Excellence in teaching political science is essential to the discipline. This interview series highlights campus teaching award winners who have been recognized by APSA for their achievements. If you or a colleague has won a campus teaching award in the 2015-16 academic year, please let us know! At the 2016 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.
Julie Lantrip earned her Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University and her J.D. at Harvard Law School. She is currently a Professor of Government and Pre-Law Advisor at Tarrant County College, Northwest in Fort Worth, Texas. Prior to teaching, Dr. Lantrip practiced immigration and international human rights law, clerked for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose, Costa Rica, and helped found the Opening Doors Immigration Clinic in Denton, Texas. In 2014 she was awarded the Tarrant County College Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Teaching.
What’s your teaching background? What was your first teaching experience like?
Lantrip: My first college teaching experience was as an adjunct teaching community college night courses, which included a high percentage of non-traditional and low-income students who were working full time. Since they were older and more experienced students in a small class setting, they were not shy about sharing their own frustrations with government and politics, and that allowed me to ground the basic American government course with real life examples. I also realized from those adjunct experiences that I related more to the community college students than I had to the university students when I had served as a teaching assistant at my undergraduate university. Many of the community college students were low income and first generation students, like I had been, who were paying their own way through college and were grateful to have the opportunity.
How would you describe your teaching style or philosophy?
Lantrip: I try to establish a conversational, soft Socratic atmosphere in the class so that students are free to join in the discussions of current events and class activities that I incorporate into the course. Since I teach only the basic courses and most of the students are not political science majors, I make sure to bring in real world examples and have students bring in their own perspectives. For example, on the first day, I often have students explore their frustration about being required to take a government course, and then lead them through a discussion about how the political process, which is the very thing they have been mandated to learn in the course, is also the way that they might be able to change that requirement. I also offer extra study sessions outside of class to deal with the reality of our students’ often obstacle-filled lives. Many of our students get behind because they had to miss class due to work or family conflicts, while many others are first time in college students who need help learning to study for college exams.
Do you have favorite materials or courses to teach?
Lantrip: I was an attorney before going back to graduate school for my Ph.D., so I tend to gravitate toward anything that involves constitutional law, which is almost everything that we cover in the basic government courses. I have also coached moot court, taught honors courses, organized documentary film festivals, and advised pre-law students, and I always enjoy working with the many community college students who (perhaps surprisingly to some folks) have a strong desire to challenge themselves beyond the classroom. Many of our students have financial, work, or family obligations that make extracurricular activities like moot court or producing a documentary film difficult, so I am currently exploring ways to make at least an introduction to academically challenging activities like these available to more of our students, without the extensive time commitment that full participation requires.
What has been your most effective tool for engaging students in the classroom?
Lantrip: Many students have told me that my enthusiasm, while sometimes annoying in morning classes, helped get them through a class that they were dreading. I do not hide my own frustrations with politics in America, but I also do not hide how much I love debating constitutional issues or discussing the latest political news. Being passionate about your subject sounds pretty basic, but I remember that some of my least favorite classes in college were those where the instructor seemed to have been given the class as punishment. I am in the classroom because I want to be there, and I have the benefit of working in a department with colleagues who are equally passionate about teaching.
Did you have any experiences as a student that influenced how you teach now?
Lantrip: My best experiences as a student were in large part a direct benefit of being accepted into TRIO programs, which are funded by the federal government to assist low income, first generation and underrepresented students. Seeing the difference those programs made for me and many of my peers also influenced my desire to teach at a community college, where we have a student body with a higher percentage of underrepresented and low-income students. In high school, I participated in Upward Bound and learned about what college life was like while living in a dorm during the summer and taking my first college classes with the support of the program. As an undergraduate McNair Post-Baccalaureate Fellow, I was matched with political science mentors who guided me on a path toward becoming the first in my family to receive a doctorate, which had not originally been part of my plan. I know that I can never repay the incredible benefits that these programs provided me, but I continue to think about what a difference a little extra support can make when I see students who need extra advising or tutoring.