Putting Political Science into Action

Dec 8, 2016

by Dr. Kelly McHugh
Assistant Professor of Political Science

For the past four years, all incoming political science majors have participated in the “Politics and Law” learning community. As members of the learning community, all students are co-enrolled in two courses each semester. In addition, some students in the learning community choose to live together in the residence halls. This arrangement allows political science majors to connect material across courses while forming strong relationships with their classmates.

Each fall semester, students take both “Introduction to American Political Science” and “Introduction to International Relations.” The faculty members teaching these classes have developed unique engaged learning activities that allow students to explore the interconnections between the state, national, and international levels of politics. By working together in these classes, students develop strong collaborative skills, preparing them to complete research projects during their junior and senior years at Florida Southern College.

For example, this fall, students in Dr. Bruce Anderson’s “Introduction American Political Science” class completed a multi-week project where they researched the features of democratic countries. Groups of students examined democracies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Spain, and created a data set that measured how well these countries protect rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to a fair trial. Students use this data to complete a final project that analyzes how well each democracy lives up to its constitutional promises.

Students participating in Dr. Kelly McHugh's model United Nations activity.

Rey Munson ‘20 said, “In Dr. Anderson's class, working with the data set has taught me a different way of thinking. Finding answers to questions are not X=Y, but instead X=Y because of Z. This means that one reason does not mean one result. One reason equals one result because of another factor that comes into play that explains the answer. It's analysis at a different level that is more necessary for the fields of work for political science majors.”

In my class, “Introduction to International Relations,” students spent one part of the semester focusing on ways to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world; this is a challenge that has faced the international community for decades. After learning about the history of nuclear weapons, each student selected a member country of the United Nations and researched that country’s views about nuclear weapons. Over the course of two class periods, students engaged in a role-playing activity where they negotiated with their classmates to develop an international treaty aimed at limiting the number of weapons in the world.

Cheyenne Caswell ‘20 is a member of FSC’s Model United Nations club, and believes that this in-class experience helped her when she participated in a Model UN competition in Gainesville in October.

She explains, “I was better able to understand what was going on and how difficult it would be to come to a decision regarding the different topics. Once again, it showed that everyone has different thought processes and beliefs and that it is difficult (but not impossible) for people to come together.”

Both Cheyenne and Rey believe their experience in the learning community has been a positive one. The learning community experience continues into the spring semester with all majors taking two additional paired courses: “Law and the Courts” and “Public Policy Analysis.”

Rey said, “I have personally loved the opportunities presented in the department, as well at the diverse group of individuals we have been able to meet. It has really expanded my knowledge of how people think and act.”