Exceptional Education - Responsible Citizens for an Evolving World | Spring/Summer 2017

July 19, 2017

In an age during which the political landscape is incredibly polarized, education is more important than ever. The University of Mount Union’s Department of Political Science and International Studies recognizes the necessity of preparing students for responsible citizenship and impactful leadership long after their time as undergraduate students. 

The department is home to three majors: political science, international affairs and diplomacy, and national security and foreign intelligence analysis (NSFIA). The department offers a minor in legal studies to prepare students for graduate school and careers in the legal field, and a minor in public service to prepare students to enter public service careers in various fields. Each program focuses on the students’ potential career paths and empowers students to realize how they want to leave their imprint on the world once they earn their degrees.

Students often continue their education at the graduate level, having been well prepared to do so by the faculty at Mount Union. Bryant Roby ’15 is currently completing a master’s degree in administration of justice at Mercyhurst University and is an intern in the office of the Erie [PA] County Public Defender. He will attend law school in his hometown of Chicago at DePaul University this fall.

“The Department of Political Science and International Studies has thoroughly prepared me for my master’s degree,” Roby said. “At Mercyhurst, we are currently working on our research projects, and I am one of the only students in the program who has done anything similar with regard to literature review and data analysis.”

Networking from Capitals to The Capitol
The curriculum of the political science major at Mount Union is built for students who want to change the world, make a difference in their communities, and take on anything in between. These principles are shown both in the classroom and through the experiential learning opportunities offered by the department. 

One such offering is provided through The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. Through this partnership, students have the opportunity to spend a semester in Washington, DC and intern with an organization that matches their desired career field. Some examples include: The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and C-SPAN.

Other alumni have interned for state and local representatives, senators, and judges who were either in office or on the campaign trail. Five current students also had the privilege of interning at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions held during the 2016 Presidential Election through The Washington Center. 

“My favorite learning opportunity thus far has been my experience at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this past summer,” said Bridget Dennis ’17, a political science major from Mount Vernon, Ohio. “I made so many connections through the process and learned a semester’s worth of material in two weeks. I encourage everyone to be more involved in politics, as it can truly be a lot of fun and very rewarding at the same time.”

Presidential debate watch partyIn preparation for the 2016 Presidential Election, the political science faculty and the Regula Center for Public Service and Civic Engagement gave students the chance to learn about and discuss the political process through a series called “UMU Votes.” The group held on-campus viewing parties for each of the four post-primary debates, encouraging students to engage in positive and thoughtful dialogue about the electoral process, candidates, and political parties. Students from Alliance High School and community members also became involved in the conversation using #AHSDebates and #UMUVotes on Twitter.

“Across the four debates, we had more than 271 students come out to watch at our on-campus events,” said Dr. Lori Kumler, assistant professor of political science and international studies. “Anyone who says young people don’t care about politics is not paying attention.” 

Earlier in the year, similar dialogue was had during a conference on “The Barack Obama Presidency: Legacy and Record”, held at Mount Union in conjunction with The Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at The University of Akron. The event was described as, “an even-handed, non-partisan, and scholarly examination of the actions and consequences of the Obama Presidency on the United States and the world from a variety of perspectives.” Scholars from 26 institutions across the country presented topics and sat on panels as part of the conference. Don Gonyea, NPR political correspondent; Jenna Brayton, former White House associate director of content for the Office of Digital Strategy; and David Swartz, former ambassador/first U.S. envoy to the Republic of Belarus, all participated on panels throughout the conference.

Global Perspectives
Just as our alumni have experienced incredible success domestically, Mount Union’s reach has extended globally as well. Through the international affairs and diplomacy major, students learn about the theories and paradigms that shape the processes of cooperation and competition in the international system. Students have an opportunity to complement their understanding of the underlying dynamics shaping the 21st century with semester-long study abroad opportunities and short-term, faculty-led international study tours.  

Francis Schortgen teachingDr. Francis Schortgen, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science and International Studies, has been offering short-term travel seminars to Singapore, Hong Kong, and Dubai/Abu Dhabi over spring break since 2015. Having lived in Luxembourg, the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea, Schortgen draws on extensive international experience and an unparalleled global network of high-level business contacts to provide students with once-in-a-lifetime international learning experiences. His travel seminars are tailored to offer students insight into the potential and/or actual challenges emanating from, and the exciting and diverse opportunities present in, dynamic world regions. 

Over the years, student participants have had the opportunity to sit down with legendary, multimillionaire investor Jim Rogers in Singapore, meet the CEO of the Singapore Exchange, and talk with the chief economist of the Department of Economic Development (Dubai). They have also been granted unparalleled access to government agencies and research facilities, including the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) and Biopolis in Singapore; the Hong Kong Cyberport; and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. 

“Aside from the satisfaction of knowing that I contribute to the education of future generations of leaders and responsible global citizens, the most satisfying part of my job is to engage students in substantive exchanges of ideas and intellectual discussions spanning beyond the classroom,” Schortgen said.

International affairs and diplomacy students also get the opportunity to hear from successful alumni. Robin (Cram ’08) Patzelt, a foreign service officer for the U.S. Department of State, and Teale Harold ’11, a political affairs advisor at Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations in New York City, regularly Skype in with classes and offer unique and timely perspectives that further reinforce the value of the program.

While alumni play an influential role in enhancing student learning, it’s the department’s faculty members who are in a position to make an impact on a daily basis.  

“My favorite professor is Dr. Kumler,” said Chris Campbell ’19, an international affairs and diplomacy and German double major from Broadview Heights, Ohio. “She has a very unique way of teaching that leaves an impact. Her Introduction to Geography course taught me a great deal about the world and really pushed me to work hard and learn the material.”

Mount Union also has a student-led Model United Nations (UN) organization on campus. Each year, student members apply their knowledge of international issues and practice their diplomatic and negotiation skills at Model UN conferences in Chicago and St. Louis. Over the years, the Model UN team has won Outstanding Delegation Awards for representing North Korea (2010, 2015), China (2009), Russia (2008), and Rwanda (2007).

Students emerge from the international studies program ready to assume the mantle of globally-responsible citizens. They leave equipped with skills and insights they can leverage in a diverse range of internationally-focused careers.

NSFIA: Analyzing the Future
The Department of Political Science and International Studies continues to innovate and develop new programs to meet the demands of students and employers. With the continuing threats of terrorism, the growing danger from cyber-attacks, and the potential for international conflict, the demand for national security professionals is rapidly growing. To meet this need, the department introduced a major in NSFIA in the fall of 2014.

This program is one of the first of its kind in Northeast Ohio, providing students with a foundation in national security through an interdisciplinary program that combines courses in information technology, foreign language, security studies, and intelligence analysis with a regional specialization. While the program does not promise to turn students into dramatized, fictional heroes like Jason Bourne, the applied approach in the classroom, a senior project, and a required national security-related internship provide students with a wide range of skills. 

“NSFIA is a program that is not offered at many universities in the area, but Mount Union offered the perfect program and campus atmosphere that allowed me to feel comfortable even before I chose to attend,” said Kyle Shepard ’18, an NSFIA and international affairs and diplomacy double major from Perry, Ohio.

While the NSFIA program only graduated its first students last year, the program’s alumni are already achieving great things, some going on to careers in Naval intelligence and Army linguistics. Although many students in the program complete the entirety of this degree at Mount Union, the department has signed an articulation agreement with Stark State College to attract non-traditional, continuing education, and transfer students to the program.    

Judges PanelLaw and Order
To go along with these three diverse majors, Mount Union’s legal studies minor, also known as the pre-law program, offers an optimal curriculum to prepare students for graduate school. The program is led by Dr. Jack DeSario, professor of political science and international studies. DeSario, a longtime Mount Union faculty member, has run more than 100 candidate and issue elections throughout Ohio. He has also served as a political analyst for WKYC Channel 3 in Cleveland.  

DeSario’s great relationship with the media led him to be an expert source of commentary for local outlets regarding the 2016 Presidential Election. He provided a UMU Experts talk in March less than 24 hours before primary voting began, and spoke at a LINC luncheon on campus in September, educating voters in the Alliance community about the process of an election from an objective, detailed perspective. 

“Our legal studies students have been admitted and received academic scholarships from numerous law schools across the country including: Georgetown University, New York University, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University, The Ohio State University, and Case Western Reserve University,” said DeSario. “Our graduates have been employed by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, U.S. District Courts and Courts of Appeal, lobbying firms, and county prosecutors’ offices in several states, and as legal advisors for numerous colleges and educational institutions.”

The pre-law program also provides unique learning opportunities for students through mock trials, service-learning, field experiences, and presentations regarding real-life experiences of area prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. In February of 2017, Mount Union welcomed a panel of law experts to speak to students and the community about trying high-profile cases. The panel consisted of Dr. Sarah M.R. Cravens, interim co-dean and associate professor of law at The University of Akron and Stark County Common Pleas judges Chryssa Hartnett and Taryn Heath.  

“Everyone at Mount Union really makes an effort to help you into your better self,” said Casey (Bauman ’12) Wallace, a political science and pre-law graduate and owner and practicing attorney at The Law Office of Casey E. Wallace PLLC. “That academic push really prepared me for law school. I was ready for the rigors of law school more than I thought I would be.” 

The political climate is one of the most captivating pieces of news in America every day, and the faculty in the Department of Political Science and International Studies exhibit the research and teaching experience that is necessary to educate today’s students. The faculty’s expertise and guidance gives students the foundation to form opinions and passions that will allow them to make a lasting impact on our world after graduation.

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