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Susan G. Sample

Professor of Political Science


Phone: 209.946.2492


George Wilson Hall, Room 204


PhD, Vanderbilt University, 1995

BA, University of Missouri, 1991

Curriculum Vitae 

Teaching Philosophy
Learning is a way of life not something set apart in specific blocks of time.  The pleasure to be derived from life is infinitely greater if one has a habit of thinking of the world as a learning environment, not simply as a stage for a play.  I identify myself fundamentally as a scholar, someone whose life centers around learning, my own and that of others.  I love teaching, and it is impossible to remain a good teacher without living a life of learning outside of one's own classroom:  both through research and other learning experiences.

When I teach, I try to design the course to instill a lifetime habit of thinking about the world in terms of the new categories and material of the class, and give the students an array of skills (writing, critical analysis, etc) that will prove useful to them in every area of their lives.  Becoming a lifetime learner is to a large extent an internal process for individuals.  Students are faced with multiple pressures:  they live in a pop-culture world in which learning is defined as "work", and often treated derisively or condescendingly.  On the other hand, students want to learn because that is what people do.  It is our job to find an approach or combination of approaches that lets them realize that learning, even when it is work, is satisfying in a way that makes it joyful.  I define my relationship to the material I am teaching and to the students around those elements that I believe will capture the imagination of students and foster a long term relationship between them and the substance of the course, and between them and themselves as young scholars.  Among these are respect, enthusiasm, and habit. 

My students should not respect me because of my position or advanced degree (since that would relate more to my ego than my students' learning); rather, students should respect me to the extent that their respect makes them take the material of the course seriously:  if I find it important, they should give it a try.  To a great degree, that is built into the structure of the student-professor relationship.  I do not subscribe to the perspective that there should, by definition, be a hard dividing line between students and professors-both students and professors are scholars at different stages of their lives-rather, the relationship should be what the student needs to facilitate their learning.  In many cases, that is a professor who is clearly an authority figure; in some cases, that is a professor who is accessible on a more personal level.  To the extent possible and practical, professors should try to adapt to the learning needs of the student. 

Enthusiasm is critical to teaching.  No one is going to be inclined to learn anything if they have the impression that the person who is supposed to be the expert in it finds it boring.  It never hurts for students to overestimate a professor's enthusiasm, but it can be crippling if they underestimate it or believe it non-existent.  Enthusiasm on the part of the teacher breeds questions; it breeds curiosity; it definitely increases learning, and with a bit of luck, it creates enthusiasm in its own turn. 

The other element that is critical to teaching is habit.  I try to structure my classes in such a way that the students are habitually forced to contemplate the material.  I fear that if they only are held to account at the time of exams, or on one paper due on one date, they will put off really thinking about the material until the due date looms.  My experience thus far suggests that one of the best ways to guarantee that students think about the material regularly is through regular writing.  It is impossible to write about something without giving it at least some thought.  The more regularly that students have to write about material, the less isolated it becomes to the rest of their lives.  My goal is that my assignments start to erase the artificial dividing lines that students set up between the different facets of their lives.  Formal papers help them wrestle with complex ideas and practice writing compelling, coherent arguments.  Making them post news stories with short explanations of how they relate to the larger concepts of the class will hopefully lead them to a more analytical and critical evaluation of the news for life.  I feel that regular contemplation means that the students learn the substance of the material better, and perhaps develop a habit of thinking about the material that will extend beyond the duration of one semester. 

It is impossible to create young scholars without living the life of a scholar.  My research and other learning experiences are intrinsically valuable to me and to my students.  They make it possible to remain engaged with my core interests, and to explore new ones.  Without continuing a serious intellectual life, it would be difficult to continue to think of political and social reality in new and exciting ways. 

Professors who are engaged scholars outside of the classroom show students that learning is a way of life, not simply a job or a single time period in one's life.  Students who are natural learners will have the capacity to evaluate their own lives intelligently; they will be able to think critically and solve problems in novel ways when necessary; they will be able to communicate effectively.  And they will be better citizens in both a global and local community.

Scholarly Interests
My primary research focus is in the scientific study of the causes of war.  I have published a number of articles on the consequences of arms buildups in international politics, and testing theories in which arms races are an embedded component, like the steps to war thesis and rivalry theory.  I use a variety of methods to answer questions about the causes of war-including large n statistical modeling and historical case studies.  I have an ongoing interest as well in genocide and related violence.  I have published in the British Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, International Interactions, and the Journal of Peace Research, in addition to having several book chapters. 





Introduction to International Politics; Introduction to Comparative Politics; International Conflict and Conflict Management; Contemporary World Issues (interdisciplinary/team-taught); Comparative Foreign Policy; Social Science Research Methods (interdisciplinary quantitative and qualitative),  Comparative Politics and Literature; Cross-Cultural Training I and II (training for significant intercultural/international experiences); Senior Capstone; Pacific Seminar 1, Pacific Seminar 2 on genocide