turned into one of the largest trainings ever done in New Mexico, and it was the first for anything like this, so I'm really proud of that.

Since then, the components of that training have been disseminated to other hiring personnel workshops. Now, whenever the state personnel office wants to gather HR personnel or hiring managers, they will incorporate key sections of that training. That way, it's never off the menu.

N-L: What did you do as a member of the COVID Student Advisory Committee?

HM: The first thing I did after getting admitted to Hopkins was signing up for the COVID Student Advisory Committee. I like to joke that I met the deans and provosts before I met other students.

Our charter was to provide feedback to the university administration on the policies and the policy communication. We constantly pushed for greater transparency with regard to some of the emails that went out about why the school was taking certain actions. Communication was probably one of our biggest endeavors.

N-L: Is there anything else you want to add?

HM: The one thing I say everywhere I go, because I made the promise back home, is that I'm the oldest of five kids and I'm incredibly proud of all of my siblings.

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