Sell Us Your Major: Government

This column is devoted to sharing student and faculty input on the various majors offered at Lawrence. The goal is to highlight areas of study that are not well known and to provide undecided students an inside look at things they may want to study.


In any array of college majors, the study of Political Science is sure to make an appearance. With such a widely known area of study, professors at Lawrence still find ways to make its Government Department stand out. They do so in their distinct approach towards engaging students, preparing them for future careers and uplifting the ideals of a well-rounded liberal arts education.

The study of Government aims to understand the inner workings of political thought, action and behavior. It aids the search for relationships between political climate and current world events. The hope is that in understanding these relationships, a general model can be devised to represent how policy and politics have worked in the past and how they could work in the future.

Gordon R. Clapp Chair in American Studies and Associate Professor of Government William Hixon stated, “Our goal is to give students skills that will be useful for making sense of political behavior, whether they continue with politics professionally, as academics, through policy or legal work, or simply as engaged people.”

The study of Government can find itself at home in the ideals of a well-rounded Liberal Arts Education. It celebrates looking at problems in new and complex ways. Senior Government Student Andrea Magaña spoke to this idea when she stated, “It’s seeing issues from different perspectives, and trying to find different approaches to things, that’s what’s impacted me most in my studies, both in the government department and at Lawrence overall.”

The Government degree at Lawrence University offers a number of ways to fulfill its degree requirements. It offers two tracks, a general track and an international relations track. Both build a foundation with an introduction to political science, but stem from that point on. Students can learn about a variety of political paradigms from the basics of American Government to the nuts and bolts of Comparative Government to even Politics and Human Nature, or Individuality in Modern Politics today.

Magaña stated, “Discovering new things [is the best part of my studies]. Professors will introduce you to new topics that you can later relate to other classes you’ve been taking outside the government department. And in doing research on different topics, I’ve really enjoyed working one-on-one with those professors.”

Many people take an interest in government by observing how the world around them is affected by the decisions of international leaders. Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and Professor of Government Claudena Skran said, “I initially wanted to be an engineer. When I started college, the Iranian Hostage Crisis had just taken place and it really interested me so I ended up taking a course in world politics. I had a very good and exciting teacher and that was it. The rest was history.”

One of the growing ways students are encouraged to engage with what they’re learning is what Skran refered to as the ‘traveling classroom.’ Skran leads trips to Jamaica and to Sierra Leone where students can actively see what they’ve been studying in the setting of one of these countries. As she states, “Students are able to look at international actors, aid development, trade and security concerns. And it’s all from a perspective where they’re right there within a situation. I think they find this very beneficial.”

Students are expected not only to understand their materials in the classroom for discussion, but also to be able to apply those lessons to what’s going on in the world around them. They will investigate issues here on campus and become close with how those issues work. Then they’ll be able to go to these other countries, see those issues play out before them in real life and meet the people of these regions.

“I just finished my senior capstone project last term. I was working with Professor Skran doing a survey of the history of refugees in Mexico,” Magaña stated. “Not a lot of people think that Mexico’s been a host country, but historically it has received different waves of refugees and they’ve all been received differently by the government and by the population. I was comparing and contrasting how they have been received, depending on where they’re coming from. I also studied their economic status and their educational statues. This is all to think in the future how Mexico can become a bigger player in receiving refugees.”

After studying Government at Lawrence, students have the skills to go into any number of careers including law school, nonprofit work and international relations. Magaña will be entering the Peace Corps for two years to teach English and to work in several nonprofit organizations.

Understanding Government can benefit more people than just those who major in it. As Magaña stated, “I think government gives you a more concrete and in depth understanding of a situation and where it’s coming from historically. Understanding where it’s coming from and where we are and where we’re going. That’s the advantage of studying government.”

The Government Department at Lawrence offers a unique perspective to political science that caters to the ever globalizing world that we live in. Its emphasis on the traveling classroom gives students the opportunity to feel connected to their studies and to understand how it affects the lives of others. The department is brimming with faculty working to expand horizons and with students working to understand the past, so they can look at where they are and figure out where they want to be going.