Political Science Awards in Excellence Recipients 2011


Content courtesy of UW Today (writers Catherine O'Donnell and Vince Stricherz)
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Ann Buscherfeld
Lance Bennett
Andrew Cockrell
Jon Mercer

 

Photos courtesy of Peter May



Ann Buscherfeld: Distinguished Staff Award

As department administrator in political science, it’s no surprise that Ann Buscherfeld is
responsible for the budget. In fact she has responsibility for more than 100 budgets, some 70 of
them just within the department, when all of its programs and centers are considered.

That means keeping straight which money can be used for which types of expenses — after all,
you can’t use state money to buy meals for visiting dignitaries, and different rules apply for
federal funding and money raised through donations.

What is unusual, though, is how, year after year for more than a decade, Buscherfeld’s budgets
have been almost exactly on target, with very little left over and never anything overspent.

She is proud of that accomplishment, but it is only one factor that brought her a Distinguished
Staff Award.

“She helps us to set a tone and a standard of excellence in performance that makes us all better,
individually and collectively,” department Chairman Peter May and former chairmen Stephen
Majeski and Michael McCann wrote in a letter supporting her nomination for the award.

They tout Buscherfeld’s integrity, innovation, spirit of collaboration, fostering of diversity and
respect, and her willingness to support faculty and students. She also has been noted for helping
graduate students negotiate the research grant application process, which can be daunting even
for experienced faculty.

Buscherfeld is an Iowa native who lives in Issaquah, where her family raises golden retrievers.
She was an administrator at a hospital in Minnesota, and then worked as a medical secretary at a
Seattle-area clinic before joining the Political Science Department in 1986. She started as
department receptionist, advanced to secretary supervisor and then computer specialist before
becoming administrator in 1999.

The most difficult part of her job, she said, is keeping tabs on all the different facets of the
various budgets, and educating faculty and students on what types of things they can and cannot
do with money from various sources.

“We are scrutinized and we know it, so we want to make sure our funds are used properly,” she
said.

On any given day she has certain things she would like to accomplish but she has learned to be
flexible because of the variety of needs that come up.

“There’s no typical day,” she said. “I’ve learned not to plan my day because that can just
frustrate me.”

In a letter supporting her nomination, four directors of centers that Buscherfeld administers –
Sharan Brown, James Gregory, Steven Herbert and Heather Pool – praised her “almost endless
patience, and her inexplicable kindness to the clueless” for making their lives easier.

“We cannot imagine another staff person who does more with less and still has a smile on her
face,” they wrote. “We are perpetually astounded that she can do so much, so effectively. None
of us have ever seen a staff member so quietly prolific.”

Her work is so universally appreciated within the department (one nominating letter included
endorsements from 62 current graduate students) that in May 2010, during an event to honor
someone else in the department, Buscherfeld was called forward for special recognition. She was
presented a “Husky Achievement” trophy as “The Best Doggone Administrator.”

In their letter, May, Majeski and McCann noted that she often is forced to “innovate on the spot”
and that her ability to adapt quickly helps the entire department.

“Last year, we had back-to-back incidents of flooded offices in two different buildings,” they
wrote. “In each case she personally rearranged schedules, offices, meetings, furniture and files
while simultaneously mobilizing movers, repainting, plumbers, carpenters and electricians.”

While she takes pride in such accomplishments, Buscherfeld chalks it all up to being part of a job
that she enjoys and that gives her great satisfaction.

“I just love helping people and giving them the support they need,” she said.



Lance Bennett: University Faculty Lecturer

Several times a year, a network of Seattle residents gathers for lectures on current political
issues. Meanwhile, young people gather at Puget SoundOff, an online community that explores
social and political issues. In Europe, the UW professor behind both projects is researching issue
networks that engage citizens transnationally. He wants to know what will foster their growth.

And for his work, Lance Bennett has been named the University Faculty Lecturer.

A communication and political science professor at the UW since 1974, Bennett works at the
intersection between the ivory tower and the city square. He researches political conversations,
particularly ways to make them happen more easily and probe more deeply.

“I’ve always been fascinated by whether societies manage to create good lives for most of their
citizens, and what either hinders or facilitates it,” Bennett said. “We can use civic tools to create
realities that work better for people and the political power to bring them about.”

In November 2010, when there were nine measures on the Washington state election ballot,
Bennett worked with UW computer science professor Alan Borning, the local nonprofit
CityClub and several graduate students to create the Living Voters Guide. It used the 140-
character limit set by Twitter and a ranking system similar to that of Google to help citizens
create their own voting guide.

Bennett also helped create the Citizen Roundtable on Politics and Democracy. Working with
retired Seattle physician Dick Wesley, Bennett recruits UW faculty members and visiting authors
to lecture on political issues several times each year. Speakers have included David Cay
Johnston, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times stories on favoritism in the U.S. tax
system.

As founder and director of the UW Center for Communication & Civic Engagement, Bennett
and his colleague Borning won a $730,000 National Science Foundation grant to improve online
civic forums. They are pursuing a partnership with the City of Seattle to better engage citizens in
government. They envision such things as live chats fed into City Council hearings so people not
physically present can nevertheless voice their opinions.

Bennett also helped initiate the Civic Learning Online project, an informal digital site that helps
young people and their teachers not only talk about civic affairs but take action. Puget Sound Off
shows how university research finds practical outlets.

The product of a military family who lived a number of places, Bennett received his doctorate in
political science from Yale University in 1974 and is the Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor of
Communication and a professor of political science.

He has written 10 books, including When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media
from Iraq to Katrina (2007). With co-authors Regina Lawrence and Steven Livingston, Bennett
explores the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and the controversy about abuse of
prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The authors argue that reporters’ dependence on official sources means
voices beyond Washington power circles don’t get heard as well as they should.

Bennett is dividing his sabbatical among research projects in Seattle, the Kennedy Institute of the
Free University in Berlin and the political science department at Stockholm University, where he
has been Olof Palme Visiting Chair.

At the UW next autumn, Bennett will deliver a public lecture on the democratization of truth. As
more ways of getting political information emerge and traditional modes such as newspapers
become less influential, Bennett will explain, people are gathering and disseminating information
on their own. It’s drawn more people into civic discussions but has also made consensus more
difficult.

“Lance has defined research in political communication,” said David Domke, who chairs the
UW Department of Communication. “He connects political leaders to journalism to civic
engagement to generational changes to new technologies to voting behavior, and he talks to both
scholars and the general public. That's pretty much the holy grail of scholarship.”


Andrew Cockrell: Excellence in Teaching Award

When teaching assistant Andrew Cockrell works with students, he leans forward at his desk,
listening intently, focused on whoever has the floor. He smiles, he jokes, but he also keeps
himself and his students on task.

Cockrell pushes the undergraduates he teaches. He also pushes himself — hard.
For his work as a teaching assistant, Cockrell has won an Excellence in Teaching Award.

“In my 32 years as a faculty member in this department, I have never seen a TA or lead TA who
has displayed Andrew’s level of initiative, enthusiasm and commitment to TA excellence,” said
Peter J. May, chairman of the Department of Political Science.

Elizabeth Kier, an associate professor of political science, said two words recur in student
comments about Cockrell: “enjoy” and “inspire.” Kier said: “Andrew’s sections are fun. He
cleverly designs debates that encourage students to pit different theorists against each other.”

Who would think, she added, of staging a smackdown between Christopher Layne, the 21stcentury
American realist, and Immanuel Kant, the 18th-century idealist?

Cockrell is quick to credit professors such as Kier and Jon Mercer for mentoring him. He’s
equally quick to credit students, both his peers and younger ones. “I went in expecting there
would be smart students, but there are brilliant ones. Having a classroom full of smart, engaging
students makes teaching easy,” he said.

Cockrell came to the UW with a master's of philosophy in politics from Oxford University and a
bachelor’s degree cum laude from Willamette University.

After Cockrell had been a UW teaching assistant for two years, he was assigned to teach the
quarter-long training course for new teaching assistants. He redesigned the course, bringing
innovation to standard things such as grading and feedback. He also brought in “celebrity
guests”: experienced teaching assistants who addressed issues such as lessons plans and
managing the classroom.

Joannie Tremblay-Boire, a doctoral student in political science, took the training course when
she was a new teaching assistant and then became one of Cockrell’s colleagues. She noticed
how, when revamping the course, Cockrell asked his peers what was working for them in the
classroom. Tremblay-Boire has also noticed Cockrell greeting students by name, even when it’s
been a while since they’ve been in his course.

Natalie Nguyen, who is in the section Cockrell teaches as part of Mercer’s 400-level course in
international conflict, said Cockrell has been the best teaching assistant she’s had at the UW.
He’s approachable, she explained, and he helps students understand multiple perspectives on the
same issue.

For his work, Cockrell won the 2010 Department of Political Science award for best teaching
assistant.

But it’s not a case of gliding from success to success. Asked what he’s failed at, Cockrell talks
about things he feels he should have done or said in the classroom.

During his second quarter as a teaching assistant, for example, he overheard two students joking.
One of the students said, “Oh, that’s so gay,” referring to something dumb or silly. Cockrell
ignored the remark but later wished he had reminded the two of the hurt that throwaway remarks
can cause.

“Everyone needs to feel welcome in the classroom,” he said.

Later in the quarter, he overheard a similar conversation among other students. That time, he
spoke up.

If all goes well, Cockrell will soon begin his dissertation. The native of Vancouver, Wash. thinks
that once he has the doctorate, he’d like to teach at a small college in the Pacific Northwest.

“I grew up here,” he said. “I want to stay close.”



Jonathan Mercer: Distinguished Teaching Award

If you walk with Jonathan Mercer, be prepared to pick up your feet. He walks fast. He also
thinks and talks fast — and students like it a lot.

An associate professor in the Department of Political Science, Mercer has won a Distinguished
Teaching award.

He specializes in international relations, doing what the best diplomats do: talk but also listen
very carefully, whether one-on-one or with a class of 150 students. He listens, wisecracks and
isn’t afraid to challenge.

James Harmon, a senior in economics and political science, got to know Mercer last year when
he took his 400-level course in political psychology. “Mercer really opened my mind to
alternative explanations — better explanations than the traditional paradigms of political
science,” Harmon said.

Mercer researches the effects of emotion on international relations, a field long dominated by
theories that assume perfect rationality.

Harmon sought Mercer’s counsel about graduate school. “The Ph.D. had been my dream. It
helped me get through some difficult situations,” Harmon said. Between the ages of 10 and 18,
he lived in 20 foster homes.

But Mercer wouldn’t let Harmon simply amble into graduate school. He questioned him closely.
He issued chapter and verse about rigor, about analysis, about time and money. In crowded
fields, plenty of professors make sure students genuinely want the doctorate, but Mercer is
particularly probing

Harmon went away and thought hard. Eventually, though, he decided yes, he very much wants a
doctorate in political science.

OK, Mercer said, and helped with applications. Harmon got accepted to several programs but
decided on the UW. “I chose to stay here,” Harmon said, “largely because of the support I knew
I would get from people like Jon Mercer.”

Mercer himself holds a doctorate from Columbia University. He’s drawn by the drama of
international relations. “Biology doesn’t have wars,” he said. “There’s drama to international
politics that makes it really easy to teach.”

But don’t be misled. Mercer does not just wander into class and spout anecdotes. In a 400-level
international conflicts class this past May, Mercer worked from a detailed outline projected on a
screen, quizzing students about theories of nuclear war, helping them connect theory to example.
It does not pay to attend a Mercer class unprepared because he calls on students, expecting
answers.

Mel Belding, a retired physician, audits the international conflicts course. “Jon is one of the
finest teachers I’ve ever encountered,” he said after one of Mercer’s classes. “His lectures are
extremely well organized and well presented. He’s engaging, very sharply humorous and
incredibly well informed.”

“I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy teaching,” Mercer said during an interview in his
office. “Students are smart; they work hard and they put up with my bad jokes, even though I
don’t put up with them coming late.”

Mercer has been a leader both in and out of the classroom. He served as director of the political
science honors program from 1999 to 2005, at the outset seeing too little sense of community
and too many students fumbling with honors theses. He arranged social gatherings, involving
faculty in some events and hosting some at his home. Working with faculty and staff, he also
redesigned requirements and faculty advising for the thesis.

In the past eight years, Mercer has shaped at least 10 honors theses, three of them winning the
departmental award for best honors thesis.

With Elizabeth Kier, an associate professor of political science, Mercer has made international
relations and national security more prominent on campus. They secured external funding for the

UW International Security Colloquium, the only academic forum of its kind in the Pacific
Northwest. It brings leading figures from across the U.S. and Europe to the UW. Mercer and
Kier also created a certificate program for undergraduates seeking to concentrate on international
security.

The really revealing thing about Mercer, said Department Chairman Peter May, is the line of
students outside his door during office hours. “While most of us wonder where students are,”
May said, “Mercer is stretching minds, challenging them.”

Some days, May drops by for a chat, only to find Mercer talking with a student. Rather than
quickly wrapping up with the student, Mercer says, “Sorry, busy – I’ll call you later.”