Political Science Now

Campus Teaching Award Winner: Andrea Y. Simpson

Excellence in teaching political science is essential to the discipline. This interview series highlights campus teaching award winners who have been recognized by APSA for their achievements. If you or a colleague has won a campus teaching award in the 2016-17 academic year, please let us know! Submissions are due by June 20. Learn more about the campus teaching award recognition program here.

Andrea Y. Simpson is a scholar of United States politics with concentrations in Black politics and the politics of gender and intersectionality. The Race, Ethnicity, and Politics section of the American Political Science Association named her first book, The Tie that Binds (NYU Press, 1998) the “Best Book of 1998 on Racial Identity.” Simpson served as Chair of the Department of Political Science from 2011 through 2014. Elected to the APSA Council in 2006, she served on that committee until 2008. She was Program Chair of the Western Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting in 2008, and President of the Western Political Science Association in 2009. Simpson is currently working on two articles on the nature of intersectional status among women leading the environmental justice movement. She received the University of Richmond’s Distinguished Educator Award in 2015.

What’s your teaching background? What was your first teaching experience like?
You could say that I was born to teach. My mother was a third-grade teacher. My grandmother was a sixth-grade teacher. My oldest sister is a retired French teacher. Another is a retired California Department of Education administrator, but was a biology teacher for over 30 years. When I was in the sixth grade, I served as a substitute teacher, often for the entire day. Incredibly, I could even manage special education classes. I loved being a substitute teacher. I would follow the lesson plans, and I was good at keeping order. However, by the time I went to college, Black women were entering other professional occupations. Everybody, including my mother and grandmother, wanted me to choose another career. It was the early 1970s, and many doors were opening for Blacks, and my parents wanted me to take advantage of these opportunities. I would work for a while in the public relations and advertising fields before returning to graduate school and fulfilling my childhood dream.

My first teaching experience as a graduate student was satisfying. I was a teaching assistant (TA), in a large introductory lecture class. The TAs led the discussion sections. Naturally, some students chose to challenge me in those early weeks. I worked through it and managed to establish a good rapport with the students. Although I did not create the syllabus, I learned about keeping pace with the instructor and how to gauge student readiness for exams

How would you describe your teaching style or philosophy?
The classroom is a community of learners, and that includes me. I am a highly interactive instructor, which means that rather than lecture, I speak for about ten minutes before asking questions that inspire students to examine what I just shared with them. Readings must be completed before class so that I can guide a discussion that is informative and stimulating. Through my assessment tools, which are mainly essay exams and papers, I promote the critical integration of material. When appropriate, I screen pertinent documentaries on the subject.

Do you have favorite materials or courses to teach?
My favorite subjects to teach are those on racial politics, Black political thought, critical race theory, and gender politics. I generate enthusiasm in upper-level classes by assigning students the responsibility of presenting the assigned readings. By doing this, they have a chance, before I enter the discussion, to determine the most salient parts of the texts.

Did you have any classroom experiences as a student that influenced how you teach now?
As a student, the straight lecture classes were challenging. I also remember becoming frustrated when I took a class that was relevant to current events, but the professor chose not to discuss obvious ties to the tests. Because of these experiences, I do not lecture, nor do I ignore current events that are relevant to the course materials.