The University’s Department of Political Science turned 100 years old this year and to celebrate, the department held panel presentations with renowned alumni — in a variety of fields — who graduated with political science degrees from the University.
In addition to celebrating the department’s 100th anniversary, the events aimed to show current political science majors the versatility of their degree, according to department officials. The department also used the event to celebrate its prestige and success throughout its history.
Centennial celebrations began Thursday with a screening at the Michigan Theater of “Freedom’s Fury” — a documentary written and directed by Colin Gray, a University alum and political science major.
Gray was also the keynote speaker for panel presentations on Friday morning in the Michigan Union Ballroom. Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry, United Autoworkers President Bob King and Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Kurtis T. Wilder also spoke at the event.
During his lecture, Gray, who is an independent filmmaker, discussed the benefits to his career from his degree. He said his political science degree influenced his filmmaking and inspired him to pursue an unconventional career after he graduated from the University.
“I was starting to see how documentary filming is one of those many jobs where there could be a potentially unusual application of a polisci degree,” Gray said.
He added that political scientists are trained to “seek out multiple perspectives” and identify the causes of issues — a technique Gray said he uses in the filmmaking process.
“(Filmmakers) seek out multiple people to interview and then we weave that information into a compelling narrative or story,” he said.
Public Policy junior Ajooni Sethi, who attended the event, said she enjoyed listening to Gray and learning about issues like social justice even though she is not majoring in political science.
“I think it’s great that (it was) all-encompassing,” Sethi said. “What (Gray) was speaking about wasn’t just for political science majors.”
More than 100 students, faculty and alumni gathered to hear the panelists speak. Stephen Snyder, a recent graduate who came back to the University for the celebration, said he thought it was interesting that Gray took a “different path” with his political science degree.
“As a student you hear that if you want to be successful in a certain field, you have to do x, y and z,” Snyder said. “You have to follow a blueprint, but (Gray) went so far outside the box, and he’s making a profound social impact through his work by doing it in such an unconventional way.”
Planning for the centennial celebration began last year, and topics were chosen based on the careers of the panelists, according to Jenna Bednar, associate professor of political science and member of the centennial planning committee.
Bednar said the planning committee chose a variety of accomplished alumni to speak at the event.
“Our goal was to find speakers that represent the many different things that people can do with a political science degree,” Bednar said. “Many of our students go into law but not all, and we wanted people to see the variety of occupations or career paths they could follow with a political science degree.”
Bednar also said the celebration is meant to showcase how the department has maintained its strong academic standing for the past 100 years.
“We’re unrivalled … the political science department has a history of being number one, number two, number three (in rankings) and again we’re right there,” Bednar said. “Even though the department has changed so much over the years, we have changed in a way that has kept us strong.”
Charles Shipan, chair of the political science department, said students with political science degrees pursue a variety of careers. Some have become active in local politics, but others have pursued careers outside of the political arena like business and law, he said.
“I think there are other people who major in political science and find it a fascinating topic of study who are then just going to simply use the skills they’ve gotten like the ability to ask questions, think deeply about an issue and the ability to think about evidence and will take it in a completely different direction,” he said.