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Political Science

mercyhurst political science


Making a decision about which college to attend can be a daunting task, especially for students interested in studying political science. Every major college and university offers a political science major, with course descriptions sounding about the same. 

So, what makes studying political science at Mercyhurst University different?

Mercyhurst University prides itself in providing students with excellent academic instruction, challenging academic experiences, a wide range of hands-on learning opportunities and personal attention from seven full-time faculty.Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics

The political science major is designed to provide a sound basis for both graduate and career work in fields, such as government service, law, teaching, politics, journalism and foreign service (click here for a list of the potential careers with an education in Political Science from the American Political Science Association). The department offers a wide range of rigorous courses about American political institutions, law, contemporary public policy, political theory, comparative politics and international relations. Course study emphasizes writing, critical reading, analysis, problem solving and research skills within the context of questions about values. Though the major allows students the option to focus their studies on just about any area of interest, concentrations in pre-law, international relations, environmental studies and politics, and applied politics are available.

And, at Mercyhurst, students are more than just a number. Excellent small classes combined with personalized advising by faculty members ensure that students receive a high-quality education that will help them achieve their intellectual and professional goals. The department’s faculty, which are dedicated to teaching excellence, has developed more than three dozen courses for their major and minor programs. They work hard to provide students with high quality learning experiences both inside and outside of the classroom.

Outside the classroom, students have numerous opportunities to participate in a wide range of activities, including internships, Model International Organizations, Pi Sigma Alpha (the national political science honors society), trips to Washington, D.C., and study abroad options.

Hear about Poli Sci at Mercyhurst from an alumni.


Student Activities

At Mercyhurst University, political science students do a lot more than write papers and take exams. In fact, student participation in extracurricular activities is not just encouraged, it is expected.

Throughout the academic year, political science students participate in a range of activities and student organizations. Each opportunity affords students and political science professors the opportunity to get to know one another and build lasting professional relationships.

The political science department has a variety of organizations and activities in which students participate.

Pi Sigma Alpha: A Great Opportunity for Political Science Majors

At Mercyhurst University, students are encouraged to be active members of a learning community. One way that students of political science participate in this community is by joining Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society.

Pi Sigma Alpha is a member of the Association of College Honor Societies and has nearly 700 chapters at colleges and universities across the nation. The honor society seeks to promote excellence in the study of political science through a wide range of programs including chapter activity grants, scholarships for graduate study, Washington internship scholarships, and awards for best chapters and senior theses. In recent years, the Mercyhurst University chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha has been awarded activity grants and one of its students was awarded a $5,000 scholarship for graduate study.

In addition to the many professional benefits provided to members of Pi Sigma Alpha, the Mercyhurst chapter helps its members organize any number of campus events. For example, In presidential election years Pi Sigma Alpha students organize a "presidential debate," where students represent different candidates in a formal debate. Pi Sigma Alpha organizes the department's annual holiday party, the end of the year celebration and the Ad Hoc dinners. Although not all students meet the requirements for membership in the honor society, every political science student benefits from its activities. With the exception of the Induction Ceremony, all political science majors and minors are invited to attend the society's events.


Model International Organizations Team

For more than a decade, the Mercyhurst Model United Nations program has provided an opportunity for students to represent the College in competition while honing their skills in advocacy, negotiation, and diplomacy.

The scope of international organizations which the team models extends beyond the United Nations to also include NATO, the Arab League, and the European Union. To reflect this broad emphasis of the program, the team is called Mercyhurst Model International Organizations Team (MIOT).

Throughout the academic year, the team hosts and attends a number of intercollegiate scrimmages as a member of the regional intercollegiate league, Mid Atlantic Model United Nations Consortium (MAMUNC), of which it is a founding member. The team overall and individual members have received numerous awards and recognitions for their outstanding performances. Over the years, the team has competed in a variety of national and international conferences in New York, Cleveland, Washington, DC, Montreal, Mexico, Switzerland, and The Netherlands.

In April 2011, the team will host the First Annual High School Model UN competition, in which area high schools are invited to participate. Scholarship opportunities are available to four outstanding students who compete at the annual Model United Nations Conference at Mercyhurst College: Two $15,000 Scholarships to the top delegates and two $2,500 Scholarships (which can be added to a merit-based award at Mercyhurst) to second place delegates. This competition is student-led and facilitates members' organizational and leadership skills. It also allows for mentoring opportunities between MIOT members and local high school students.

Come join us! MIOT is guaranteed to be a skills-building, challenging yet fun opportunity.


Washington, DC Experience: An Annual Trip to the Nation's Capitol

Mercyhurst University’s faculty and administration firmly believe that an undergraduate education is greatly enhanced by study abroad or domestic travel experiences. These experiences make the lessons learned in the classroom more meaningful, and they teach other lessons that simply cannot be taught by professors.

The Department of Political Science strongly encourages all of its students to participate in study abroad programs, alternative terms or to travel. To this end, members of Pi Sigma Alpha, the political Science honors society, organizes the DC Experience. Each spring, approximately two dozen political science majors or minors and one or two members of the faculty travel to Washington, DC. Although we usually arrive before the cherry blossoms, there is plenty to see.

During the four day and three night trip students typically tour the Capitol or White House, visit the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, tour the monuments, and visit places like Arlington National Cemetery or Mount Vernon. When they are not participating in a group tour, students use their time to meet with representatives from DC-area graduate or law schools, visit museums, or experience Georgetown.

Among the many highlights of the DC Experience are our dinners, where we have the opportunity to catch-up with a few of the many Mercyhurst graduates working in DC. Well-known DC-area restaurants, like Old Ebbits Grill or Hawk and Dove, provide a wonderful atmosphere for current students to learn about working in DC from people who are actually doing it. Whether a student has an interest in a career with the CIA, the House of Representatives, a US Senator, a member of the US House, the Secret Service, a lobbying firm, defense contractor, or any number of other DC-area employers, it is likely that he or she can arrange a meeting with a graduate of Mercyhurst University who has that very career.

The DC Experience is open to all political science majors and minors, and the cost for transportation and lodging has yet to exceed $90 per person (for four days and three nights!).


Ad Hocs: Good Food, Good Discussions

For many years political science students and faculty at Mercyhurst College have gathered at a downtown restaurant to discuss current issues in American politics and international affairs. These meetings have come to be known as Ad Hocs, and they are held at least three times per academic year.

The typical Ad Hoc begins when students identify a current event or hot button issue that they wish to discuss. Usually a member of the Mercyhurst faculty with an expertise related to the topic is invited to facilitate the discussion; however, students often choose to invite experts from outside of the college community. During dinner students and faculty respond to the expert’s analysis of the issue and then share their own.

Over the years the Ad Hoc topics have varied widely. In recent years students and faculty have discussed the politics of Bolivia, presidential elections, career opportunities for political science majors, various aspects of the Constitution, just war theory, and a host of other issues. Regardless of the topic being discussed, Ad Hocs are always enjoyable. In addition to great conversation, the evening provides students and faculty with an opportunity to share a meal and get to know one another.


AAPC Conference

A Great Opportunity for Students to Meet Campaign Professionals

The American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) is the world’s largest organization of political consultants and public affairs professionals. Every four years the AAPC holds their Academic Outreach Conference, where college students from across the nation have an opportunity to meet well-known campaign professionals. Over the course of the two day meeting, students listen to panel discussion of current events related to campaigns and elections, have meals with campaign professionals and network with other students with similar professional aspirations.

Political science students and faculty from Mercyhurst University regularly attend this informative conference. The three-day, two-night event is a great opportunity for students and faculty to discuss current issues related to campaigns and elections, and to get socialize outside of Preston Hall. Students with political ambitions or who are interested in a career in applied politics have an opportunity to get feel for the life of an activist, political consultant or campaign manager.


In addition to participating in departmental activities, political science students are active in a number of college and community organizations. In recent years political science students have held elected office in student government, participated in study abroad experiences and traveled to Washington, DC for internships. Students have worked for non-profits, like the Lake Erie Region Conservancy, and served as leaders in the Pennsylvania College Democrats. The Democratic and Republican party organizations on campus hold debates during election years, and participate in voter registration drives. Indeed, political science students are among the most active students on campus.


The political science major is designed to provide a sound foundation for both graduate and career work in such fields as government service, law, teaching, politics, journalism and foreign service. The department offers a wide range of rigorous courses on American political institutions, law, contemporary public policy, political theory, comparative politics and international relations.

Political science majors have the opportunity tailor their program of study to fit particular interests or professional goals. In addition to offering a flexible program of study for general political science majors and minors, the department offers specialized curricula for studies in pre-law, international relations, environmental studies and politics and applied politics. Even more specialized programs of study are possible by virtue of contract majors and minors, which allow students and their advisors to create interdisciplinary majors.

Regardless of what program of study students choose, their coursework is always interesting. Students who take Contemporary Environmental Issues may find themselves paddling a kayak in Presque Isle; while in Geopolitics, they may participate in a simulation where war or peace between nations is in their hands; or, in Comparative Politics, students explore the politics of parliament in a hands-on coalition-building exercise.

See what the American Political Science Association says about careers in Political Science.

Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA)

Qualified Mercyhurst undergraduates may apply to receive conditional admission to the Graduate School of Public & International Affairs (GSPIA) at the University of Pittsburgh. Early Assurance not only reserves you a spot within this prestigious program as early as your junior year, it also ensures you’ll receive a merit scholarship of at least $5,000 per year. GSPIA also awards scholarships, which are subject to renewal requirements, at higher levels at their discretion. Find more information here.


Major(s) Political Science Major
Minor(s) Political Science Minor
Concentration(s) Applied Politics Concentration
  Environmental Studies and Politics Concentration
  International Relations Concentration
  Pre-Law Concentration
Certification(s) Social Studies Education Pre-Certification


Ready to begin your journey in political science?  Apply online today -- it's free and getting your application started takes only a few brief minutes.  Interested students may also consult the course catalog for more information.  As a liberal arts institution, all undergraduate students complete Mercyhurst's core curriculum


We seek to foster life skills such as reading, writing, persuading, negotiating, and presenting; ability to think spatially; understanding of numerical data; historical awareness; international, cross- and multi-cultural appreciation. This includes an understanding of how political scientists think, gather evidence, process data, and reach tentative conclusions. Graduates will also develop an ability to think critically about political phenomena and thought. They should be effectively prepared for the worlds of work (formal employment in the labor market) and citizenship (civic and community life) as well as having a solid academic background for those inclined to pursue graduate studies or a law degree. Thus, specific career plans and interests aside, they should be well-prepared to comprehend and interact with the political world in appropriate ways. As liberal arts college graduates with a particular interest in politics, they should receive enough in-depth training and a wide enough breadth of perspectives to follow their own inclinations to interact politically with that world whether as "simply" citizens, professional business men and women, journalists, lawyers, interest group participants, active electoral involvement, government or private sector analysts, or academic political scientists. We attempt to reveal the importance and personal impact of political events and issues; and, more significantly, we seek to equip them to be able to understand, evaluate, and potentially shape the political events, actions, and problems/solutions of the future. Students will be taught to: think critically; develop effective oral and (especially) written communication skills; engage effectively in problem solving, bargaining, compromise, and decision making; and be exposed to a rich variety of perspectives and ideas. These are crucial components of a liberal arts education and, along with knowledge of politics and government, key components of the sort of civic education democracy depends on.

  • Demonstrate knowledge of foundational and contemporary political science theories; apply theoretical approaches to data analysis and practical experiences
  • Demonstrate knowledge of relevant political science methodologies; apply relevant models of inquiry to data gathering and analysis
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the institutions and processes associated with governance and apply this knowledge to historical and contemporary events
  • Demonstrate the ability to think critically, which includes identifying and explaining issues, recognizing concepts and assumptions, acknowledging multiple perspectives, and evaluating evidence to reach conclusions.
  • Demonstrate written and oral communication skills expected of a professional in the field
  • Demonstrate knowledge of, and preparation for graduate education and careers associated with the field of political science

Brian Ripley
Professor of Political Science,
Office: Preston 117
Phone: (814) 824-3054

Joseph Morris
Associate Professor of Political Science, Director of the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics
Office: Preston 112
Phone: (814) 824-2154

Lena Surzhko-Harned
Assistant Professor of Political Science, Mercyhurst Model International Organizations Team Adviser
Office: Preston 104
Phone: (814) 824-2342

Michael Federici
Department Chair, Professor
Office: Preston 110
Phone: (814) 824-2560

Randy Clemons
Professor of Political Science, Dean of the School of Social Sciences
Office: Preston 109
Phone: (814) 824-2358

Rolfe Peterson
Assistant Professor, Associate Director and Methodologist for the Mercyhurst, Center for Applied Politics
Office: Preston 101
Phone: (814) 824-2026