The American Political Science Association (APSA) gave Pomona College Professor of Politics John Seery the APSA Distinguished Teaching Award on August 29 in honor of what they described as a monumental career.
APSA noted that many of Seery's students speak of the transformative impact his teaching has had on his students:
"In the classroom, his students and colleagues testify, he reconnoiters among the most challenging thinkers of both ancient and modern times, he exemplifies the listening required of true intellectual community, and he leaves students voracious for more."
Politics major Rachel Jackson '15 agrees. During her sophomore year she took two of Seery's courses, Classical Political Theory and The Idea of America. On the face of it, they "sound like staple college courses that will probably walk students through the thoughts of a bunch of dead white guys. Often those courses that do not include anybody that looks or sounds like me," she says, as a student of Latin and white/European descent from the border city of El Paso, TX.
"He makes thinkers like Dante and Socrates accessible and accountable to title-less undergraduate students and collapses the widely imaginary gap between ‘student' and ‘thinker'… and pushes students to think critically about theories that operate—like operate with a capital ‘O'—with incredible implications in our lives. He's uses a seemingly innocuous platform to expose the centrality of politics, relationships and human community in learning, thinking and progressing," says Jackson.
Seery's platform has invited others to step up as well. Many of Seery's former students are political scientists and theorists. Derek Barker '96 is a program officer at the Kettering Foundation, working primarily on research concerning the democratic role of higher education institutions, philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, and also working closely with the foundation's team of graduate fellows and research assistants. Under Seery's tutelage, Barker read Aristotle, Hannah Arendt and Thomas Pynchon—an experience that inspired him to pursue graduate study in political theory and informed his career choice. Barker, who was among alumni that nominated Seery for the award, says, "I can say from firsthand experience that John is a talented, committed, provocative and engaging teacher, the absolute best at introducing undergraduate students to fundamental political concepts."
Receiving the APSA award left Seery honored, humbled and slightly embarrassed. "Teachers don't go into teaching for the recognition, so getting such attention feels very un-classroom-y," he says.
The APSA award is the third time Seery's teaching has earned national recognition. In 2009, he received the Sidney Hook Memorial Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society and in 2010-2011 he was named the Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Professor for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton University.
Prior to coming to Pomona in 1990, Seery taught at Stanford, UC Santa Cruz and Tufts University. But Pomona stands apart from them, he says, by being a small liberal arts college, meaning no teaching assistants, small classes, professors and students know each other, the emphasis is on the liberal arts instead of pre-professional specialization and teaching undergraduates is the No. 1 priority.
Seery is a two-time winner of the College's Wig Distinguished Professorship Award for Excellence in Teaching (1994, 1999). This semester Seery is teaching the senior seminar Contemporary Politics and Theory, and Classical Political Theory.
Seery is also a prolific writer, including writing for The Huffington Post. Among Seery's books are Too Young to Run? A Proposal for an Age Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (2012); A Political Companion to Walt Whitman (2011); and America Goes to College: Political Theory for the Liberal Arts (2002). In 2014, The Best Kind of College: An Insiders' Guide to America's Small Liberal Arts Colleges, edited with fellow Pomona Professor of Politics Susan McWilliams, will be released.