In Episode 42 of the CSUSB Advising Podcast, Matt Markin chats with Dr. Scot Zentner, Professor and Department Chair of Political Science! What is the Political Science major? What minors are offered? What career opportunities are there? What resources are there for students in Political Science? Find out in this episode!
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Hey Yoties! Welcome back to the CSUSB advising podcast. My name is Matt Markin, an academic advisor here at Cal State San Bernardino. And on today's episode, we welcome Dr. Scott Zentner, Professor and Department Chair of political science. And we're learning more about the poli sci major. Dr. Zentner, welcome. Thanks for having me. So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in higher ed and CSUSB?
Yeah, I'm a I'm actually a graduate of Cal State San Bernardino. I graduated the school in 1988. I grew up in Moreno Valley, I was actually born in March Air Force Base, and eventually found my way wandered into Cal State, went to junior college for one year didn't do very well. So I had to petition to get into Cal State often tell this story to students. first generation student, nobody in my immediate family went to college, and ended up going to Cal State ended up going all the way went to graduate school in Michigan State. And there happened to be hiring when I was finishing up grad school and got a job at Cal State San Bernardino. So I've been involved in the campus except for the few years I was in grad school since 1984. And I'm in my 30th year of teaching at Cal State. And, you know, and I, I tell students, like I say, I tell students, I'm kind of a poster child for the mission of the university, which is to mainly catered to first generation students and help move them up in their lives and show them opportunities. And I didn't know anything about becoming a professor had nothing. I just had no idea how you did this and even learned about what graduate school was while I was in college. And, and but I got the bug I got interested in political science, political philosophy, that's my main areas political theory. And most of my publications are writing deal with what is generally called American political thought.
Yeah, very much so. And I think I can relate to you as well. graduate from Cal State, San Bernardino, and also from Moreno Valley. So you have that in common. So can you tell us a bit more like how you would describe political science with a political science major?
Well, I mean, political science as a whole is one of the oldest disciplines. The only disciplines that really rival it are what we call it philosophy and, and history, course, philosophy, 2500 years ago, really included much of what today would be called the natural sciences, especially physics and astronomy, things like that. But it's a very old old discipline. And really, a political science, like much of the university just sort of formally, the way universities are structured reflects those original origins. And our you know, most departments around political science departments around the country, are divided into several fields, our department is done the same way. Our major, our specific major is designed in a very, sort of simple, straightforward way. In fact, we have a very high graduation rate, the mission of the university to get people out have complete their degrees, we're way ahead of the targets, both for the university and for our college social behavioral sciences, I think part of it has to do with it's the number of units is relatively small. Tt's 36 units. But the major also is very straightforward. There's three core courses that you take, there's one course and each of five fields that you take, that you're required to take, but there's options within those five, so there's four or five, six classes and each of those five fields you have to take and and then we have three electives that the student has to take two of them are senior seminars, but their topics classes, which can be repeated in there's many of them offered every term. And that's it. And every major student is the same. And it's we don't have a lot of problems of bottlenecks. Occasionally things like that will happen. But getting in and out is is pretty easy. And I can go into the fields if you want me to. Yeah, so three core courses. Two of them are offered usually at junior colleges. So most transfer students will have at least one of these classes and that's the standard US Government course which many many students take outside the major, there is a lower division International Relations class that you have to take a good number of transfer students take that that's usually offered at all junior colleges. And then we have sort of a an unusual class. It's an upper division classes called American political thought mainly focuses on the really a theory philosophy class, on the principles and ideas that animated the founding of the of the United States, but also professors have the option they can add in more things and some professors take it up through say the Progressive Era, you know, in around the turn of the 20th century. Um, so between those three classes, the American government class, the international relations and the American political thought class, you really get an introduction to sort of sort of the the touchstones of all the What the The fields are. So and then those five required fields that you have to take, you have to take a class on what we call American politics, that's where you have the American presidency, Congress classes like that. We have the Public Law field, you learn specific classes doing Bill of Rights, things like that. Then we have the political philosophy or political theory fields, our classes are mainly set forth in a kind of a historical vein. So you have a class in classical political theory that you read people like Plato and Aristotle, and the modern classes read people like Machiavelli, that kind of thing. And we have comparative politics as a third of another field. And really, a comparative politics really goes back to the origins of Political Science, where most of our courses are designed, we look at regions of the world. So you have a Latin American politics, and typically what the professor will do is Professor Fabien. Boris teaches, is probably our main comparative, as, you know, maybe the class will be organized around comparing Mexico to Venezuela, to Bolivia, to Argentina, this kind of thing. You have East Asian politics and courses probably on China, Japan, the Koreas that kind of thing. And then the idea is you're comparing just as the title of the field says, and then we have international relations, where you learn about international law, how nations relate to one another theories of international relations, realism and these other kinds of things. So that's sort of the five fields and then those seminars, those, those senior seminars that you take, as a student have to take two of them. They are they, they map onto those, so there's five senior seminars, but they can be taken multiple times as the topics change. And I like to tell the students that, for example, if you're international interested in international relations, you can tailor things. So you take your one required class in the field, but you could take all three of your electives and international relations. And of course, you have the lower division international relations. So out of the out of the 11. It's 11 classes, actually, in political science. There's a 12 class, that's the upper division writing requirement that is taught by the social sciences colleges college, but you so you could tailor it. So out of the 11 political science classes you take, you could take four or five in the field you really like and when the students come in, I tried to advise them, don't load up in one field yet, sample them maybe the first semester or two. And then maybe as you when you're a senior, you can really dive in if you want into a single area. So there's flexibility, even though there aren't an enormous number of units and all these different formal tracks, you can. And these, these classes, multiple sections of these various classes are offered every term. So getting the classes is not terribly difficult.
Which I think is also a great selling point for major as well, especially other majors, whether it's at our school or different school where they might be very sequence based. And if you miss out on at one semester, you might have to wait like a whole year to try to get into it. And so with that you have the bachelor's degree, but then do you also offer any minors within the political science department?
There's actually several minors, minors, the main minor that serves a lot of students as the pre law minor. And we are also our department is sort of the chief adviser to the pre law pathways, which is a new path. There's not a program's not an academic program program, but it's kind of an advising emphasis for students who are in political science majors or even students who take the minor in pre law. But Professor, Professor Thora Giallouri and myself are the sort of the main advisors for that. So if you can take the pre law minor, that's 18 units and it's mainly concentrated in political science classes, although there are electives and other and some other departments and it's it corresponds to the to the those public law or constitutional law courses that I mentioned that are in the major fields of Bill of Rights class, the structures and powers class, judicial process class, all the pre line minors, take all those those courses and then there's a couple of elective a few electives. We had a lot of there's a we have a lot of pre law minors. There's also a political science minor. We have a few people that take that and then we have another minor that we do jointly with, I think philosophy and econ. We don't administer that one. But we administer the pre law minor and political sciences, the traditional major, or the traditional discipline that you study if you want to go on to be a lawyer, but you can go out and you can take the law school admissions test and no matter what your major a lot of people in philosophy there are people who take physics and math and go on to law school, but traditionally it's housed in pre law programs are housed in political science departments for the obvious reason of the you know, the emphasis the traditional emphasis upon law at the undergraduate level. And we're building up our our, we had a couple of retirements and we hired Professor Giallouri, she has done a good job in building up our judicial internship program. So now every spring, we have multiple people, this current spring is her she's in her first year and she's got student interns. And a local court we say more about that later if you like, but, but it's a prominent part of the political science department that the overall role of the political science department in the pre law track, you might say.
And of course, the one question we get a lot, and I'm sure you get it, too is career areas or career opportunities, career options. So for you, what if a student's asking like, you know, what can I do with this major? Or, you know, what, what have you seen some of your graduates go into? How would you answer that?
It's interesting. It's interesting. We had a, we had a an alumni event in our department last term. And we invited a number of graduates from the past, really, over the last 15 years or so we had about 1010 former students here, meeting with our students and kind of a meet and greet networking, but also, each one of them briefly talked about their background, the traditional route that you go, if you're coming out of political sciences, it's Law Education, or some sort of government service. But it's not so narrow as that anymore. And it unless you're coming out of a discipline that has a more professional or vocational focus, like if you're in a nursing program, or you're doing accounting as an undergraduate, more and more. What I found is that it helps if students have a basic liberal education background, I'm more of a traditional background. And it was really interesting to see our alum our alums, out of the 10 people or so that were there, we had two or three lawyers, and they're all doing well and have gone to places our students have gone to places like Pepperdine, and, you know, university, Southern California law. So, and then other places like Laverne and whatnot. So a whole range of people who go on to law school, we have educators. One of our one of our former students, that was there was helping create a day school, private sector day school, we had two fellows, they're working in industry, one working for a major developer, another one working for, I think it was a Dutch or a Danish lighting company, I can't remember I can't remember. Another that has worked in Alumni Relations and universities and actually worked for former California governor is now what back working at Cal State San Bernardino. It's interesting the range of things that people are doing. So the one person, for example, was a developer, works for a developer and is really kind of a liaison with governments, because there's all kinds of things with zoning, and permitting and whatnot, with the construction company. And it's just interesting to find out where people go, and they all attribute a great deal of their success to their experience in our department.
And let's say students listen to this, and they're like, You know what, this sounds very interesting. I, but I'm on the fence of, you know, do I want to declare this as a bachelor's degree as a minor? Or just take classes in this subject? Do you have any advice for or suggestions for that student if that if they're thinking that? Yeah, this is one
of the hardest things that one of my standard things I tell students is this time in your life, you know, you're you're basically trying to figure out two things, what your, what you're good at, and what you like. And ideally, insofar as your career and your work, your work, life is concerned, if you're going to be that narrow about it, you want to have both of those things, right. You want to enjoy what you're doing. And I guess the third thing is you want to be compensated. So you tend to want to go into an area where you can make some money. And that's all obviously eminently practical. But so it's a little bit difficult. You know, I You may know more about this as an advisor, but years ago, I read. Some years ago, I read a thing where more than half of college graduates 10 years after they graduate, are in a field that's not related at all to what they studied in college. I think generally speaking, the our department and our particular department and the way that the sort of eclectic character of the faculty and what we teach, gives you kind of well roundedness kind of preparation that we're not obviously if you want to be in an accountant, you're probably it would probably help if you do accounting in the business school or whatever. But outside of that, having a good as I say Liberal Arts Foundation where you're able to think and reason and from our experience people as I say people going through all these different fields, it's it's a good, it's a good foundation good starting place. Because you're you're reading old books, but you're reading new theories. And of course, it's politics. You know, Aristotle said, you know, political science is the architectonic science. It's not the highest thing, highest thing are these grand questions of meaning and whatnot for him and metaphysics. But it's the first science, because it's like, for example, if you watch news, what's the serious news? It's political news, as opposed to health or entertainment or whatever? There's a reason for that. Because everything else depends upon the first thing, who's going to rule? How are we going to govern ourselves as a society. And of course, it goes to the very large things of war and peace, and so on, and so forth. So there's something sort of, you know, big and profound, at the basis of this whole subject. It's why I was interested in and it's why a lot of people are, you'll find that a lot of the, for example, professors in other disciplines are often talking about politics in their classes. Because why they tend to be interested people and interesting people, interesting people. And it's, it's the thing that people talk about, it's the thing that people get angry about, it's the thing that people are obviously opinionated about. So it's a very rich thing. You know, it's, so it's a good starting point. So if you're going to end up doing something in your life, that you don't even you didn't anticipate 15 years earlier, why not have a good solid, well rounded background where you have some highfalutin theoretical ideas, but you also learn a lot of practical stuff, the real world of ruling and what it means to get things done, and use almost always in a collective environment, because that's the nature of, of politics. So, I mean, again, it's my bias, as a person who's interested in I'm sure somebody who teaches chemistry thinks it's the most important thing in the world. And in a certain way it is, you can you can, you can get at any of these things. And I mentioned Aristotle earlier, well, he's sort of the founder of all of these disciplines, in a certain way. And he obviously thought they were all worth it. So. But yeah, I think if you're going to make the pitch, if this is like a pitch to get students to go political science, I think the idea is, it's well rounded, and gives you a kind of, I don't know, if you want to call it a worldliness or something like that. It also helps it helps to mature you, if I could use the word mature as a verb, because of the nature of the subject. It sort of broad based, and the nature of the thing makes you think a little bit outside of yourself, one of the things I like to point out to students is, you know, we tend to be cynical about politicians, you know, that are all liars, this kind of thing. And then I just often try to put it to students, or what have you or the politician. First of all, you're trying to get votes from many different kinds of people. And let's say you are actually trying to do what is good insofar as you understand that thing to be good. Think about how hard it would be to do any of this. Imagine being any good, just think of the top be the president united states or something, but just be a member of a legislative assembly, or just try to get something done on school board. Just think how difficult this this kind of thing could be. So again, it has a kind of maturing effect on people.
And, let's say, misconceptions, I'm sure you know, with any major any topic, people might have misconceptions about it. So for political science, political science major, are there any misconceptions you think people may have may have about it?
Well, for years, I, I used to had this, I think it was the case, for example, we have the standard United States government class that everyone takes or most people take, either at a junior college or or wherever they go their four year school. And my sense is that a lot of people were afraid of the class, probably, because politics. So you know, political environments, change that goes with goes in cycles. But traditionally, Americans are terribly political. And traditionally, for example, voting rates have, you know, we're not as high in the United States as aren't saying some of the other you know, whatever you want to call it, Western democracies are something. And I think because there's something sort of apolitical about American culture, life, you know, the business of America's business, this whole kind of thing you say, too busy working to get into all that arguing and a lot of people are put off by politics and not not unreasonably so bickering and whining and all this kind of stuff that they tend to associate with. And that's a misconception about, at least in terms of the worth of the discipline or what's interesting or worthwhile about learning about government and politics. For the reasons I said earlier. It's of central importance, and to be a little more I don't know, I'll just say Prudential about it or pragmatic. What many students have to confront as the after they leave school and they get out into the real world, not to sound again, not to sound crass or something. But everything is political. When you find yourself in the real world, you I'm sure you just with your co workers and in your your scenario, you could say things are political, you can put political, you can put the air quotes around it political in the sense that, you know, very often what's going on here is you're trying to handle or manage people with their personalities and their points of view. And it goes back to my point about having a little more respect for politicians. Because everyone's got their opinions. And this is, again, a theme that goes back to people like Plato and Aristotle, because Socrates and Plato describes Socrates very often analogizing, the political art to the medical art, for example, this is a common thing. So you got to know what a healthy human body is to know how to fix it, you need to know what a healthy political body is, you know, healthy country, healthy political community. But that's much more difficult to identify. So the study of politics gives you kind of like, I use the word earlier, like worldliness. And I didn't mean that in the sense of just being, you know, sort of merely, I don't know what self interested or materialistic, what I mean by that is if it brings a lack of maturity, or let's say, traditional word would be wisdom, you learn limits. And, you know, so very often, for example, if you're in a setting, a business setting, or your workplace, and you're trying to accomplish something, one of the basic things you'll learn as you in the old days, you would say, as you grow up and become an adult, but it's really it's, it's a kind of political sensibility. I don't necessarily need to win the argument. If I can get somebody on board, like a politician does, you know, we're we get the different stakeholders. And now you could look at it in a cynical way. It's a vote trading, I'll give you this, I'll give this guy this to get this, I'll give her this to get this from her. But really, it has more to do with giving people their due. I had a colleague one time was talking about being in a meeting. And I said to him, part of this is just respect, hearing the other person out, being collegial. And getting to a point of common ground. But our motivations may not be identical in our ends may not be identical. But ultimately, we're doing what we're getting to something like the common good. And this requires, for example, not necessarily wanting to be so prideful as to when and you know, I need you to recognize the superiority of my position, you see? And so this is the kind of thing if you read books, and you read history in a certain way, can really help you in your life, if that's your goal. The larger issue is really what makes you happy at live. I have former students of mine, it's really interesting. I have a former student of mine who works at Costco, and I'm rambling here, but works at Costco and recently thought he was gonna go to grad school and all that and had had the Costco job i By the way I tell students is don't necessarily necessarily turn your back on some opportunity that's right in front of your face. This guy was working part time at Costco while he was a student here. He's now like a mid level manager at a place that makes good money. And in his spare time, reads political history. I sometimes teach the political thought of Shakespeare, he read Shakespeare to this day, and he graduated 20 years ago. You know what I mean? His life is richer and more full. And, and he'll say that the things that he learned here working at, you know, Costco, and Rialto, wherever it was, has, you know, he's he's learned something, and no, so it's a worthwhile thing. And those are the like, when I see these alumni alumni come back. It's really gratifying, really gratifying.
I appreciate like all the students stories you have, because I think that will definitely relate to anyone listening to this, and, you know, timeout opportunities with your department, are there any resources that your department might offer for students?
Well, the obvious one is we have about a dozen scholarships that we provide every year. Several of them are in our graduate programs. We have a master's program, my MA program and National Security Studies and a ms Master of Science program in National Cybersecurity studies. But a number of them I think a little more than half of the scholarships are for our for undergrads. So that's the obvious thing. And then of course, there's the basic things that you do as professors and you're writing letters of recommendation and getting placements. We're really trying to beef up the internships that entered number of interns have already been declining before COVID hit and completely cratered during the COVID saying, and I and I'm appreciative to Professor Gloria, who's building up to the judicial internships that we'd like to have more of that. I have a couple of former students of mine where I'm trying to set up internships. I just overwhelmingly encourages go to every event go to every speaker go to every because most of this has to do with networking. But it doesn't have to be viewed as you're just being mercenary. It's really about finding things out. And one of my basic skills that I give to students is part of the thing about networking networking is so people get to know you, people will hire you, or they'll have you invite you into an organization, if they think you're a good colleague, everyone will admit that that's a big thing that goes back to what I was saying earlier, when you're in an in an office or something like that. Getting along with people working together depends so much upon what, you know, the personality or the character of the person. And that could be irrespective of political views, or even just technical skills, obviously, you need competence, and you don't want you know, people who are extreme in one way or another, generally speaking, but a lot of it just has to do with kind of person, the kind of person you are. And so you're, you're you're connecting with people, and showing that you're a person of goodwill, and so on and so forth, that you have to have a more positive view of this kind of thing. And, and but you have to be proactive. So internships, independent studies, then obviously, the material benefits like scholarships, and so forth. And letters of recommendation, I try to tell students as much as I can make yourself known. I've had, I had, for example, a student went to law school, and I got a letter back from the admissions group, or whoever it was at the law schools. And my letter was instrumental in getting the student scholarship and this kind of thing and getting now it was an over the top letter is one of the most outstanding students I ever had. And I just went into great detail. But I was able to go into great detail, because I had this experience with the student, you say? And so the letter stands out these people wow, this guy. So, again, it's it's to take advantage of those kinds of opportunities that we do provide.
Yeah, for sure. And let's say, let's do that has a question. They're interested is there a best way of how they can reach your department? Sure,
just email me. Zentner, firstname.lastname@example.org ZEN, t, n, er. But if just go to the plug in science webpage, you'll see mine my name, and you can go to any political science professor, if he was wondering the department or whoever happens to be there. And, and I tell students all the time, you mean, you don't want to be a pest you don't want to, you know, prefer professors are busy. But it really helps if you go to people in person. And I know what the virtual online so much stuff is online now. But it really helps if you meet people in person. It matters a lot. And again, it's all a part of that showing up. So go to our department website, you get all contact information there. And you can wait, you can send a short email to me and I can give you a rundown, you can talk to me. You can come by the office, my office hours are posted that kind of thing. But also I can direct you to, for example, you're interested in law, I can direct you to Professor Giallouri. You're interested in as a government service. Some students, they want to go into foreign service where we have several professors, we have our clubs. So for example, we have the Nationals. I don't know if you're going to ask me about this. But we have our national security club, headed by Professor Steve Childs, those are for people in our grad programs, but also undergraduates who are interested in things like international relations going into things like the intelligence community or the customer service. Sometimes, you know, things like FBI, whatever. And other other areas. We also have Pi Sigma Alpha, which is the National Political Science honor society, our local chapter is award winning. But every other year, we get one of the Chapter of the Year awards. that's run by Professor Christina Villegas. We have multiple events happening. We have a writing competition coming up here next, another couple of weeks, we have the alumni meeting that I mentioned last term that was organized by her and the officers of the student club, Pi Sigma Alpha, theta Iota chapter. It's a real vehicle for a lot of the events that we put on at again, talking about resources for students that includes networking, because often previous students come not just at that alumni event but others and we have a major banquet every year where we induct a new officers and we give out all those scholarships that I mentioned. So there's a community within the department is what I'm saying. And then of course, Professor Giallouri over time is going to build back up build up again. Our Law Society program, again, sort of geared for the pre law, folks, but any of the students interested in law careers. So again, the right now the net we call it net sec. And the National Security club is very busy on virtually every week. Professor childs has posting notices to students about job fairs. There's a major colloquium every spring where the students and the programs present their work. We have multiple recruiters coming from government agencies and whatnot, you know, interested in things like the intelligence community. So there's a lot of activities, a lot of these resources involved their contact points. But if you're not sure what to do, just contact me just come to the department directly. And then I can be kind of a conduit to specific professors depending on your interest or and of course, obviously, I can talk about the department as well. Obviously, I am not shy and can talk and talk and talk. But that's, that's why Yeah,
I appreciate that. So, so much useful information so much that your department offers with scholarships and clubs and other resources. But Dr. Zentner, thank you so much for being on the podcast with us today.
Thanks, Matt. Appreciate it.
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