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Deepa Prakash, associate prof of poli sci

Profs see promise in poli sci, history students who plan public service careers

They want to right wrongs. They see flaws in the way things are, and they want to fix them. They understand that the stakes are high, yet they are hopeful and determined that their generation can make a difference.

 Students who are pursuing careers in public service “are just political nerds in the best possible sense,” Deepa Prakash, associate professor of political science, said. “What seems to motivate them –  though it sounds really simple – is that they have a desire to contribute positively to making public policy.”

Since she began teaching at DePauw in 2011, Prakash starts each class with the idea that “we’re living through a turbulent time. And it just seems that every year it becomes truer and truer,” she said. She tells students “you should be paying attention to politics and international relations because it’s so important to understand these things that are actually affecting your life.”

While some students “can be super apathetic,” apparently believing that “nothing seems to matter and all these systems are going to hell anyway,” many readily internalize her message. “They really understand that there are stakes and, I know it sounds a bit cliché, but that they can make some sort of difference,” she said.

 “The ones whom I’ve seen really motivated really believe that their generation can change things, even if (they are) on different sides of the political aisle.”

Bruce Stinebrickner, professor emeritus of poli sci
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Bruce Stinebrickner

David Gellman, history prof
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David Gellman

Bruce Stinebrickner, professor emeritus of political science, said people go into public service for a variety of reasons. It’s not a single cause. There are a number of factors: opportunity, prestige and money, to serve others and ideological concerns.

“We human beings want monocausal explanations,” he said. “.. It’s a complex, difficult world to understand and that applies to individuals wanting to go into public service.”

David Gellman, the A.W. Crandall professor of history and chair of the History Department, said that “a lot of history majors go into public service … Everything has a history. So, if you’re going to address current problems, you have to be able to figure out not only where they came from but also that, more often than not, this is not the first time that an issue has come up.”

For example, “it’s not like there aren’t precedents for our current Black Lives Matter struggles, or reactions in the highest places against progress that we’ve forged on race, gender and sexuality,” Gellman said. 

“There aren’t simple lessons like ‘cut and paste this policy to this time’ or ‘just follow the ways of Abe Lincoln and all will be well.’ But it does remind you that we’ve been here – wherever here is – on any public service issue or crisis.”

Gellman asks his students to put themselves in the shoes of ordinary people “who had choices to make” in the past.

 “When you take a history class, you get to apply your imagination to that and it makes you humble,” he said, “but it also makes you understand the implications of power and decision-making and politics and who gets included and who gets excluded from those decisions. I think it’s a great preparation for public service.”


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