Can exchanges between faculty and students be made fun, cool and exciting? A new Political Science Student Organization, or PSSO, is founded on the belief that they can. The organization was formed through the initiative of Cassie McMaster and Madison Wright, two students now entering their junior year. Cassie explains: “Madison and I decided to create PSSO when we were first admitted into the Political Science program. We felt that there wasn't an easy way for students and faculty to connect outside of the classroom, something that we think is incredibly important.” Madison adds: “Sometimes students are really intimidated by their professors and I think PSSO will give them an outlet to get to know their professors beyond the classroom in order for them to feel more comfortable asking them questions in class or going to office hours.”
McMaster and Wright worked with Meera Roy, Director of Academic Services, and George Lovell, the Department Chair, to launch the organization with an Ice Cream Social at the HUB on May 8th. Lovell reports that faculty and staff have also been excited about the formation of the organization. “Meera and I had already been talking last year about the need for a new student organization, so I was very happy to be approached by Cassie and Madison, two very enthusiastic new majors who were also experienced student leaders.” (McMaster has been active in Associated Students of Washington and is currently managing their volunteers and outreach efforts. Wright has been a leader at TedXofUW and at the Student Food Cooperative.) Lovell also notes, “My faculty colleagues were also excited to hear about this initiative, and not just because of the ice cream. Many of us were surprised to learn that students were so interested in learning about our work outside of the classroom.”
The Ice Cream Social, “showed us the potential in the organization” according to Madison Wright. “We had a big turnout. Once we provided the space people seemed to enjoy coming together. Professors came up to us and said they were so happy to be able to connect with their students. It was also special to see freshmen approach their professors nervously and then leave the event feeling more confident.” McMaster added, “The fact that students and faculty were engaging in a casual setting worked incredibly well. I don't think many students get to talk to professors and grad students in an environment like that, so seeing everyone chatting and enjoying themselves was very cool and exciting!”
The kick-off event also helped McMaster and Wright recruit interested students as active members of the new organization. With the start of fall quarter, PSSO members are now coming together to plan this year’s events. Wright reports, “We want to host talks on current issues, have professors speak about their research and bring speakers in for the upcoming elections!”
The group is also very interested in connecting with Political Science alumni. McMaster explains: “We are hoping to have multiple events that incorporate alumni. We want to have an alumni career panel, where students can hear and network with Political Science alumni and begin to think about future careers. As a college student, I know how beneficial and relieving it can be to hear that there are in fact careers after school.”
Professor Lovell expects the organization can build on two forums for students sponsored by the department last year and moderated by Professor Christine Di Stefano. The first was a panel in November where Professors Megan Francis, Mark Smith, and John Wilkerson explained the outcome of the 2014 midterm elections. The second was an April panel on “The Politics of Global Climate Change” featuring Professors Lance Bennett, Karen Litfin, and Aseem Prakash. Lovell notes, “Both of these events were very successful. The first was full and the second had an overflowing, standing-room-only crowd.” Lovell is happy that PSSO can now provide organized student input into future events where faculty bring teaching outside of the usual classroom setting. “The appeal of PSSO is that it is a student run organization. We planned last year’s panels based on what we thought students would be interested in hearing. Now, students can speak to us directly with a unified voice, allowing us to serve their interests.”
The department expects PSSO to be making more news in the future.