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- by  Abby Weingarten
Before Adam Rego Johnson even graduated from New College of Florida in May 2021, his senior thesis—Blocking the Blockers: Charrettes, Urban Planning, and Deliberative Democracy—was already an award-winning paper in Florida.

But last month, his visibility went national when he earned the “Best Paper by an Undergraduate Student Award” from the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA). Johnson had presented his research at the MPSA’s annual conference last year, and he will receive his award at this year’s conference in Chicago, Illinois, on April 9.

“This is a wonderful honor for me. To have my research deemed the best in my category at one of the largest political science conferences in the U.S. feels amazing and very validating,” Johnson said. “I feel like this has renewed my spirit to continue researching—both in my role at the GC Wealth Project at the Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality and in my studies as a political science master’s student at the CUNY Graduate Center.”

Johnson is currently concentrating his studies on the public policy subfield and considering pursuing a Ph.D. He earned a bachelor’s degree from New College in sociology and political science, and worked closely with David Brain, Ph.D.—the director of the Urban Studies Program, and a professor of sociology and environmental studies. Brain co-sponsored Johnson’s thesis along with Assistant Professor of Political Science Michael Gorup, Ph.D.

In December 2020, when Johnson’s thesis earned the student scholarship award from the Florida Planning and Zoning Association (FPZA) Gulf Coast Chapter (a group of planners, affiliated with the American Planning Association, who are invested in the future of sustainable cities), Brain said of his student’s work:

“Adam is an exceptionally strong student. He has done a brilliant job of designing a research project that enables him to examine the ways that a charrette process changes the public discourse around planning projects.”

Johnson began working with Brain as a research assistant in 2019 on a project funded by the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation for Public Benefit and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. One of Johnson’s roles was to help compile research articles on public space and organize them into a database,, which was publicly launched in early 2021.

Earning accolades from the MPSA was just another example of the relevance of Johnson’s research. The 1939-founded MPSA is “dedicated to the advancement of scholarship in all areas of political science,” according to its mission statement, and promotes “the professional study and teaching of political science, to facilitate communications between those engaged in such study, and to develop standards for and encourage research in theoretical and practical political problems.”

This is exactly the type of work for which Johnson has a passion, evidenced by his interest in charrettes (design processes that engage all stakeholders of a proposed project in a series of meetings and interactive workshops to collaboratively create a plan).

As Johnson said about his thesis, and the importance of charrettes, “I really believe design charrettes hold the potential to fundamentally change how we create our cities. Charrettes deserve to be taken seriously, and they should be researched further as tools for local democracy.”

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.