Political Science Now

APSA Member of Month: Dr. Elizabeth A. Bennion

September APSA Member of the Month

Dr. Elizabeth Bennion joined IU South Bend’s Department of Political Science in 1999. She teaches American politics, with an emphasis on political behavior. Professor Bennion is the founding director of IUSB’s American Democracy Project and host of WNIT’s live weekly television program Politically Speaking. In these capacities she moderates political discussions, public issue forums, and candidate debates for local, state, and national candidates.

Why did you join the American Political Science Association?

Dr. Bennion: 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 with APSA?

Dr. Bennion: 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?

Dr. Bennion: 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?
Dr. Bennion: 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 candidates debates I moderate provide me with an opportunity to model the type of political discourse I’d like to see more. I engaged 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 teaching 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.