Political Science Faculty Narratives
For students considering the Major in Political Science, we hope the following sample of EIU Political Science faculty narratives will help. We have prepared these statements as a way of capturing what initially drew these professors to the study of politics and government along with highlighting the scholarship and teaching interests that continue to energize our faculty. These narratives also will give you a strong sense of what our professors value in the Political Science Major at Eastern.
Dr. Jeffrey Ashley
Dr. Ashley first became interested in political science following an online test that measured his strengths and weaknesses as well as likes and dislikes. The test provided two possible career options, farm management and public administration, of which he chose to study the latter because it was much more interesting to him personally. Besides, he probably didn’t own a tractor at the time. Dr. Ashley especially enjoys teaching Human Resource Management and Federal Indian Law because not only are they fun to teach, but also provide many interesting insights.
He currently is researching and considering writing a book that would focus on the impacts of language during Presidential speeches. The use of language is interesting to him because “How we discuss problems and issues, and how we frame them predetermines our approach to them.”
Dr. Ashley thinks students should study political science because it provides “the skills necessary to succeed in getting a job, whether it be in political science or not.” These skills specifically include, “speaking, writing, and critical thinking.” Studying political science at EIU provides all of these skills and in an environment that is student-friendly. As Dr. Ashley notes, “The department is small--like Reno, Nevada, big enough to matter, but small enough to care.”
Dr. Lilian Barria
Dr. Barria has “always been interested in how other countries ‘work’.” She was born in Chile, grew up in Venezuela, and moved to the United States during her college years. In her undergraduate career she became interested in Latin American Politics and Soviet politics, because of both her personal background and the international political world of the time. Dr. Barria is very interested in the “scientific study of politics”, and therefore she particularly enjoys teaching research methods courses.
Currently Dr. Barria is researching international war crimes tribunals including countries like Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Cambodia. She is also studying the International Criminal Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and labor rights and protections in the Middle East. She enjoys these areas of study because “all of these topics deal with issues which are broadly called human rights.”
Dr. Barria feels that studying political science “can serve to address the particular ‘political’ interests of an individual” and also “help to develop writing, research, public speaking, and critical thinking skills that can be used in diverse professional settings.” The EIU Political Science Department faculty are “committed to helping students achieve their full potential in all of these areas.”
Dr. Ryan Burge
Dr. Burge’s interest in political science grew from reading the novel by Aldous Huxley, Brave New World and watching the television show The West Wing. His favorite courses to teach involve Organizational Theory and the relationship between Religion and Politics.
Currently Dr. Burge is researching “The connection between religiosity and philanthropic giving to religious and secular charities.” He is fascinated with this subject because he currently is and has been a pastor for ten years, and he always has been interested in why people give money to organizations.
Dr. Burge suggests that students should study political science because, “politics affects everything that you do.” He always begins the first day of class by asking the following of his students: “Name one thing in the world that is not affected by politics?” Although attempts at answering the question are made, there really is no answer. The EIU Political Science Department, according to Dr. Burge, Is “small enough (for students) to get individual attention from the faculty, but big enough to have a Master’s program.”
Dr. Ryan Hendrickson
As it is for many political science majors, Dr. Hendrickson’s interest in political science really sparked from an “outstanding professor at Marquette University, Rich Friman.” Dr. Hendrickson’s favorite course to teach coincides with his main focus of research, American Foreign Policy.
Presently, he is researching the current NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Dr. Hendrickson is also studying Congressional War Powers in Libya, in part due to the recent conflict during and following the Libyan Revolution. Recently he has written a paper on Congress and Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan guerrilla group. Dr. Hendrickson loves questions surrounding the use of force, specifically “how and when Congress chooses to use force.”
Students should study political science, according to Dr. Hendrickson, because, “As a liberal arts degree, it’s fantastic; you get so many sets of skills, writing skills, critical thinking skills, and speaking skills.” The EIU political science department specifically provides students with a “tremendous opportunity to interact with faculty” and “study under good scholarly teachers.”
Dr. Andrew McNitt
In 1968 during the Democratic nomination process, which included most notably Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, Dr. McNitt’s interest in political science first originated. As a political science professor his favorite courses to teach include the undergraduate classes on Politics and the Legal Process along with the team-taught Global Threats and Problems class. The graduate-level Political Behavior seminar is also one of his favorites.
Dr. McNitt presently is researching the causes and consequences of gubernatorial impeachment, specifically analyzing misbehavior of those who are in power. As Dr. McNitt points out, “conflicts with the legislature that seem to be about policy actually involve personality clashes.” He enjoys studying under what conditions those in leadership positions may misuse their power, and the legal and political impacts of that misuse of power.
Dr. McNitt believes that students should study political science because it “tells you a lot about where society is going and the opportunities to shape it.” Society is complex, and the only thing that can bridge it together is politics. In particular, studying political science at EIU provides students with faculty who are student-centered. As Dr. McNitt notes, the smaller class sizes give the faculty, “more of a chance to interact with students”, and include “students in research projects.”
Dr. Melinda Mueller
Dr. Mueller has “always been fascinated by the connections between current events and history.” Throughout her life she has had many different sparks leading her to political science including her father, who was involved in local politics, a high school International relations course, hands-on undergraduate research on the political attitudes of county-level party committee members, and most of all the simple love to learn. Now as a professor Dr. Mueller loves to teach not one or two, but all of her classes. She enjoys the “pure enthusiasm of Introduction to American Government,” and her upper division courses (The Presidency, Interest Groups &Lobbying, and Environmental Politics &Policy) “where we focus on learning how to objectively study these sub-fields.” Dr. Mueller’s graduate course on Congress is equally a favorite because the round-table environment with her graduate students promotes the “development of new questions and ideas.”
She currently is researching local level politics, specifically “why women don’t run for office as often as men.” She also is studying school boards in the state of Illinois, specifically asking, “Where do women serve? Do they hold leadership positions? What inspired them to run? Dr. Mueller is very interested in the study of school boards in many respects. “Learning about where women are more likely to serve, and whether they take on leadership positions, is important for understanding the connections between gender and policy-making in general.”
Dr. Mueller believes studying political science, a broad “liberal arts” major, “allows students to pursue varied interests, and opening up numerous career opportunities.” Overall she states that “students who love to learn about politics and empirically study serious questions, and who have a passion for critical thinking and writing, should definitely consider Political Science.” The EIU Political Science Department in particular “encourages students to gain experience and skills that will permit them to pursue a variety of career choices.” The Department is “more interested in your critical thinking skills, curiosity, and love of learning than your political ideology.”
Dr. Richard Wandling
During his youth, Dr. Wandling was surrounded by “a period great political changes” in the 1960s and early 1970s. His love for political science was really sparked during his collegiate years, especially during an introductory political science course. In describing his class, Dr. Wandling explains that “As my professor chain-smoked unfiltered Camel cigarettes, while looking like the reincarnation of Lenin and engulfing us in a cloud of second-hand smoke, he opened our minds to new ways of thinking about power, authority and government. It had quite an impact on a naïve 18 year old—and no doubt an impact on my lungs!” Now a political science professor, he enjoys teaching all of his courses, but the “Government Budgeting and Politics class stands out for its intrinsically fascinating subject matter.”
In the past few years Dr. Wandling has been particularly interested in and is researching “energy and environmental policies, including approaches to framing and policy strategies and options.” More specifically he is focused on media coverage of energy and environmental policies, examining how the media portray these policies and how that may “shape what the average person comes to learn and know about energy and environmental policies.” He is most interested in this topic because “the world is at a major transitional point with respect to energy and the environment”, with many implications for our politics, economics and overall quality of life.
Students should study political science, Dr. Wandling explains, because it gives them the “opportunity to learn more about how people come together to consider problems such as addressing poverty, cutting pollution, lessening gaps in health care coverage and promoting national interests.” These are issues that every student should know about, “particularly since the stakes are so high.” The EIU Political Science Department “values student learning that takes place in a variety of forms, from the traditional classroom on through applied learning such as our Model Illinois Government, Moot Court, and Internship programs.” The Department places “priority on students developing their social science research and analysis skills,” and these skills are important academically, professionally, and for future job prospects.