Maxwell School Professor Kristi Andersen, who chairs the political science department, is known among colleagues and students alike for her talents as an administrator, scholar, teacher, and mentor.
When Kristi Andersen views America's political landscape, she's fascinated by how ordinary citizens participate in politics. And she's especially fascinated by the roles women have played in politics, from the days of the suffrage movement to their impact on shaping issues in today's rough-and-tumble political arena. "One of the most interesting changes over the last 20 years has been the vast increase in the number of women in political office, particularly at levels like the state legislature," she says. "It takes a while for any group to get itself into the political system, but today we have a lot of women who are politically skilled and talented."|
Match such scholarly interests with an enduring commitment to students and colleagues, and it's easy to see why Andersen is described as "one of a kind" by Robert McClure, associate dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
As an administrator, Andersen, who joined the faculty in 1984, chairs the Maxwell School's political science department and serves as the department's director of graduate studies. As an educator, she's known as an excellent role model for graduate students interested in teaching careers, and has been instrumental in helping the University develop its acclaimed graduate teaching assistant programs, such as the Future Professoriate Project. As a political scientist, she's received numerous grants and awards, including the American Political Science Association's Victoria Shuck Award for the 1996 Best Book on Women and Politics: After Suffrage: Women in Partisan and Electoral Politics Before the New Deal."This is a person of scholarly accomplishment and productivity as well as an extraordinarily energetic and caring teacher, and a thoughtful and successful administrator," McClure says. "Kristi is also a wonderful colleaguea person who gives good advice, who is receptive to the advice of others, and is always constructive. She's a delight to work withand that is something we all prize."
On top of that, Andersen balances her active professional agenda with home-front responsibilities. She and husband Stuart Thorson, a political science professor and director of the Maxwell School's Global Affairs Institute, have three children. An active community member and board president of the Cazenovia Children's House, she credits her family, fellow faculty members, and staff for their support. Citing her ability to delegate, she says, "There is a realization that I can't do everything all the time."
Talk with Andersen about women in politics and she offers insights into how attitudes about women have evolved, how the political system has changed because of this, how women have heightened public awareness of such issues as child and elder care and abortion, and how women have expanded the public perception of what a political leader is. Consider, for instance, that even after women received the right to vote in 1920, they weren't allowed to run for public office in some states until the 1940s. "The central metaphor I used in my book is the notion of boundariesboundaries according to gender, such as how we socially construct what we think women should or shouldn't do," she says. "These boundaries shift over time; in a way, they're negotiated."
To assist students in sifting through the complex information blitz of political and economic data and surveys, Andersen helped develop MAX 201: Quantitative Methods for the Social Sciences. The course, which she also has taught, trains undergraduates to be critical consumers of data. "It's important to expose them to a variety of political and economic data," she says. "By learning to thoughtfully analyze carefully collected survey data, they can come to understand some things about the American public."
Among graduate students, Andersen is known for her research-design seminar that prepares them to write dissertations. Lynda Barrow G'98, who completed her doctoral dissertation, "Protestants and Politics in Mexico," last spring, lauded Andersen as her teaching mentor in the Future Professoriate Project. "She always has time to be an advisor or mentor to graduate students who need help, whether it's figuring out how to teach a class better, put together a syllabus, get a job, publish, or organize our graduate lives," Barrow says. "She really serves as a wonderful role model and mentorand that's a pretty widely shared opinion."