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In the Spotlight: Prof. Peter May

Peter May

Professor Peter May encourages students to participate in the real-world political process.

As the chair of UW’s political science department, Peter May understands the importance of education continuing outside the classroom walls. It’s why he’s been closely involved with—and a vocal champion of—the department’s internship programs since joining the UW 33 years ago. In that time, interns to pass through the UW have included King County Executive Dow Constantine, radio host John Carlson, and Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell. “All different political stripes,” he proudly notes.

As far as May’s concerned, education doesn’t end after each quarter; in his eyes, it’s just beginning.

It’s that commitment to students and his active interest in real-world experiences that led one former student to nominate May for a feature in this space.

Owing to his duties as department chair, May isn’t slated to teach this year. But he’s long been a champion of students taking their education outside of classroom walls; “broader educational experience” is a favorite phrase. Strengthening the department’s internship program is one way of accomplishing that. Elsewhere, he encourages students to sign up for campaigns and service learning programs. “The reality is, one doesn’t get a job these days based on a political science degree,” he said. “They get a job based on what kinds of experiences they’ve had.”

Time spent in class, however, remains critically important to May. He works with faculty to ensure a positive experience for students raised on laptops and smartphones. He accomplishes that by encouraging interaction (even in large lecture halls), angling for better communication through chat rooms and online courses, and developing analytical skills that come with new technology (evaluating websites, for instance). “One needs to think more creatively about interactive and multimedia kinds of things,” he said. “That’s part of the modern world, and I think, for the most part, our faculty and TAs have embraced that and have done well with that.”

May acknowledges that the faltering economy has taken its toll on the political science department but remains upbeat. He encourages faculty to apply for grants and fellowships, holds seminars and community discussions, and helps provide seed funding for research and travel to special events. “We’re building something,” he said. “You’re not building it in the old way – hiring more faculty, getting more state funds coming in, building new buildings, and things like that. You’re building it through the collective energy of our faculty and our graduate students.”

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