As graduate teaching assistants, we have the opportunity to throw wide the glorious doors of political science to eager, bright undergrads. Through the brilliant lectures of our esteemed faculty, the scintillating discussion of our recitation sections and the combination of both for those of us helming our own courses, we hope students will discard the yoke of undeclared-ness and join our ranks for the rest of their undergraduate career.
There are definitely some students who seek poli-sci major-dom on their own, but many others may need some encouragement (“hey, you’re good at this”), more information (“here’s what you can do with a political science degree”) or plain old persuasion (“insert best argument here”).
Department Chair Beth Theiss-Morse informed me today that our department has seen an increase in majors of 26% over the last 10 years, compared to the status quo maintained by the College of Arts and Sciences as a whole. More majors increases enrollment which drives up demand for more classes and sections which drives demand for more faculty and graduate students. You can see where I’m going with this. It is in all of our interests to strengthen our department – starting with undergraduate majors and minors. But it’s not just for us – helping a student find a chosen area of study or future career path is another worthy goal.
And it doesn’t take a lot of time – if a student is a lively discussion participant, writes good arguments or seems generally interested in the subject, pull them aside and ask about their academic/career plans. Walk them back to the department and introduce them to Marica White, our undergraduate advisor. Talk to them about your research or the work of faculty members. When you see them around campus in the future, ask how things are going, which classes are they taking, etc.
I set a personal goal of recruiting at least two new political science majors per semester (I realize this is easier when teaching in a 100-level course). Now I’m not calling for a contest of any sort (unless any of you are interested :), but I do encourage all of you to consider becoming more intentional with your recruitment efforts.
For those of you with scores of teaching experience, do have any additional tips or advice on attracting undergrads to our department?