Dara Gaines is an honors junior majoring in political science at The University of Arkansas. She is the Vice-President of the Lambda Theta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. She is also a Silas H. Hunt and Dean’s List scholar, President of the Black Student’s Association and Vice-President of the Black Alumni Association. Dara was recently selected as the undergraduate recipient of the Northwest Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus Emerging Leader Scholarship. Due to her passion for history and working with children, Dara has developed an interest in the political participation habits of Black youth. Exploring various ways to stimulate their interest, Dara hopes her research will help to increase their participation, even to the point of holding office themselves. After college, Dara will enroll in a political science graduate program focusing on public policy.
Excellence in teaching political science is essential to the discipline. This interview series highlights campus teaching award winners who have been recognized by the American Political Science Association (APSA) for their achievements. If you or a colleague has won a campus teaching award in the 2015-16 academic year, please share your story with us! At the 2016 APSA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, every meeting attendee who has won a campus teaching award will be recognized at a reception honoring teaching. Learn more about the campus teaching award recognition program here.
Alison Dana Howard received her M.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Oklahoma and she currently teaches courses on American Government, the Presidency, Congress, Politics and Media, and Campaigns and Elections at Dominican University of California. Her research focuses on presidential rhetoric specifically the State of the Union Address, political communication, pedagogy, as well as art, politics, and culture. She has published articles in PS: Political Science and Politics, American Behavioral Science, Journal of Political Science Education, Social Science Quarterly, and Perspectives on Political Science. In 2015, she was recognized as the Campus-wide Teacher of the Year by Dominican University of California.
What’s your teaching background? What was your first teaching experience like?
Howard: I have had a variety of teaching experiences over the years at both the high school and college levels (community colleges and 4 year colleges). My first teaching experience was as a student teacher as part of my teaching credential at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, FL. I taught US Government, US History, and Geography. It was from this experience that I realized how much I enjoyed spending my days thinking and talking about subjects that interested me and it was then that I decided to go to graduate school in Political Science.
I followed the typical grad student route and I started out as a TA for a large Intro to American Government class for a semester and then had my own sections. I felt well prepared to teach as a graduate student because of my student teaching experience and the wonderful preparation Dr. David Ray at the University of Oklahoma provided for his TAs, but it was still very nerve-wracking. Being in front of a group of people who have varying levels of expectations and interests means anything can happen and no matter how well prepared I thought I was there was always something that could come up and throw me off my game! I learned early on that it is ok to not know the answer to something and simply say—“good question…I will get back to you on that.” I had the usual array of issues arise in my first semester of teaching: students being unhappy about their grades on papers and exams, a few plagiarism and cheating incidents, and various minor. Overall it was a very positive experience and certainly reinforced my decision to continue teaching.
How would you describe your teaching style or philosophy?
Howard: My teaching philosophy is inspired by Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning and is probably better described as a learning philosophy rather than a teaching philosophy. Bloom outlined six cognitive domains that are necessary in the proficiency and mastery of new concepts and ideas. Like Bloom, I strongly believe that students need to have a clear grasp of the subject matter at hand and it is only from this foundational knowledge that students will be able to apply what they have learned to a variety of different experiences both inside and outside of the classroom.
When I am developing a course, whether it is a new course, or one I have taught in the past, I always begin by asking “what am I trying to achieve?” and “how am I going to achieve it?” Following Bloom, I structure my courses and assignments with the goal of having students develop knowledge, analytical skills, and the ability to synthesize and apply what they are learning to other aspects of the course and to new experiences outside of the classroom. Most importantly, I want students to be inquisitive so I encourage them to take some risks with their learning, explore new ideas, and challenge themselves.
My teaching style is to be supportive and approachable. One thing that helps with this is that I never assume that everyone understands everything we have covered. Even if no one asks a question I often find myself saying—“well let’s just review this one more time or let’s look at this from a different perspective.” I want students to know that some concepts and ideas really do need additional time to grasp—and that no one should be expected to master something right away. If I do this enough times in the beginning of the semester students eventually start asking questions and contributing more to class discussions.
Do you have favorite materials or courses to teach?
Howard: The Presidency is my favorite course to teach because it aligns so closely with my main area of research. However, I also really enjoy teaching the Introduction to American Politics course. It is in this course where most students may be encountering “political science” for the first time and it is so encouraging to watch some students begin to think about their role in the political process, how important it is to understand their government, and that they really can do something to improve their lives and the lives of their families and friends if they just know even a little bit about how our political system works.
I use a variety of approaches to teach my classes that provide opportunities for students to build on their knowledge and reflect on what they have been learning. I have used current events in a variety of ways over the years, most recently with “news roundtable” sessions at the beginning of class. Students are generally assigned different news outlets to follow and we open each class with an update about news involving the course material. Using current events, either as paper assignments, or as in class reports, has proven to be beneficial in helping students synthesize and apply the course material to their lives in a meaningful way.
I have also used simulations in a number of my courses. This has certainly not been without many challenges, however, simulations are a great tool for getting students to apply and integrate course content. They force students into situations where they have to “make connections” between concepts, practice problem solving, work collaboratively, improve their written and oral communication, and internalize the learning process because of high levels of personal accountability. Additionally, simulations have improved students’ abilities to conduct research, evaluate sources, and analyze information.
Another favorite assignment I have is the Election Day Exit Poll where students have a chance to engage with the community, apply what they have been learning, and practice a variety of essential communication and analytical skills. The best part of this assignment is how positive their interactions have been with the community. People are genuinely interested in what the students are doing. They have asked to see the results and have commented about how nice it is to see young people involved in the electoral process. These positive interactions have really helped my students realize that there is value in what they are studying.
What has been your most effective tool for engaging students in the classroom?
Howard: I am always on the look-out for some creative approach for engaging students and have read about a number of interesting ideas that faculty use in their classes. I have tried using music, movies, television shows, and in-class polling devices to engage students.
I honestly believe, however, that it is my enthusiasm for the subject matter I teach that engages my students. Since I know most of my students will not become political scientists, I try to reinforce the idea that regardless of their major or career path they have the necessary tools to be good consumers of political information, understand how government works and can positively contribute to the decision making process if they choose to participate. Knowing that they can “make a difference” is empowering and engaging.
Most recently, I have read a few articles that highlighted the importance of taking the time to explain to students why we choose particular books or assignments, how these materials connect to the themes of the course, what skills we want them to develop, and what they should be trying to do with the assignment beyond simply completing it. As a result, I have been taking the time to be more deliberate about explaining my rationale for how I design my courses and why I have selected certain assignments. I think this approach has helped students engage more with my courses because they understand why they are being asked to do certain things and how the coursework will help them to develop and hone essential skills that are needed for the workplace, graduate school, or life in general.
Did you have any classroom experiences as a student that influenced how you teach now?
Yes, as an undergraduate student at UCLA I took a US Foreign Policy class with Dr. Deborah Larson and I remember that every day she had an outline on the board. This made the course so accessible and easy to follow. It also provided many opportunities to draw connections between concepts and theories especially for students who were new to the material. At the time I really didn’t think I would be teaching Political Science classes, but here I am and one of the things I do for every class is put an outline on the board for that day’s material. It was my experience in her class that has shaped at least a little bit of how I approach teaching.
Each year, colleges and universities across the country nominate and distribute awards for teaching on campus, for everything from innovation in new teaching methods, to student-selected awards, to recognition for lifetime achievements.
APSA would like to recognize your great faculty, too!
At the 2016 APSA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, APSA will recognize campus-based teaching award winners at the Reception Honoring Teaching, hosted by Pi Sigma Alpha, the Political Science Education Organized Section, the APSA Teaching and Learning Committee, and the APSA Committee on the Status of Community Colleges in the Profession.
If you have a colleague who has won a campus teaching award during the 2015-2016 academic year, please nominate them to be recognized for their achievements and included in this year’s reception.
The deadline for nominations is June 27, 2016. Submit your nomination today!
Call for Nominations
On April 9, 2016, the APSA Council approved the creation of two new committees: the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession and the Committee on the Status of Contingent Faculty in the Profession. Submit any comments or nominations by June 15, 2016.
- Status Committee on Contingent Faculty – Submit Your Nomination
The goal of this Status Committee is to bring attention to issues that impact contingent faculty in the discipline and to determine how APSA can best engage and support them. APSA is now working to identify and appoint members to this newly formed Committee on the Status of Contingent Faculty in the Profession. Members appointed to the Committee should have an interest in highlighting and addressing the professional issues facing non-tenure-track faculty in the discipline.
- Status Committee on Graduate Students – Submit Your Nomination
The goal of this Status Committee is to bring attention to issues and concerns affecting PhD students in the discipline and to provide input to the APSA council and staff on policies and programs to effectively engage and support them. APSA is now working to identify and appoint members to this newly formed Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession. APSA is looking to appoint PhD students, both pre-comps and post-comps, who are concerned with the professional issues and opportunities facing PhD students in political science. APSA plans to appoint six members of this committee for two year terms.
Nominations and comments are due June 15, 2016. Learn more about Status Committees.
APSA invites PhD candidates to apply to participate in dissertation workshops that will be held on Wednesday, August 31, 2016, in Philadelphia, in advance of the 2016 APSA Annual Meeting.
Two workshops will be held:
- Intersection of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in American Political Behavior
- Advances in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy
Each full-day workshop will include six PhD candidates who will each present a dissertation chapter, along with two scholars who will lead the workshop and moderate discussions. Applications are due Monday, May 2, 2016.
The Ralph Bunche Endowment Fund supports the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute, which encourages students from under-represented racial or ethnic groups to pursue academic careers in political science. RBSI’s program enhances writing, research, and analytical skills, develops statistical skills for data analysis, exposes participants to the significant questions in the discipline, and introduces participants to leading political scientists.
Participating in the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute is the reason why I am a political scientist. This was my first exposure to the professoriate. My involvement with RBSI experience provided an opportunity for me to truly understand the importance of knowledge creation. Without this program, it is doubtful that I would have entered a graduate program in political science. I am thankful for APSA’s dedication to cultivating a pipeline for minority scholars.
My interests in Black women’s political participation was primed through my undergraduate courses at Howard University and solidified at RBSI. It was RBSI where I wrote my first research paper that included original data analysis. This paper used data from the National Black Politics Study (1993) to examine if race or gender consciousness was more important for Black women voters. The skills I learned at RBSI were a crucial foundation that enabled me to be successful in graduate school at Rutgers University. The knowledge gained at RBSI and connections that I made through the program have helped me to produce innovative scholarship on Black women political elites.
The invaluable mentorship from Paula McClain and program alumni is what sustained me through graduate school and through my years on the tenure track. I am indebted to this community of scholars for their support. Furthermore, my RBSI peers have proved to be a constant source of encouragement and inspiration. Now as a tenured professor, I remain grateful for their friendship. The RBSI program has created a network of scholars who have become my academic family. It is this sense of community that provides countless intangible benefits that are necessary for students and scholars of color to become successful political scientists. Moreover, I am extremely thankful to be afforded the opportunity to serve as mentor for current RBSI student and younger cohorts of alumni who are either in graduate school or on the tenure track. My efforts as a recruiter for underrepresented minority students for our political science department at Purdue University has been tremendously rewording. I am thankful that my university and department head, Rosie Clawson, are committed to investing in RBSI and strengthening the pipeline of URM students in political science. — Nadia Brown
For more information about RBSI, please visit www.apsanet.org/rbsi.
Donate to the Ralph Bunche Endowment Program and support students from under-represented groups on the path to a career in political science.
Visit www.apsanet.org/donate-now to make your contribution today!
The APSA Annual Fund provides immediate support to some of the association’s most critical initiatives. It is difficult to predict every opportunity or challenge that will emerge in a given year – an unrestricted gift to the Annual Fund helps APSA respond to needs as they arise.
In 2015, need arose for support to APSA’s travel grant program. The association experienced an 82% increase in requests for travel grant assistance to the Annual Meeting – thanks to the generosity of APSA friends and members who had made unrestricted contributions, APSA was able to approve more than 90% of the grant applications received. In total, APSA assisted more than 250 graduate students, international students, and international scholars from 27 countries with the costs of travel to San Francisco in 2015.
Katerina Tertytchnaya, an international scholar who attended the meeting from the United Kingdom, described the positive experience she had at the Annual Meeting thanks to receiving a travel grant:
I am immensely grateful to be a recipient of the APSA travel grants. This year’s meeting in San Francisco was by all means one of the most enriching, inspiring and motivating conferences I have ever had the pleasure to attend. Being incredibly well organized, the meeting offered many opportunities for young scholars to network and to establish contacts with fellow researchers in the field. All panels and poster sessions were most engaging and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to receive thorough feedback on my paper. I very much look forward to returning to future meetings of the Association!
— Katerina Tertytchnaya
To make a donation to the APSA Annual Fund and support critical programs like travel grants in 2016 and beyond, visit www.apsanet.org/donate-now.
The APSA Annual Fund provides immediate support to some of the association’s most critical programs. An unrestricted gift to the Annual Fund can be directed to a wide variety of APSA initiatives. In the past, the fund has supported the compilation of syllabi collections, short courses on professional development, and Annual Meeting travel grants.
In 2015, APSA experienced an 82% increase in applications for travel grant assistance to the Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Thanks to the generosity of APSA members who had made previous unrestricted donations, APSA was able to provide assistance to more than 90% of the requests received. In total, APSA provided travel assistance to more than 250 graduate students, international students, and international scholars from 27 different countries.
One of the recipients, Kiran Auerbach, shared the impact a travel grant had on her Annual Meeting experience:
This was my first time attending APSA’s annual meeting, and I was very excited to have been selected to present a paper at the conference. My home university could not help to cover any conference-related costs since I am officially on leave this academic year in order to do field research abroad for my dissertation. The APSA travel grant helped alleviate transportation costs in San Francisco. – Kiran Auerbach
Help the Annual Fund continue to support critical programs like travel grants in 2016 and beyond! To make a contribution to the Annual Fund or other APSA funds, please visit www.apsanet.org/donate-now.