Campus Teaching Award Winner: Janine A. Parry

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 2016-17 academic year, please let us know! Submissions are due by June 20. Learn more about the campus teaching award recognition program here.

Janine A. Parry is Professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas and has directed the annual Arkansas Poll since its inception in 1999. Employing a multi-media approach, she teaches a variety of courses, including introductory and graduate classes. She has earned numerous teaching honors, most recently the Arkansas Alumni Association’s Baum Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2016. From 2008-2011, she co-directed the Teaching and Faculty Support Center at the University of Arkansas, and from 2012-2014 she served as the elected Chair of the Campus Faculty/Faculty Senate. The author of two books and three dozen articles and chapters on subjects relating to state politics, public opinion, and gender and politics, she frequently provides analysis to media outlets, including NPR, CNN, BBC, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and more. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Western Washington University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from Washington State University.

What’s your teaching background? What was your first teaching experience like?
I come from a long line of public school teachers. We like to read and talk, and TALK, about what we learned and what we thought about what we learned. So, the academy is a natural place to feed that beast. My first formal teaching experience was first as a discussion leader for American National Government, then my own (small) summer section once I’d earned my MA at Washington State University. That summer, I was up still prepping lectures by 4 every morning, five days a week. It was madness, but magical too!

How would you describe your teaching style or philosophy?
I have high expectations, but provide all the tools for success: detailed instructions, sample papers, research tips, one-on-one and small group research tutoring, study guides, evening study sessions, all manner of ways to earn points, extensive feedback on rough drafts, etc. If students show any initiative at all, I’ll do everything I can to help them.

Do you have favorite materials or courses to teach?
I honestly think the large introductory sections of American National Government are the most important thing I do. Most of my 150-300 students each semester are not majors, so this is IT: our last shot at teaching responsible citizenship. After college, they will go out into the world as accountants, teachers, speech therapists, and the like, and – with any luck – think more deeply than they otherwise would about their role in the republic. Savvy news consumption has been a central part of my message to them for 20 years.

What has been your most effective tool for engaging students in the classroom?
Knowing their names, or even the tiniest thing about them…really, taking any interest in them as people. It’s not hard, and it helps build the rapport that keeps them coming back.

Did you have any classroom experiences as a student that influenced how you teach now?
I had so many wonderful teachers, from primary grades up through graduate school. Overall, I know I most admired those who were personable but also demanding. That’s the magic combination I’m striving to achieve on any given day.