Campus Teaching Award Winner: Elliott Fullmer

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 2017-18 academic year, please let us know! Submissions are due by June 22, 2018. Learn more about the campus teaching award recognition program here.

Elliott Fullmer is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Randolph-Macon College, in Ashland, Virginia. He teaches a wide variety of undergraduate courses, including the American Presidency, the Federal Budget, Political Parties, Interest Group Politics, Identity Politics, Retail Politics, Presidential Elections, and Research Methods. In 2017, Dr. Fullmer was awarded the College’s Thomas Branch Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Dr. Fullmer serves as the College’s Director of the Washington Initiative, a program designed to help students engage with opportunities in the national capital. He also coordinates and supervises internships in Washington, D.C. for political science students.

Before joining the R-MC faculty in 2013, Dr. Fullmer taught courses at Hood College, James Madison University, and Georgetown University. He also worked as a researcher at the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit organization in Washington.

Dr. Fullmer has published research on elections and voting behavior in several peer-reviewed journals, including the Election Law JournalAmerican Politics ResearchPresidential Studies QuarterlyState Politics & Policy Quarterly, and the Forum. His work has also appeared in (or been cited by) Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to Interest Groups and LobbyingUSA TodayNPRReuters, and other media outlets.

Dr. Fullmer holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Villanova University (2005), as well as a Master of Arts (2010) and a Doctorate in Government (2013) from Georgetown University.

What’s your teaching background? What was your first teaching experience like?
I am completing my fifth year as an Assistant Professor at Randolph-Macon College. Before I joined the R-MC faculty in 2013, I taught as an adjunct professor at Hood College and James Madison University. I also had numerous opportunities to teach my own courses at Georgetown University while completing my PhD. My first course was an introductory American politics course during the summer of 2009. I entered the classroom unsure of whether or not I would enjoy the classroom experience. But by the time my first class session ended, I knew teaching was for me. I loved the challenge of explaining complicated concepts and inciting discussion among students. In the weeks that followed, I enjoyed planning each class session and identifying creative ways to convey material. I was hooked!

How would you describe your teaching style or philosophy?
I employ a mixed-method approach to teaching. I recognize that today’s students differ in their learning styles and sometimes struggle with attentiveness. While some respond well to lecture settings, others benefit more from open discussion and the use of multimedia in the classroom. When I lecture on a topic, I try to frequently pose questions to the students, allowing discussions to emerge from these queries. To help reinforce concepts, I also lean heavily on the use of multimedia. I often show 3-5 minute YouTube clips or documentary segments to help articulate and clarify topics. Examples include segments of presidential debates, short news programs on legislative initiatives, and clips of PBS American Experience documentaries. I find that when exposed to concepts through multiple mediums, students typically remain attentive for longer periods and ultimately engage in much clearer and richer discussions. I also incorporate classroom simulations and experiences outside the classroom to highlight concepts.

Do you have favorite materials or courses to teach?
I have so many! My favorite courses to teach are the American Presidency, Political Parties, and a course I recently developed on the Federal Budget. In general, I really enjoy courses that allow me to trace the historical development of things, such as the U.S. party system and presidential power. I also appreciate using the classroom to dissect and clarify complicated issues and concepts that are easily misunderstood if consumed through mass or social media. Some examples include high-profile laws (i.e. the Affordable Care Act), the presidential nomination process, and the campaign finance system. By exploring and (hopefully!) simplifying complicated subjects, I hope to help instill tools that students can apply to future issues and concepts that arise in our politics. Finally, I cherish opportunities to step outside the traditional classroom. Each fall, students from my classes design and administer an exit poll at local voting precincts. This experience allows students to interact with voters in the community and learn about an important aspect of the electoral process. I work with students as they design the survey, solicit participants in a randomized way, code the data, and interpret the findings.

I also take classes to Washington, D.C. on a regular basis. Engaging with the national capital – which is only 90 miles from our campus – is an important facet of a political science education. Through these trips, students become comfortable with the city and often begin to think through career options that could lead them to Washington.

Finally, students at R-MC participate in a four-week semester each January. In 2016, I created a course whereby students would travel to New Hampshire for two weeks and participate in the 2016 presidential primary. I arranged for each student to secure a volunteer position with the presidential campaign of their choice. Upon arriving in New Hampshire, students reported to their campaign each day and worked for several hours. Then, during the remainder of the time, the group would travel to candidate events throughout the state. Students ultimately met a former president, eight active presidential candidates, and countless prominent media figures!

What has been your most effective tool for engaging students in the classroom?
My most effective tool has probably been in-class simulations, which I use in most of my courses. I find that students often better comprehend concepts if they are forced to engage them in an interactive way. For example, in my Introduction to American Politics class, I assign students random members of Congress and challenge them to consider the interests of their respective districts while working together to reduce the federal budget deficit by a certain amount. Students are required to grasp their assigned roles and advocate for them within a set of pre-established guidelines. In doing so, they are forced to build coalitions, forge compromises, and accept imperfect solutions; all vital lessons for those studying government.

Did you have any classroom experiences as a student that influenced how you teach now?When I was frustrated as a student, it was usually because I felt that the instructor was not making an effort to connect with the students. As a result, I have always tried to adapt as necessary to particular groups and their needs. I don’t believe that teaching is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It is important for instructors to meet students where they are. Some need more examples, more interactivity, and more one-on-one attention. My favorite professors always adapted – both across and within courses – and I try to follow this example as best as I can.