DR. ELIZABETH A. BENNION
SEPTEMBER MEMBER OF THE MONTH
Indiana University, South Bend
Department of Political Science
Member since 1995
WHY DID YOU JOIN APSA?
I joined APSA as a graduate student to attend the national research conference. As somebody enrolled in a top Ph.D. program, it was simply expected that I would attend. To be honest, it was all a bit overwhelming and I wasn’t quite sure it was a good “fit” for me. Fortunately, my involvement in APSA quickly led to many exciting experiences, opportunities, and collaborations. I have served as a book editor, panel chair, panel discussant, track moderator, short course instructor, section head, and manuscript reviewer for the APSA, in addition to presenting my work at APSA panels and publishing in APSA journals. Each of these activities has allowed me to meet scholars in my field and stay up-to-date with the latest research findings. Participating in the annual Teaching and Learning Conference has also allowed me to develop a broad network of political scientists committed to civic learning and democratic engagement. The visions we shared at these conferences led me to co-edit APSA’s Teaching Civic Engagement
book (now available free online!) and to co-found the Consortium for Intercampus SoTL Research
WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO STAY INVOLVED IN APSA?
APSA has been incredibly supportive of my efforts to promote high-quality civic education and engagement. I stay engaged because my active involvement in APSA makes me a better teacher and a more productive scholar. People I’ve met at the annual meeting and the TLC have asked me to contribute book chapters
, write a regular newsletter column
, and co-author journal articles
. I’ve also launched several national multi-site surveys
and field experiments with my APSA colleagues. The colleagues I’ve met through APSA have helped me to integrate teaching, research, and service in ways that strengthen all three. I’ll go so far as to say that I would not be a full professor today if it weren’t for the ideas I developed and encouragement I received at APSA-sponsored conferences.
WHY DID YOU BECOME A POLITICAL SCIENTIST?
I became a political scientist for many reasons. Most importantly, becoming a political science professor matched my career goals. These included becoming an educator and doing something that benefits society as a whole. Going to the polls with my parents as a child, participating in my first protest
at age nine, and taking excellent government courses in high school and college all contributed to my desire to study political science. When making a final choice between history and political science, I selected political science because of my interest in contemporary politics and in promoting civic and political participation. This commitment guides my work today.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF BEING A POLITICAL SCIENTIST?
The most challenging aspect of being a political scientist today
is the political environment in which we operate. I talk with students about
the importance of supporting claims with evidence, but they notice that
politicians frequently do not follow this advice. I encourage students to
engage in respectful, civil political discussions and debates. Yet they
sometimes remark that these skills seem unnecessary in contemporary politics.
At the same time, such observations present an exciting challenge.
The courses I teach, public issue forums I host, and candidate
debates I moderate provide
me with an opportunity to model the type of political discourse I'd like to see
more. I engage students in all of these events, teaching them how to
disagree respectfully and how to organize public forums on the issues that
matter to them. I also teach a civic leadership course which requires
students to work in groups to identify and solve community-identified problems.
It's a small way to make a difference in the communities I serve, while
preparing students to do the same.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO SOMEONE IN THEIR GRADUATE/UNDERGRADUATE YEARS, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Undergraduate and graduate students should recognize that no single project will determine their future in politics or their future as a political scientist. Graduate students should remember that there are many opportunities to contribute to the field beyond the work that they are doing for their dissertation. The dissertation should not be their crowning achievement. They will have flexibility to explore a wide variety of teaching, research, and service opportunities that make a career interesting and meaningful. I encourage students to gain as much knowledge and as many skills as they can as students, but to remember that they have a lifetime to continue learning and growing and contributing to the field. They should not let perfectionism halt their progress.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL STUDENTS WHO ARE CONCERNED THAT THEY MUST CHOOSE BETWEEN STUDYING POLITICS AND ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING IN POLITICS?
I'd tell them that they don't need to choose between becoming a
scholar and getting engaged. Many professors are active in civic organizations.
Some are elected officials. As professors, we can share our expertise with
advocacy groups and policymakers. We can also encourage others to get engaged
in the political process. I have led students
non-partisan door-to-door voter mobilization campaigns
and coordinated voter registration
programs on college campuses across the nation. Studying the effects of these
efforts furthers my goals as a scholar, but engaging in real-world
interventions also satisfies my desire to be more than a passive observer – the
desire to do something
to get people engaged. I was
thrilled this summer to be asked by former students (from different political
parties) to provide them with advice regarding their fall 2016 political campaigns!
OUTSIDE OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, TELL US SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT YOURSELF.
Being a political scientist is only one of my most important
roles. I also host a weekly television program called
on our local PBS
station (WNIT). The program airs in two states and 22 counties to a viewing
area of 1.2 million people. I interview national and state legislators, along
with mayors, judges, academics, activists, and others involved in the political
process. Almost every time I go out in public I have somebody stop me
to suggest future topics and tell me how much they enjoy
watching the program. It's exciting to know that I can reach people beyond
my own classroom. And, best of all, with the help of my spouse, I've been able
to balance my teaching, research, and campus/community service with
my job as a mother to four wonderful children. We enjoy spending time
together and thinking up
ways to show our civic pride