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Alumni Spotlight with Johnnie Baxley

Posted by: knottshg | April 20, 2018 | No Comment |

Johnnie Baxley C’92 is a partner at Willson, Jones, Carter & Baxley, P.A. After graduating from the College of Charleston with a B.A. in Political Science, Baxley attended the University of South Carolina School of Law. He currently lives and practices law in the Charleston area and is active on several boards of the College. Check out the Q&A below to learn how Baxley’s experience as a political science major led him to law school and beyond.

What motivated you to go to law school and become a lawyer? Did you start out college knowing that would be your career path?

I started at the College thinking that I would major in one of the sciences and go to medical school or go into orthodontics. However, I did not enjoy those classes. I took a political science class and really enjoyed it. I had been on the debate team in high school and had several friends who were thinking about law school, so it was certainly on my radar. After that class, I had a long conversation with Dr. Bill Moore who encouraged me to pursue political science and law school. Once I moved into my later years at CofC, that was the only career option that I even considered.

How do you think the skills you developed through the political science major have helped you in law school and in your career?

The political science major teaches students to think critically, to advocate a position and back it up with logical arguments, and to write effectively. The major also teaches important skills like reasoning, persuasion, and logic. As a political science major, one learns to effectively and persuasively communicate, both verbally and in writing. Students also learn how to gather information and organize it for a purpose, analyze and assess information, and organization skills. All of these skills were extremely helpful in law school, and these skills continue to be important in my legal career.

What do you believe was the most important take away from your undergraduate experience?

Balance.  I learned fairly quickly at the College that it is possible to be a good student and still have a lot of fun. I knew folks that were really good at studying and made good grades but did not involve themselves in college life. I knew others that saw college as a huge party and cared nothing for their studies. There is a balance between these two extremes that allowed me to experience the best of both worlds. I was able to make good grades and do well academically, but I was still very involved in clubs, organizations, and sports on campus. That experience, and the lesson learned, has served me well throughout my career.  It is possible to have an effective work/life balance and to have a successful career and successful family life.

What did you enjoy most about your time at CofC?

So many things!  Basketball games, hanging out at College Lodge, my fraternity experience with Pi Kappa Phi, intramural sports, spending time with Dr. Moore, Student Alumni Associates, and the list goes on.  Living in downtown Charleston for four years was amazing, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I loved my time at the College.

You moved back to the Charleston area after law school and now practice here. What made you want to stay in Charleston?

My wife and I both grew up in the Charleston area, and we couldn’t think of a better place to live and raise our family.  Charleston is a wonderful place. We love living in the area – the people, the weather, the water, the history, the culture. There is a reason Charleston is repeatedly named the #1 city in the United States.

What, if anything, do you wish you had gotten the chance to do as an undergraduate, but didn’t?

That’s an easy one – study abroad.  My parents had three kids in college at the same time, so studying abroad was not a viable option for me due to financial concerns.  I absolutely love to travel, and the opportunity to journey to a new country and live there while studying in college would have been an unbelievable experience. It is something that we will strongly encourage our children to do during their college career. That experiential learning is something that simply cannot be duplicated in a classroom.

Even for students not considering law school: what do you think is the most important thing students should know as they graduate from CofC?

As a political science major, you are well equipped to succeed and excel in many various jobs and careers. The skills that one learns as s political science major are invaluable skills for lots of careers. If students combine those skills and knowledge that they learn at CofC with a strong work ethic and perseverance, success will follow.

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Water Expert Gives Convocation of Majors Speech

Posted by: knottshg | April 5, 2018 | No Comment |

On March 29th, the Political Science Department hosted Dr. Peter Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institute for the Spring 2018 Convocation of Majors. Approximately 200 students, faculty, and community members were in attendance. The President of the Political Science Club, Mary Boyd Barefoot, gave opening remarks, followed by Department Chair Dr. Gibbs Knotts. Dr. John Creed, Associate Professor of Political Science, introduced Dr. Gleick, who followed with his speech on the Future of Water. The presentation tied in closely with The College’s Quality Enhancement Plan of Sustainability Literacy and this year’s focus on sustainability regarding water and water usage.

Dr. Gleick discussed water in the global context, emphasizing how for many countries across the world water is not as accessible and taken for granted as it is here in America. He said there are billions of people without access to basic water services. He also talked about climate change, a lack of infrastructure and awareness, and ecosystem destruction. He then discussed various challenges for water management including water-related conflicts which are becoming increasingly more common internationally, and issues of water-related diseases. He reminded audience members that America also faces water problems referencing the city of Flint, Michigan, various river fires and toxic algal blooms.

Dr. Gleick ended by discussing “potential futures” the world could face. There are both negative and positive possibilities, but overall Dr. Gleick remains optimistic. He mentioned tactics that must occur for us to reach the more positive futures, saying “As good as our laws are, they are not as good as they need to be. They need to be updated.” Additionally, he said, “We need to match the quality of water we have with the quality of water we need,” emphasizing methods such as reusing waste water, desalinization, ecosystem restoration, and urban water conservation. He gave examples of how other countries, such as Israel, have implemented innovative ideas and technology to conserve water. These are systems we too need to implement, and we also need to educate people more deeply about where water comes from and why it needs to be protected. He ended his speech by emphasizing the immense human, environmental, and economic costs to inaction.

Dr. Gleick then opened the floor to questions from the audience. He answered concerns about flooding in Charleston, public versus private resources of water, international water conflicts, and specific case studies across the country.

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Dr. Briana McGinnis will be joining the Department of Political Science in fall 2018. Dr. McGinnis received her PhD in Government from Georgetown University and has been a post-doctoral fellow at McGill University and University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research and teaching interests focus on political thought and law, specifically in terms of citizenship, migration, and discipline/punishment. This fall Dr. McGinnis will be teaching Introduction to Political Thought and a special topics course on discipline and democracy. In the Q&A below, Dr. McGinnis shares what she’s looking forward to about her upcoming move to Charleston and the courses she’s excited to teach.

What excites you most about moving to Charleston?

I’m from Minnesota and have never lived further south than Washington, DC (where I went to graduate school), so I’m excited to be in a completely new natural and historical environment. Charleston is a beautiful city that has done a phenomenal job of preserving its historical architecture. I’m looking forward to both the new climate and getting to know more about the city’s heritage.

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Political Science Department at College of Charleston?

I am looking forward to teaching small classes! It’s much more practical to keep students actively involved with the material when classes are a manageable size, and small classes also allow for getting to know students over the course of a semester to a degree that just is not possible at institutions with very large classes.

Who is your favorite theorist to teach and why?

That’s a tough question; there are a lot of thinkers whose work I think is great, and there are also a lot who are fun to teach. In terms of sheer enjoyment to teach – I would have to say Thomas Hobbes. While his 17th Century language initially may be off-putting to first-time readers, once you become accustomed to it, he’s quite entertaining. Hobbes is a cantankerous grump picking fights with, well, basically everyone. Add to that his provocative picture of the political world, and what’s not to like?

If you could teach a class on any topic what would it be?

I would love, at some point, to offer a course on citizenship – both its history as a legal concept and how the idea is actually employed in liberal democracies.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I generally describe it as “conversational.” I try, to the greatest extent possible, to make each class meeting an active exchange.

What research projects are you looking forward to working on or are you working on right now?

I am looking forward to working on a book about how the collateral consequences of conviction (post-punishment legal restrictions like felony disenfranchisement) affect the experience of citizens after they have served their terms of punishment. Criminologists estimate that as many as one in three adults in the U.S. has a criminal record, and while not all those people will experience collateral consequences, we need to ask some difficult questions about how our criminal justice policies are undermining the equality we associate with a functioning democracy.

What is the biggest piece of advice you have for undergraduate students?

Undergraduates are busy, but your student years pass quickly! Take advantage of as much of the college experience as you can. When else in your life will you have the time and opportunities to do things like attend a public lecture? When you’re taking classes, keeping up on the reading and writing papers can seem like a chore, but I would encourage undergraduates to try to appreciate how great a privilege it is to be able to take this time to engage closely with ideas and issues.

What’s something about you that makes you unique?

For several years, I’ve collected antique cookbooks and I sometimes make the recipes. Some of them are delicious (pumpkin pudding with rosewater from 1868, for instance), others are… not. Let’s just say there was a period when savory gelatins were all the rage, and turkey in aspic (1936) is every bit as disgusting as it sounds.

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Student Spotlight with Olivia Rothstein

Posted by: knottshg | March 16, 2018 | No Comment |

Sophomore Olivia Rothstein is a double major in political science and historic preservation. She is from Gainesville, Florida, and is an active member of the Student Government Association and has served as a Peer Facilitator for the Honors College. Olivia is also a student worker in the Political Science Department. In addition, she is part of the American Politics Research Team (APRT) and has pursued independent research projects exploring the intersections of political science and historic preservation.

What led you to majoring in political science?

I’ve always been interested and passionate about politics. I have been helping my Dad volunteer on campaigns since I was six years old. My whole life my entire family has [told] me I am going to be a lawyer like my Dad, but I never listened. I came to College of Charleston knowing I would absolutely not major in political science and not attend law school. However, I got lost during orientation and by chance I ended up at a session that Dr. Knotts was leading. He started talking about his Campaigns and Elections class, and I knew I just had to sign up for it. Two weeks into the class I knew I had to meet with him and five minutes into the meeting I knew I wanted to declare my major in political science. He was just so welcoming and informative, and I saw that this really was my passion. To this day my siblings won’t stop bothering me, saying “I told you so” but it’s worth it.

Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement on campus?

College of Charleston has so many amazing clubs, organizations, and departments that I constantly want to be involved. In the fall semesters, I work as a Peer Facilitator for the Honors College, helping incoming students adjust to life here at CofC. I absolutely love it because I enjoy meeting all the different people, learning about their interests, and helping them overcome the various challenges of college. I’ve also learned so much about the school that I never knew before! Additionally, I am a Senator for Student Government Association which has been so much fun. It introduced me to different people and ideas around campus, and I have been able to feel like I am truly making a difference in my community. Just last week, a couple fellow senators and I wrote a resolution regarding gun control on campus and in the state of South Carolina. To see that bill pass and to be able to talk about something I am so passionate about was amazing. In addition to Student Government, I am on the Executive Board for College Democrats. This gives me the opportunity to utilize all the great knowledge I learn from political science by organizing events that range from simple meetings to panels to writing letters to congresspersons. Finally, I am deeply involved in the department itself. As a student worker I help run the social media and put together the advising newsletter.

I also serve as a Lead Mentor for the nonprofit organization Kids on Point which partners with the College of Charleston. This group connects college students and community members with local youth from underserved areas, and it’s truly an incredible organization. All the kids at the program participate in the sport of squash, along with receiving mentors to help with homework and developing necessary life skills. The organization has truly changed my life, introducing me to the most amazing kids.

How do you balance double majoring and how do you see your majors intersecting?

I am a double major in Political Science and Historic Preservation and Community Planning. It’s an interesting mix that often spurs a lot of questions in people. At first glance they don’t seem to intersect, but in actuality they are deeply intertwined. Politics is involved in everything, including preservation. It’s through studying preservation that I learn so much about America’s history; various cultures and their practices; and the impact preservation has on building and uniting communities. The first example that comes to most people’s mind is the issue of Confederate and Confederate-sympathizing statues. Though this is hardly the only example where preservation and politics connect, it is timely. You cannot fully understand that issue until you take a look at the politics surrounding it and its history along with the history of the monuments themselves and why people want to preserve them. That is the only way an adequate solution can be reached, through understanding, and that is only possible by looking at both the fields of preservation and politics. These connections between the two fields makes it a lot simpler to double major, it never seems like a burden or inconvenience. It gives me the opportunity to pursue many of my interests at once and seeing where those interests intersect. Like everything else in college, its mostly just about time management and careful planning!

What kind of research projects are you working on right now?

I am working on two main research projects right now and revising some others. I am a member of the APRT and am helping Dr. Knotts and Dr. Ragusa compile research for a book they are writing about the presidential primaries in South Carolina. I have been looking at South Carolina politicians since the 1970s to see if they had any involvement in making South Carolina’s primary, “first in the south.” Additionally, I have been looking through newspapers for any mentions of the primaries and to see which politicians have visited the state on campaign stops, where they visited, and when. It’s been really interesting to learn so much more about South Carolina since I am an out of state student. Additionally, I am working with an art history professor Dr. Nathaniel Walker studying Thomas Campanella’s City of the Sun. I am reading about Campanella’s utopia, particularly focusing on the urban design and then using Google SketchUp to create a model of the City of the Sun. This is another great example of the intersection of political science and preservation. I am reading about this utopia and its society, ranging from education to governance to religion. I am then taking this information and seeing how that would look in real life and how someone would try to preserve a city like that. Finally, I am reviewing the research I completed last semester about cultural property destruction in the Middle East, another intersection of politics and preservation. I will be presenting the paper at the annual William V. Moore Student Research Conference in April.

What advice would you give to students who are looking to do research in political science?

Find a topic that interests you and meet with a professor! Whether it’s a professor you are taking a class with, one you saw speak at an event or panel, or one whose research just really interests you: schedule a meeting! One of the great parts about CofC is the availability of research for undergraduate students, so take advantage of it! You can either work on a project a professor is already working on or create your own and ask them to advise you on it. The options are essentially endless when it comes to research with the department and the professors are always willing to help.

What do you like most about working for the political science department?

My favorite part about working for the political science department is the people. They are all friendly, engaging, and helpful. It has been fabulous to get to know Tracey Andrews, the department’s new administrative coordinator. She is always there to help everyone and put a smile on your face. We have a blast in everything we do. The entire department is like that. They make tasks that might seem boring fun, just by being themselves. Also, everyone is so welcoming and anytime I need anything I know the doors are open and they will be there to help me out. It has given me the chance to meet more students majoring in political science and to talk about my passion for the subject and department at multiple events such as Accepted Students Weekend and Honors Interview Weekend. I love being able to share my excitement with so many other people here.

What are your plans for after graduation? How do you think being a political science major will help you reach those goals?

After graduation I want to take a gap year to work in either the nonprofit or public sector, learning even more about local and state government. Then, I want to attend a joint program where I receive my Masters in Preservation and a law degree. In the long term, I want to work on using the law to protect and promote preservation, whether this means through lobbying, working for the public sector, or owning my own firm. I wouldn’t be able to do this without my political science degree. In addition to helping me truly realize my passions, it is through this program that I have learned vital skills such as critical thinking, research, and advanced writing. Additionally, the knowledge I have gained through this major is invaluable, teaching me about law, policy, legislation, governance, and more. This will give me a great foundation as I continue to pursue my future goals and endeavors.

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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Claire Curtis

Posted by: knottshg | March 9, 2018 | No Comment |

Dr. Claire Curtis has been teaching in the political science department at the College of Charleston for twenty years. Since joining the department, she has taught classes in political theory, including the required introduction to political theory course, contemporary liberalism, and utopia/dystopia. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Bowdoin College, Dr. Curtis’ is the author of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and the Social Contract and is currently working on her second book. Her own research interests lie in utopia/dystopia and the intersections of political philosophy and fiction. In the Q&A below Dr. Curtis shares her own experiences from her time at CofC and elaborates on her current research.

So, you’ve been in the political science department at CofC for twenty years now.

That’s really weird.

What made you decide to become a professor?

I went to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and I thought I was going to be a classics major. Then summer between high school and college I went to the Soviet Union on a high school trip and I came back from that like, “oh my gosh I have to study the Soviet Union this is so cool.” I got to college, and I took this upper level Soviet studies class and I started taking Russian and a couple of other classes. There was a guy in the political science department at Bowdoin who did soviet politics and so I took all the classes he offered and then I was like, “oh I kind of like this political science thing.” My junior year I went to Poland and when I [came] back from Poland I decided that “that was all really interesting, and I am no longer interested in Soviet Studies or behind the iron curtain, I have gotten that out of my system.” I went back to Bowdoin for my senior and was taking a political theory class and thought (a) I really like this political theory stuff and (b) I thought what many students think when they’re seniors in college and not sure what to do: I knew what I was good at, and I was good at school. So, I thought, “I’ll keep going to school.” I didn’t apply to that many graduate programs. I got in to Johns Hopkins. I went because I was good at school.

Was it research or teaching that drew you to the career?

I think it was more about teaching. I went to a small liberal arts college where people really paid a lot of attention to classes and most of my political science classes were under twenty [students]. The political science professors were very enthusiastic, everyone wanted to talk about various things. That was my model: you do research, but you’re also engaged in teaching. Between teaching and research, I was interested more in the teaching part.

Can you tell me a bit about the book you’re working on?

I wrote a book in 2010 about post-apocalyptic fiction and the social contract. That was a really interesting project, but it also told a story that I think we’ve moved past. We’re thinking about how and why we live together differently now. I think mirroring that theoretical point is that if you start thinking about post-apocalyptic fiction that has been written in the 21st century, there are a certain number of literary post-apocalyptic fictions that I think are thinking about the human experience of living together differently. One of the critics of the social contract that I find really compelling is Martha Nussbaum. She is interested in what’s called the capabilities approach, which comes out of the development economics of Amartya Sen. The idea is that when we think about humans living together instead of thinking about the distribution of particular goods to particular peoples, we instead should think about what human beings would like to do and be. Nussbaum comes up with the list of ten capabilities that we are aiming towards. The book is an attempt to explain the human capabilities from Nussbaum via these novels. The way that I categorize them is: capabilities that are particular to the human body; capabilities that are particular to human emotion and cognition; capabilities around our interactions with others; and [capabilities] around control over the political and material environment. The idea is to divide the book into four sections with each section looking into these kinds of capabilities. Nussbaum talks in many of her works [about] how we’ve not achieved these capabilities, and I think that makes it very hard to figure out what a world would look like that did have these capabilities. The novels that I’ve chosen sort of give an indication, even in this post-apocalyptic context, of communities that are providing these capabilities. Although I’ve been thinking about framing the book slightly differently, but I’ll leave it at that.

What do you think is the value in studying fiction in conjunction with political theory or philosophy?

Well I think people learn best through examples, but the problem with theory is that it can seem very abstract. You can talk about the construction of an argument, you can talk about the rhetorical moves being made in the argument you can talk about the logical movement being made from point A to point B in an argument, but it is political theory and so the argument has to come down to the ground at some point. That can be really hard to do. I think one way of doing that is to use robust empirical examples, but that can get really complicated in political theory because you get so caught up in the particulars of the empirical example [that] you lose the whole reason you we’re looking at the example. What fiction does is give you this closed space and then we can have a debate over the meaning of that closed space; but we don’t have to have a debate over the meaning or the empirical understanding of the reality or how it got there or all of the complications that come up when you look at actual empirical examples in the actual world. So, I like it because it has a beginning and an end. I like it because authors are putting people together in particular scenarios to think through how people would think and react.

What has been the most challenging part of the research and writing process so far?

Finding time to do it.

How have the classes you’ve taught at CofC influenced your research or have they?

Some of the classes that I’ve taught have come out of specific research interests that I have. The class I taught on gender, theory, and law actually came out of an NEH summer seminar where I was doing some research around issues of sexual harassment. The utopia/dystopia stuff that I do, I’ve always been interested in that. I took a class on utopia/dystopia in college and I think it’s a really interesting way to think about political theory. I’ve published on The Dispossessed and it’s really great to talk to students about that. I’ve published on the Parable books and Octavia Butler. I like the opportunity to talk about things that I’m interested in writing on. Once I tried to do an FYE around post-apocalyptic fiction and reading the social contract after I’d written the book. I think there are definitely connections; it’s just not always super linear. Nothing I ever do is really linear.

What do you love about research compared to what you love about teaching?

I love to read books so it’s always nice to be doing research. In a sense that’s somewhat [truer] when I’m getting to read a novel, but it’s equally true if it’s a theorist that I’m particularly interested in. I love the reading part of research and I love putting together the puzzle. I think in teaching, it’s about back and forth and the sharing of ideas and the energy of the classroom. Because research, at least the kind of research that I do, is a lot in your head. You spend a lot of time thinking to yourself and talking to yourself. It’s good to go into the classroom and get some energetic conversation about ideas instead of just the conversation inside my head.

How do you keep up the energy in the classroom?

I drink a lot of coffee. Sometimes there are classes where the class itself produces its own energy. I really think this stuff is interesting; so, my goal is to get other people, even if they don’t love it, to at least find it interesting. One of the ways of doing that is to be super enthusiastic about it. And to drink lots of coffee.

What has been your favorite experience at CofC so far?

My favorite experience is probably teaching POLI 150. I love teaching the social contract. It’s a story that is deeply familiar to us, but we don’t have the vocabulary to understand its familiarity and understand the differences between what Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Rawls are saying and why that matters. Probably every class that I teach there’s a certain portion of that class that I’m like “oh I can’t wait till we get to that part.”

What do you think has been the experience that has had the most impact on you?

I mean in some sense this is probably the more honest answer about why my book has been sitting unexamined. In 2006 or 2007, a woman who was then the Director of Women’s and Gender studies, a woman who became the director of African American studies, and I started a writing group. We met every single week and we had rules for our writing group. Coming out of the writing group, I published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the rules for a perfect writing group. Both of those women in the last year and a half died. It was personally very hard because they were both really my best friends here. One died very unexpectedly, but the other had a brain tumor so there had been a long time talking about death and [saying] “How are you going to redo that writing group?” And I’ve yet to figure it out how to redo a writing group. In the 20 years here, that was definitely the biggest challenge.

 Dr. Curtis’ article on the “Rules for a Perfect Writing Group”: https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Rules-of-Writing-Group/126880

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Department Welcomes New Administrative Coordinator

Posted by: knottshg | February 14, 2018 | No Comment |


The Department of Political Science welcomed their new Administrative Coordinator, Tracey Andrews, on January 29, 2018. Tracey has spent the majority of her working life in higher education. She began her career at Manchester Community College as a student worker for the Continuing Education Division’s Credit-Free programs, while earning her associate degree. Tracey received her bachelor’s degree from University of Connecticut while also serving as the Program Coordinator for the Department of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She held the position for more than 10 years and in that capacity served as an advisor to students and as a representative of the department on the CLAS Undergraduate Council. She most recently served as the Administrative Assistant to the Associate Provost at the University of Hartford in Hartford, CT. Tracey moved to the Charleston area in August, 2017 to be closer to her daughter Nina and is thrilled to be out of the cold and here with us at the College of Charleston.


What do you like most about living in the Charleston area so far?

I came to Charleston to be closer to my daughter who moved here in 2016 after she got married. The warmth of the people of Charleston has been by far the greatest gift of living here. I think the pace is a little slower here and people are generally more apt to smile and start a conversation with you. Of course, I also love the warmer temperatures and the beaches too!

What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned in your experience working in higher education?

I guess the most important thing I’ve learned personally is how to be a good resource for people. I am an excellent listener and can help others problem-solve so they can get their needs met in the best way possible.

If you could go back and do one thing differently in your life what would it be?

At the age of twelve, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I allowed my mentor to discourage me because I wasn’t fond of math or science at the time. I now know that if you have great passion for anything in life, you must pursue it and the universe will get behind you and help you turn your dreams into reality.

What excites you most about joining the Political Science Department and becoming part of the College of Charleston community?

I visited the College of Charleston on my first trip to see my daughter and immediately fell in love with the campus. The minute I saw the advertisement for this position I knew it would be a great fit for me personally because I have ten years’ experience running a similar-sized department. And where better to be than this department with the current state of affairs in our government? I have not been very political for much of my life, but I am genuinely interested in the work that the faculty and students here are doing to propel us toward a future where truth is respected, diversity is embraced and the needs of our people and our planet are met.

What advice would you give to our current students?

First and foremost, I would encourage them to pursue all things that bring them passion and to especially pay attention to their own inner voice. Now is not the time to say that your parents always wanted you to be X, Y or Z. Now is the time to acknowledge that you were put on this earth as a unique individual with a destiny that only you can pursue so don’t let anything or anybody stand in your way. I would also encourage them to read Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book “I Can See Clearly Now” which will help put it all in perspective.

How would you want to introduce yourself to the students in the department?

I am here for you! If you’ve got any questions or problems, please don’t hesitate to stop by and see me. If I can’t help, I promise to find some resources or put you in contact with someone who can. You are always welcome here.

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Political science majors learned how dynamic careers in the public sector can be at the November 3rd Career Café Public Sector luncheon. Alumni panelists included Kevin Limehouse (’05), Project Officer at Charleston County Government; Leah Schonfeld (C’04), Director of Human Resources at The Citadel; and Peter Wiggins (C’12), Revenue Collections Manager at Charleston County Government. Dr. Phil Jos, Professor of Political Science, also spoke about public administration graduate programs and provided information about the Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program at College of Charleston.

Panelists discussed how they navigated their careers after graduating from the College and how their political science degrees helped prepare them for the working world. Limehouse emphasized helping people through local government efforts and described the work he has done with organizations like Boeing, NASA Space Launch System, the Army Corps of Engineers, and currently the 2021 PGA Tournament scheduled to take place at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course. Schonfeld credited her critical thinking skills and ability to work with people as a human resources administrator to her political science degree. She also encouraged students to study abroad and intern on Capitol Hill. Wiggins explained how political science helped him understand how South Carolina government operates and has helped when working with departments such as the Department of Natural Resources and the State Legislature. He added that his degree was especially beneficial in navigating the “other duties as assigned” in his own job description.

In response to student questions, the panelists noted that those interested in the public sector should be passionate, willing to learn, and a good cultural fit for the organization. When asked what the panelists would have done differently in their college careers, they recommended taking advantage of the resources on campus like the Career Center, gaining experience through internships, working to build relationships, taking part in extracurricular activities like Model United Nations, and studying abroad.

under: Alumni, Events, Faculty, Student

Faculty Spotlight with Dr. Phil Jos

Posted by: wichmannkm | October 30, 2017 | No Comment |

In May 2018, Dr. Phil Jos will retire from his highly impactful career at College of Charleston. Professor Jos joined the Department of Political Science in 1986 and served as the Director of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program on three separate occasions: 1999-2002, 2007-2008, and 2016-2018. He helped grow graduate program enrollments and has overseen the program’s successful Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) accreditation efforts.  He also served as the Department Chair from 2008-2012 where he oversaw several key faculty hires, helped the department establish tenure and promotion criteria, and created the William V. Moore Student Research Conference. He has taught undergraduate courses on public policy, ethics and politics and political philosophy as well as graduate courses in public administration. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from University of South Carolina and his M.A. and B.A. in Government from Western Kentucky. Dr. Jos’ research has focused on whistleblowing, professional ethics, administrative responsibility and public administration theory. We were fortunate to talk with Dr. Jos about his time at College of Charleston.

How did you decide to pursue a doctorate in political science?

I would say very serendipitously. I would like to say that it was planned but it wasn’t. I was not a good student in high school. I was not a good student at the outset of my college career. But, by the end of my sophomore year, I took a political philosophy class with Dr. George Seitz at Western Kentucky and for the first time in a long time, I was excited about learning. I enjoyed the class, found that I was pretty good at it, and had matured a little by that point so I took some more political science classes. After graduation I was still unsure of what I wanted to do.  I started working construction, mostly basic laboring, framing, pouring concrete but after a 4 month stint putting up attic insulation I jumped at the chance to get a graduate assistantship at Western Kentucky and pursue a master’s degree in public administration. Several faculty encouraged me to think about the Ph.D., including Dr. Fred Carter who would later become chair of the political science department at the College. While at a conference, I met Dr. Mark Tompkins from the University of South Carolina and he, along with Dr. Dan Sabia, became my mentors at USC.

What made you decide to pursue a job at a teaching oriented school? At that point in my life, there wasn’t a whole lot of planning involved. I taught a lot in my master’s program and Ph.D. program and really came to like it. After earning my Ph.D., I was really open to anything. The economy wasn’t good in 1986, but I was fortunate to come to the College. At that time, there were 4,500 students and less of an emphasis on research than there is now. My career at the College turned out to be a nice mix of teaching and research. I was able to publish regularly, and I was profoundly influenced by the teachers who were here and the teachers we hired after I arrived. They were just really good and incredibly dedicated. I feel lucky to have been in a department where I have learned as much as I have about teaching and advising students.

Can you talk about your roles as the MPA Director and Chair of the Political Science Department?

My first term as MPA Director was a logical progression. The number of faculty within the MPA department is small and it’s important for everyone to take a turn as Director. I had always thought I would do this, although I didn’t anticipate directing the program on two subsequent occasions. I care a lot about the program and feel good about stepping in to provide leadership at various times.

I did not anticipate serving as Chair and following Lynne Ford was a bit intimidating, but I appreciated the Department’s confidence in me. It was a challenging but good four years. I learned a lot from it.

What classes have you taught at the college?

I started out teaching American government and methods classes. I have also taught political inquiry, public policy, public administration at the undergraduate level and graduate courses in public policy and administration. Over time I developed a political theory and ethics course and taught the introductory political thought class. I also developed accountability in ethics classes at the graduate level.

What has your research focused on?

My research focus for most of my career has been on administrative accountability and professional ethics. I started this research early on in my dissertation and focused on the idea of moral autonomy, or the retaining of one’s capacity for thinking critically about ethical issues under organizational pressures. I did some early research on whistleblowing. I worked with colleagues on ethical controversies in medical ethics such as the treatment of pregnant women addicted to cocaine. I also did a fair amount of work on ethics codes and what they can and cannot accomplish, questions about moral judgment in a variety of organizational contexts. I worked with several collaborators on publications. Most of my research has been occupying that space between political theory, ethics, and public administration and policy.

What drew you to focus your research on ethics?

Probably the same thing that drew me to graduate work. Political philosophy connected with me, particularly those political philosophers who developed strong critiques of existing society and offered  somewhat utopian but powerful visions of how it could be better.  The idea of challenging injustice struck me pretty powerfully. Part of that was becoming politically aware in the late 1960’s, part of it was teenage rebellion against authority and an exaggerated feeling of being misunderstood and not taken seriously, part of it was working in a variety of manual labor jobs where my co-workers and I were treated badly.   I was drawn to political philosophers, writers and activists who were willing to stand up for their beliefs and challenge authority, probably because I personally was often lacking in that kind of courage and usually avoided conflict.  That no doubt explains why my own research has focused on ways to act boldly and with integrity in difficult circumstances.  I guess I was working on myself while I was working on my career.

What are your favorite College of Charleston memories?

There are a lot of them. So many things come to mind. I’ve always enjoyed graduation. Many of my most positive memories are from graduation – the opportunity to meet parents and the opportunity to see young adults of various talents and capabilities make it across the line. You get the feeling of having made a difference and I think it’s easy to lose track of that.

I also enjoy working with students on individual projects like independent studies and bachelors essays or graduate research.  As a research mentor, you get to see a progression of students’ ideas and I like helping solve research and writing puzzles.  I take a lot of pleasure in the William V. Moore Student Research Conference for some of the same reasons.

I have also always enjoyed my colleagues exchanging ideas about teaching, supporting one another, and trying to understand more about how students learn.

What advice do you have for our students?

For most of my career, I have most often told students to “follow your passion.” I do think students from an early age hear many expectations from parents and popular culture about what their options are as liberal arts majors. They are inundated with information about what options are attractive because they pay well.  In our society, many of the jobs that are important and rewarding, and allow you to work with like-minded people, do not pay as well.  There are a wide variety of trades, work in human service organizations, nonprofit organizations, and teaching of various kinds that are too often invisible to students because they only hear about private sector work.  Starting with your passion doesn’t mean you have to figure out the one thing you are passionate about. Instead, students should focus on a few basic question. What type of work makes me feel good? Do I like challenges? Do I like to work part of a team or by myself? What is going to meaningful and help me grow as a person?  The advantage of political science is that it really prepares you for writing, speaking, and thinking well and thinking clearly so there are many options out there.

The second bit of advice I find myself giving more often lately is about patience. Students often want a wonderfully financially rewarding and challenging job right away. When they have a less exciting challenge and tasks before them, they mentally bail out of that position before they learn enough about that job. A lot of things take patiently working over a long period of time to reap the full benefits. When students hop from job to job I worry that they don’t learn enough about themselves before moving on. Some positions are impossible but I think a little more patience and working with what they have for a little longer can be good. Of course I have had the same job for 32 years so I suppose I would be the one needing to sing the praises of patience so students should probably take that advice with a grain of salt.

What are you retirement plans?

Maybe I’m graduating like our students do. I always hear from students that once they have graduated they are going to take a year off and decide what they want to do. I’m going to retire and take a year off and decide what I want to do. I’m a fairly active person and will be embracing more music playing, kayaking, and yard work. I hope to be more politically active on issues I care about and to help out more in church than I have done before. I want to keep in better touch with friends who live at a distance. I’d like to travel in and outside of the US. That may be enough. I’ve also got some other ideas. I suspect I will take advantage of my retiree status to audit some courses taught by my former colleagues at the College of Charleston.

under: Faculty

Student Spotlight with Alexandra Helfgott

Posted by: wichmannkm | October 24, 2017 | No Comment |

Junior political science and Spanish double major Alexandra Helfgott is a member of the Honors College and was recently elected President of the Student Government Association (SGA). Our department had the fortunate opportunity to interview Alexandra about her college experiences.

What has your Involvement in student government been like?

I started in student government when I was a freshman. I served as Freshman Senator and then I had the privilege of serving as the Chief of Staff for President Michael Faikes last year. It was a formative experience being able to see behind the scenes of the SGA and to learn more about the executive branch. I had the opportunity to run for President this year, and I’m very appreciative and grateful to have won. To be able to empower and encourage other members of SGA to succeed and complete initiatives they are working on is probably the most meaningful aspect of the role. It has been such a gratifying experience and I’m so appreciative to give back to the College because I have gotten so much from this school. To be able to give back like others have done for me has been the most meaningful part of it.

What types of initiatives is SGA currently working on?

I’ve focused on a few key initiatives.  When I was a freshman, SGA President Zach Sturman started a policy having to do with grade redemption. The proposal was to allow students the option of redeeming a class if they earned a C- or below. Faikes worked on the issue during his term as President, and he passed the baton to me this year. We are thrilled that it just passed through the Faculty Senate and it is scheduled to be implemented in 2019, but this is contingent upon the Registrar’s Office and Information Technology designing the business process to implement the new policy. Second, the College’s Physical Plant just approved our pilot project to provide dispensers for free feminine hygiene products on campus. We are hoping to demonstrate that there is a demand for these products. Third, one of our directors is working on an initiative called “Ban the Bottle” which would ban the sale of single use plastic water bottles on campus. We are still researching this project and trying to gauge student support. Schools that have implemented this policy have received positive national recognition and if it is implemented at the College, we would be the first school in South Carolina to do so. This initiative goes nicely with the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for sustainability literacy and it’s something that is gaining a lot of traction.

How did you decide to major in political science?

I came in completely undecided and not knowing what I wanted to do. I went to the Majors Fair my freshman year and I met Dr. Knotts. It was that moment that I said I should probably consider political science which I had never imagined picking when I was in high school. The experiences that I have had in the Political Science and Spanish Departments, and the Honors College have been formative. It’s been a great opportunity to learn and grow. It’s okay to make mistakes because it is a learning environment. The support and mentorship I receive has been absolutely incredible. It’s been exciting to watch myself discover where my passions are within political science because I had no idea that this was something I was interested in until I came to college.

Every professor that I have had in the Political Science Department truly has been stellar. Everyone is willing to help and so passionate – Dr. Knotts, Dr. Creed, Dr. Wofford. I cannot say enough about this department.

Can you tell us more about your interest in becoming a lawyer?

This past March I went to a conference at Harvard University on public policy and leadership that really opened my eyes.   I am thinking about pursuing a joint master’s degree in public policy and juris doctorate with a focus on employee and labor rights. I am interested in helping undocumented immigrants who face discrimination and abuse by their employers as a result of their undocumented status. My interest in this actually goes back to Dr. Creed’s honors world politics class I took as a freshman. We read a book called The Devil’s Highway which was about Mexican immigrants crossing the border illegally and that really sparked my thinking about it. Everything that we learn in the classroom comes full circle.

What is your involvement in the Honors College?

I was a member of the inaugural Honors College Entrepreneurship Living-Learning Community which was a really great experience. Though I’m not pursuing the field of entrepreneurship, I learned some great tactics like networking, being able to make an elevator pitch, and becoming a more well-rounded individual. I am a Swanson Scholar and William Aiken Fellow so I received additional mentoring and guidance through that program. I serve as an Honors Engaged Liaison for Trident Literacy Association and St. Matthews English as a Second Language which pairs CofC students in the Honors College with these organizations and they go and volunteer weekly. I currently serve as a Student Representative on the Honors Advisory Board.

What inspires you to be so active and engaged on campus?

I was involved in high school and I think it just trickled over to college.  I am so appreciative of everything that I have received from my professors at the College – all the guidance and wisdom, so if I can give back in any way that’s what drives me. There are opportunities to make tangible impacts. There are resources and networks available to college students and I think that’s so powerful and it drives me to make the student experience better. I want students to feel how I do about the College. I absolutely love it.

What advice do you have for current students?

I would say if an opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it. If you feel that you’re not qualified or maybe need more experience, just go ahead and apply. If you see someone and think “I should go introduce myself to them,” you should just go ahead and do it. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. It’s not going to be comfortable but at the end of the day you will be glad you did it. I don’t think anyone wants to have regrets about what could have been. Go see your professors, take that class that you are scared about because it’s only a couple of years. Before you know it, we will be out of here.

under: Faculty, Scholarships and Awards, Student

Alumni Spotlight with Second Lieutenant Logan Fitchett

Posted by: wichmannkm | October 19, 2017 | No Comment |

Second Lieutenant Logan Fitchett graduated from the College of Charleston as a political science major in 2015. Originally from Newport News, Virginia, Fitchett just completed her first year of service with the United States Marine Corps. The Political Science Department had the fortunate opportunity to learn more about her career.

Can you talk about your decision to join the Marine Corps?

After I graduated from College of Charleston in 2015, I moved back home and was applying to jobs. My mom suggested I look into the military which was not anything I had really considered. However, when I met with the Marine recruiter and started the application process, I could not believe I had not thought of this option sooner. As I became more exposed to what Marines do, I learned that the lifestyle really worked for me. The challenge and physical demands of the Corps, along with the great individuals that join, made me realize I really wanted to be a part of it.

What training have you received in the Marine Corps?

Officer Candidate School (OCS) is a ten week boot camp for officers which consists of physical and mental screenings. After finishing as a Second Lieutenant at OCS, I spent six months in Quantico at The Basic School to learn how to become a basic rifle platoon commander. In the Marine Corps, you acquire a military occupational specialty but you also need to be able to pick up a rifle in combat. At The Basic School, I received training in the use of weapons, tactics, and leadership. At the end of this training, I compiled a list of my preferred military occupational specialties. I was assigned as a combat engineer, and I am currently at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for this training. I am learning about wood framing construction, urban breaching, constructing obstacles and survivability positions. After this training, I will be stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.

What has been most challenging and rewarding about joining the Marine Corps?

The most challenging aspect of being a Marine is that it continuously forces me to be out of my comfort zone. You have to do things you are not comfortable with but then you start to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. For instance, during OCS, you may get up early to go for a hike but then be thrown into an activity where you are leading your peers through the woods on a mission.  It’s made me a stronger person and I am grateful for that. During my time in the Marine Corps, I have enhanced my leadership and problem solving skills along with my ability to adapt and make decisions under pressure. The most rewarding part of this experience so far has been the Marines I have had the opportunity to work with. I am surrounded by great people including my peers and higher-ranking Marines who inspire me to give 100 percent each day.

How has your college education prepared you for your career as a Marine?

Traditionally the College of Charleston does not seem like a school where graduates would go on to the military, but it was a great stepping stone to get here. It’s such a special place with so many opportunities for unique experiences. I especially benefited when my professors incorporated the City of Charleston into learning. I brought a well-rounded perspective to my career. My liberal arts courses have given me a lot of information on different topics. For example, my knowledge of sociology was helpful because as a Marine you work with people all the time. Most people who study political science have an interest in what is going on around the world and current events. Having a global understanding is also critical in the military.


under: Alumni

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