Where and when did you get your degree?
I graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1989. I have a bachelor’s degree in French, but actually fell one credit hour short of my political science degree.
One credit hour, how did that happen?
I transferred from Calvin College in Michigan to the University of Kentucky after my sophomore year. I don’t know if it was a mix-up in transferred credits or some other mistake, but at the end, my credits just didn’t add up.
Why didn’t you just take one more course to finish the degree?
At the end of my junior year my advisor told me that I would be one class short of my degree, so I did take a summer class that year. I did not find out until my final advising appointment before graduation that I still lacked one credit hour. It was too late to add something that semester, and I didn’t want to delay my graduation for another term.
Do you regret that decision?
Yes and no. I’m glad I graduated when I did. I doubt that I would have been able to give my best effort to another class. What I do regret is not keeping a closer eye on my credits and graduation requirements. It is frustrating to me that I came so close to completing the political science major but didn’t achieve it.
Why did you choose political science in the first place?
The short answer is an Australian accent. Since I was already fluent in French, I tested out of a lot of the required courses for that major, so I had lots of room in my schedule. I took an intro to political science class to fulfill a general education requirement, and the professor just happened to be from Australia. Being a language person, I love a great accent. I hung on every word this professor said. In the process of soaking up his accent, I also found out that the subject matter he was teaching was truly interesting.
What was your concentration within the major?
My Australian professor showed our class a very powerful film about homeless families. The next course I took was public administration, and I became interested in applying public administration to the non-profit sector to help homeless families. At the University of Kentucky there was only one other public administration course available, but I met a professor who specialized in the politics of development, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. I took almost every course she offered.
What have you done with your political science major?
I don’t actually have a degree in political science, so I can’t say that my degree got me where I am today. My first jobs however, were as an administrative assistant in non-profit organizations. It is true that I did not, strictly speaking, need to speak French or know about development and public administration to perform these jobs. I did, however, need to be able to communicate well, relate to our clients, and understand the demands of a bureaucracy; all things I learned studying political science and foreign languages.
Are you still using political science?
Several years ago I left my career to raise my children, but I still find that a broad understanding of political philosophy and the way government works is invaluable. Because I understand some of the complexity of government on the local, national, and international scale, I am less likely to buy into simplistic, emotional rhetoric. I understand that politicians are people who are acting according to what they really believe is best and that sometimes their hands are tied by factors beyond their control. While studying political science, I learned to analyze and evaluate all sides of an issue, to communicate my thoughts and opinions clearly and objectively, and to organize and lead a group of people to accomplish a specific goal or event. Those skills apply in hundreds of other areas.
What advice would you give to someone considering majoring in political science?
I would give them the same advice I would give to any college student. Right now, because of the economy and high unemployment rates students are being advised to consider majors that lead specifically to certain in-demand jobs. While I believe that it is always a good idea to keep your eyes on the goal — gainful employment, I also believe that it is important to study what interests you. When I was in college I could not have guessed where life was going to lead me. I didn’t know until after I was taking political science courses that I wanted to work in the not-for-profit industry. I didn’t know until after graduation that I had a talent for administration. Some majors that don’t look as readily employable as others can lead to career opportunities that you never dreamed of. Go ahead and explore some of your interests, they may lead you exactly where you want to go.