Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned a B.A. in Public Relations with a minor in Political Science at UGA, an M.A. in Political Science at UGA and a Ph.D. in American Politics with a minor in Methods at The Ohio State University. I am an associate professor in the political science department.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 1999 when a position in the political science department came available. I was a tenure-track faculty member at another UGA system school in Atlanta, which I loved as well, but Athens was home. I thought it would be the most incredible experience to return as a professor and work with the very people who inspired me to seek my degree in the first place. It certainly lived up to my expectations.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I enjoy every course I teach. How could I not? But I think that my class in Media and Politics is my favorite to teach because it always seems to have an empowering effect on students. They start to pay attention to the news and the way politics is portrayed. They all become instant analysts. And we have a tremendous amount of fun in that class. But I love my large sections of 1101 as well. There are so many students with different backgrounds and interests. If I can capture their attention and make them realize the importance of politics, I leave the class feeling as though I have really accomplished something.
What interests you about your field?
I study American politics broadly with specialized interests in presidential politics, nominations primarily, the media and campaigns. What fascinates me is the dynamic yet static nature of American politics. It is always changing, but, at its core, there is this amazing stability. There is always something new to explain, but often there is also a resistance to change in the system. Plus, I think politics is important. It matters, and often people know very little about politics and their political institutions. It worries me, and I often feel compelled to share my knowledge at all times – even while sitting at my son's orthodontist, on vacation or in Target. I find people are actually curious about how things work in Washington, D.C. and in our state capital. They like talking about it with someone who is not partisan, has no agenda, but who obviously wants to understand the process and its implications and share this knowledge with others.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Highlights include my first day in class here at UGA as a professor; winning the Russell Teaching Award; having a colleague and mentor entrust me with teaching her own child; teaching the sons of one of my best high school friends; earning tenure and promotion; being named one of the Princeton Review's Top Professors nationally, and having my son J.W. read through my RateMyProfessor comments and telling me he wished I were his teacher.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching?
My own research and that of others inspires my teaching in that whenever I discover something new or learn something from new research I have read, I want to share it immediately. I weave it into my lectures. I post it on my Facebook page. I tweet it. Sometimes I just open up class by sharing some new piece of knowledge that I learned. The excitement of discovery and acquiring new knowledge generally inspires teaching – because that is what teaching is: sharing what you know and hoping that students will want to make those types of discoveries on their own.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope I am able to impart the knowledge that is promised and a deeper understanding of the topic area. I hope they gain a sense of pride in their work. I make a point of trying to make sure they recognize how important it is for them to earn their grades and do their best. I hope they gain some enthusiasm for the subject matter and seeking knowledge in life in general. And I hope they gain a fun experience in a classroom where we try to get to know each other and enjoy the experience of learning.
Describe your ideal student.
I have learned not to even think in terms of an "ideal" student. They are all rather good here at UGA, so when I walk into any classroom my expectations are high. But sometimes students who are challenging, not typical, and not always easy to interact with, end up being one's best students and sometimes friends for life. So it is important never to judge or bring stereotypes to class.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus?
I am sure everyone says their classroom, because that is where we thrive. Recently I was having a terrible stress headache due to a paper deadline. Nothing I could do would make my head stop hurting. Then I went to class. Ten seconds into the lecture, I forgot it all – no stress, no headache, just the focus on trying to convey the material I wanted to share while keeping my students interested (and in some cases awake).
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
…hang out with my family, garden, walk my dog, read all kinds of books (for book club with some awesome colleagues), draw and paint, talk with friends, be a nice person and contemplate all things great and small.
Community/civic involvement includes….
For the past six years I have been very involved in my sons' schools primarily through PTO as an officer and committee volunteer. I view education as critically important and I have learned how parent involvement is critical for schools, particularly public schools. I have also coached recreational basketball for fun. Sometimes my community involvement is simply trying to do a good deed on a regular basis when my time is more limited.
I have far too many favorite books and movies, but if I had to pick books to reread, I would turn to Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George R.R. Martin and Tolkein for fiction and E.E. Schattschnieder's The Semi-Sovereign People for politics. As to movies – Persuasion (a wonderful version of a favorite Jane Austen book), Last of the Mohicans, The Shawshank Redemption, The Matrix and Toy Story.
Proudest moment at UGA?
I think the day I heard that my colleagues voted to promote and tenure me was my proudest moment. I do not think people realize how difficult it is to earn that achievement. And it meant that I could stay and continue to work at an institution that I love.