A Dynamic Duo: APSACivic and Political Science Education—A Partnership for Civic Innovation

Political Science Educator: volume 25, issue 1

The Teacher-Scholar Column


Elizabeth A. Bennion, Indiana University South Bend.

As a teacher-scholar, I am always seeking new ways to improve my teaching and research, and to connect with others who can help me develop as a teacher, scholar, and engaged member of my community. I also seek ways to share what I have learned in hopes of moving our understanding of civic engagement, and civic engagement pedagogy, forward. The Civic Engagement Section of the American Political Science Association (APSACivic) formed in 2020 to promote civic engagement teaching, research, and praxis. The new section is eager to collaborate with the Political Science Education (PSE) section to promote innovative approaches to civic engagement education. This column explains the background of APSACivic, discusses the relationship between APSACivic and PSE, updates PSE members about APSACivic’s accomplishments during its first year, and invites PSE section members to partner with APSACivic in promoting high quality, high impact civic education.

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While attending a 2019 APSA panel featuring participants in the Institute for Civically Engaged Research (ICER), I heard several APSA members question aloud why the APSA did not have a separate section focused on civic engagement. Richard Davis (Brigham Young University) was particularly interested in founding a new section, and later asked me to join him in this effort. As an attendee of the ICER session, and long-time member of the PSE section, I noted that the Political Science Education section has been extremely engaged in promoting civic engagement pedagogy and civic engagement themed Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research. I described the success of the PSE Section in shining a spotlight on political science education, including pedagogical best practices, and highlighted the PSE section’s success in promoting and launching a teaching and learning conference and a journal of political science education. I also noted that both the conference and the journal featured numerous tracks, workshops, and articles on the topic of civic engagement and added that APSA had published two books on teaching civic engagement, co-edited by teacher-scholars, including me, who had met through the PSE section.

The PSE section’s ability to bring together people with common concerns, and a shared commitment to high impact teaching and transformative student learning experiences, is remarkable. Also remarkable is the section’s strong sense of collective identity, comradery, and “belonging” for political scientists interested in meaningful teaching-related professional development, publication, and networking opportunities.

Attendees of the 2019 ICER session noted that they were unable to find a similar home for their community-engaged scholarship and often looked outside of the APSA to find models of faculty members who focused on community-engaged research and civic engagement praxis. All were eager to collaborate with the PSE section and to form a section specifically devoted to the study, teaching, and practice of civic engagement.

Other members of the discipline seemed to recognize the need for the section. Richard reached out to ICER co-director Peter Levine (Tufts University) who became the section’s first Vice Chair. Together the three of us circulated a petition among APSA members, including PSE members and members of other relevant sections, This petition quickly gathered over 400 signatures, exceeding the number of signatures required to become a new section. After proposing the section to the APSA Executive Council in December 2019, Interim Co-Chair Richard Davis, Interim Vice Chair Peter Levine, Interim Treasurer Maliga Och, Interim Secretary Verlan Lewis, and I drafted, submitted, and revised formal bylaws to be approved at the 2020 APSA meeting. We used an open call for volunteers to solicit committee members and candidates for officer positions, and invited all APSA members to join us for our first (virtual) business meeting and (virtual) reception in August 2020. The 2020 officer election confirmed Jeffrey Kraus (Wagner College) as secretary, Carah Ong-Whaley (James Madison University) as Vice Chair, and Maliga Och (Idaho State University) as treasurer, with Richard Davis and I remaining as co-chairs. Leah Murray (Weber State University) and Lisa Bryant (California State University, Fresno) replaced Jeffrey Kraus as program chairs.

APSACivic is designed to highlight the importance of civic engagement to our discipline and to bring together faculty and graduate students who sometimes fail to interact because they think of themselves primarily as teachers, scholars, or practitioners. The goal of the section is to encourage greater communication among these groups, to promote collaboration and synergy among faculty engaged in different kinds of civic engagement work, to facilitate, recognize, and reward work across these three domains, and to encourage synergy for individual faculty members seeking to integrate different aspects of their work.

From the beginning, the founders of APSACivic envisioned the new section as a partner to the Political Science Education section, collaborating with PSE on civic education programming, while providing additional opportunities for civic educators to develop and share their work. The plan for the section’s first year was to get the section organized, to identify and elect section officers, to create and staff committees, and to hold committee brainstorming sessions to determine how the new section would fulfill its core mission.

To facilitate cooperation and avoid confusion, PSE section president, Terry Gilmour, invited me (as APSACivic’s co-founder and interim co-chair) to talk about the new section at an informal PSE business meeting at the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference in Albuquerque in February 2020, shortly before the pandemic shut down in-person conferences. This allowed me to answer questions of the PSE membership and stress the desire to make APSACivic a key partner for the PSE – a way to make more civic engagement scholars and practitioners aware of the PSE’s important work, to encourage membership in the PSE section, and to jointly work to expand professional development, presentation, publication, and other opportunities for civic educators. The 2020 (virtual) APSA Annual Meeting provided an opportunity to officially launch the section, and to introduce APSACivic to the PSE membership and other APSA members.

As APSACivic co-chair, I talked again with the PSE president to determine the best way to work productively with PSE moving forward. President Gilmour suggested that our committees and officers should come up with specific proposals to present to the PSE membership at the 2021 business meeting. Before the meeting, APSACivic’s program co-chairs reached out to the PSE program chairs to propose jointly sponsored panels at the APSA meeting. Both PSE and APSACivic also agreed to co-sponsor the book launch reception for the APSA’s latest books: Teaching Civic Engagement Globally and Political Science Internships: Toward Best Practices. Meanwhile, APSACivic’s Civic Education Committee has developed a series of proposals for webinars, short courses, and other types of programming that we look forward to discussing at both the APSACivic and PSE business meetings in September 2021.

Other APSACivic committees also have been busy. The Awards Committee proposed a new series of civic engagement awards. The Mentoring Committee developed a new civic engagement mentoring program. The Publications Committee developed editorial teams and released RFPs for a special issue of the e-Journal of Public Affairs and a Spotlight feature in PS: Political Science and Politics. As a member of both sections, I am excited about these projects, each of which APSACivic advertised to both sections through APSA Connect. I am also excited about future possibilities for collaborative planning and publicity for co-sponsored webinars, workshops, and other events offered both at formal conferences (e.g. APSA’s annual meeting, TLC, and APSA at TLC) and throughout the year – using the online platforms with which we have become so familiar during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are a few ideas to peak your curiosity:

  • A 60-minute virtual Civic Café on four consecutive Fridays in October (10/8, 10/15, 10/22, and 10/29). Topics might include: incorporating civic engagement into your online political science classes; promoting reflection, dialogue, and discourse; using technology to facilitate community-engaged learning, and carving out a career as a civically-engaged teacher-scholar (co-sponsored with APSACivic’s mentoring committee).
  • An ongoing monthly First Friday or Third Thursday virtual civic café series.
  • An APSACivic and PSE co-sponsored pre-conference short course, conference-in-a-conference, or dine-around focused on civic education, as well as civics-focused research and service.
  • Sessions featuring the civic engagement groups identified on APSA’s Raise the Vote website, allowing faculty to learn about several groups per session, including who they are, what they do, what resources they offer, and how one can get engaged with them.
  •  A session on how to conduct community-based civically engaged research, including how to engage students as researchers.
  • A session on how to conduct civics-focused SoTL research.
  • A webinar featuring the editors/authors of the new APSA Teaching Civic Engagement Globally book.
  • A webinar featuring the authors/editors of the new APSA book Political Science Internships: Toward Best Practices.

There will be times when APSACivic and the PSE section work together on co-sponsored projects and events. There will be times when the two sections advertise and promote each other’s projects and events. There also will be times when the two sections work separately, but in tandem, to advance the quality, reputation, recognition, and impact of civic engagement education in our discipline, at our academic institutions, in our communities, and in the world.

APSACivic and the Political Science Education section have a unique opportunity to collaborate to increase the visibility, support, and resources available for civic engagement pedagogy and research. The recent backlog of accepted submissions at the Journal of Political Science Education provides evidence of the growth in authors submitting high quality writing and research about teaching and learning in political science. As graduate students, scholars at all stages of their careers, and teachers at all types of institution continue to respond to – and drive – APSA’s increasing focus on teaching and civic engagement, APSACivic and PSE are poised to function as a dynamic duo – spurring new approaches to civic engagement and innovation.

References:

Matto, Elizabeth C., Alison Rios Millett McCartney, Elizabeth A. Bennion, Alisdair Blair, Taiyi Sun, and Dawn Whitehead Eds. 2021. Teaching Civic Engagement Globally. Washington, DC: American Political Science Association.

Van Vechten, Renee B., Bobbi Gentry, and John C. Berg Eds. 2021. Political Science Internships: Toward Best Practices. Washington, DC: American Political Science Association.


Published since 2005, The Political Science Educator is the newsletter of the Political Science Education Section of the American Political Science Association. Dr. Bobbi Gentry (Bridgewater College) was the Editor for the Fall 2021 edition. Since 2020, APSA Educate has co-published the Political Science Educator. You can see last years publication here. A curated list of select essays can be viewed here. The entire archived collection can be viewed here.

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