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Online political science program offers ‘roadmap’ to understand behavior patterns

Photo of the U.S. Capitol Building, with the American flag waving in the foreground. Oregon State online political science

Oregon State program offers skills that can lead to variety of career options

By Tyler Hansen
Aug. 19, 2020

Interest in politics – the people, the policies, the inner workings of government – seems to be at an all-time high. Between record-setting voter turnout and current global issues that captivate citizens from all corners of the map, people are paying attention more than ever before.

With people paying attention more than every before, it’s a good thing there exists a discipline devoted to such a complex and diverse array of issues – and it’s devoted to far more than the current political climate.

“Political science is the study of political behavior,” says Rorie Solberg, an associate professor at Oregon State University. “We question and research why people – voters, elected officials, bureaucrats, etc. – behave the way they do. So, we, as a discipline, have been investigating the ‘current political climate’ for quite a while.”

That’s a good thing for you, because Oregon State enables you to capitalize on your interests by earning a political science bachelor’s degree online and gaining transferable career skills.

Solberg, whose many courses include the popular PS 110 – Governing after the Zombie Apocalypse, shared additional insight about how OSU’s School of Public Policy “provides a roadmap that can help students navigate national, local, work and family politics.”

How do the courses in Oregon State’s political science program help students understand the political world?

“Our classes provide substantive background on a variety of political topics – international relations, comparative politics, American politics and political philosophy – using social scientific methods to explain the patterns of behavior we have seen and new behaviors that are developing around the world.

“Understanding why voters behave the way they do – why there is such increasing political polarization – is critical to navigating what seems to increasingly be a political minefield. Understanding the structures of government, how the decisions are made and the effects of those choices helps us understand how difference, power and discrimination have been embedded in our system.”

Photo of Oregon State University associate professor Rorie Solberg, who teaches online political science

Associate professor Rorie Solberg has a background in judicial politics. Here she is wearing a sweater inspired by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

You’ve built a career around higher education and research interests in judicial politics. How diverse are the career opportunities for political science graduates?

“Political science, like many degrees in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts, provides a critical basis for understanding and navigating the world. I think that political science provides the same broad training as most liberal arts degrees but adds the rigors of social science and methodology that are useful in almost any career.

“My students run the gamut from taking what many believe are the obvious paths into politics (running for office and running campaigns) and government (state, local and federal) to communications, advocacy, marketing, teaching, public health and business.  Some pursue graduate work and some do go to law school.

“The fact is that most majors and careers are not tightly linked, and you will find drift over time that makes the link between college major and career less connected for many people. Political science provides the transferable skills, the networking opportunities and the rigor that our students need to succeed.”

In addition to the professional benefits, how does earning a political science degree benefit people as private citizens?

“First, regardless of your major, you cannot live your life without contact with government. Your chosen career and your daily life are constantly going to be dealing with government rules and regulations. Understanding how government works and how to navigate governmental processes can help you get approval for an addition to your house, advocate for better schools or different local, state or national policies.

“Second, understanding how government decisions and laws structure our choices and create biases within our systems helps each of us make choices about how to advocate and work for change.

“Third, the U.S. purports to be a democratic republic, and that system depends on individuals participating in elections and governance. To do so requires a modicum of understanding of the processes and how you can affect those processes.”

In your Governing after the Zombie Apocalypse course, how do you use multimedia to engage your students in the online classroom?

“First, the animators working at OSU Ecampus did a wonderful job of creating an animation of the course origin story. I have already noticed that students online seem to engage more with the backstory than on-campus students, and I think it is because that animation sets the stage better than the written version.

“During winter term 2020, I created some news sheets that highlighted some social issues that could come up in this fictional world. When I shared those with Ecampus, they immediately jumped on them and created audio newscasts that sound a bit like old-time radio broadcasts to keep the feel of a post-apocalyptic world. Combined, these two multimedia pieces help students remember the scenario and keep to their roles.

“Additionally, I have video clips and even a short narrated movie embedded in lectures to help explain or illustrate concepts such as race as a social construct, structural racism or how the alternative vote works.”


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