Political Science Professor Brian Ripley has been honored with the 2013 Mercyhurst University Teaching Excellence Award, recognized as a master teacher with an extreme passion for his subject and an extraordinary drive to help both students and colleagues.
Ripley has always been drawn to teaching.
Though generations of his family had been Minnesota farmers, he headed instead to Macalester College to study political science. (Hints of his farm heritage can still be found in his office, where model tractors fill the shelves.)
On graduation, he briefly considered both law school and the ministry before deciding he belonged in the classroom. After earning his doctorate at The Ohio State University, he took his first teaching job at the University of Pittsburgh and received the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award after just three years on the Pitt faculty. He also earned a 1994 Pew Faculty Fellowship in International Affairs from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
A few years later, seeking a smaller, more teaching-oriented school, he joined Professors Randy Clemons and Michael Federici in the growing political science department at Mercyhurst. He’s been there since 1996, except for a three-year stint as an administrator. Though he enjoyed his service as dean of faculty, he once again decided teaching was his real calling.
Both colleagues and students call Ripley’s honor “long overdue.”
Students consistently pack his classes and give him superior evaluations. They describe him as clear, concise, rigorous and fair as he teaches them to think critically about the material.
Clemons, a Teaching Excellence winner himself, says Ripley is a master at leading classroom discussions in a way that conveys significant amounts of information, including theory and concepts, and in a way that is accessible and interesting to students.
Ripley’s primary teaching and research interests are international relations, Asian politics and foreign policy, but he teaches a variety of courses. Foreign Policy Decisions, an upper-level course he developed, will be introduced next year.
But Ripley is perhaps even better known for his work with students outside the political science department.
He has developed Global Issues into one of the most popular courses in the core curriculum. “I enjoy engaging history majors and music majors and fashion design majors in discussion of the really significant issues on our global agenda,” he says.
He adds that “citizen” will be a significant role for all these students, regardless of what path they choose after Mercyhurst. “Every citizen needs a voice and needs to be able to think through and analyze important issues,” Ripley explains. “The hallmark of a liberal arts education like we offer at Mercyhurst is that graduates are able to engage in well-informed dialogue about a range of issues.”
Ripley was also a pioneer of the interdisciplinary courses that now introduce Mercyhurst freshmen to college-level work. He helped create a class on Urbanology that he now teaches with Professors Laura Lewis and Ruth Jolie of the social work and anthropology departments, respectively. He’s working with Lewis on his first book, a collection of case studies that grew out of the Urbanology class.
Modestly, he says he likes being part of such interdisciplinary teams because it’s a treat to see other faculty teach and to be a student in their classrooms.
Ripley formerly directed the Public Affairs Forum of the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics, served as associate dean of the School of Social Sciences at Mercyhurst, and directed the Model UN program on campus.
His early research included articles and book chapters on foreign policy decision-making. More recently his work on pedagogy in political science has been published in International Studies Perspectives and the Journal of Political Science Education. He is a member of the Foreign Policy Analysis and Active Learning in International Affairs (ALIAS) sections of the International Studies Association (ISA), is a frequent presenter and panelist at ISA conferences, and serves on the editorial board of International Studies Perspectives.
“Brian is a good friend and a valued colleague whose keen analytical mind, general competence, sharp wit, genial personality, habit of asking important questions and generous outreach to younger colleagues have helped First Floor Preston be a better place to work,” Clemons said.
The Teaching Excellence Award will be presented May 10 during an end-of-year reception for the Mercyhurst faculty.