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Waubonsee Names Kiefer Outstanding Faculty Member
Waubonsee Community College Associate Professor of Political Science and History Richard Kiefer, of Plainfield, knew fairly early on that he wanted to teach; he just didn’t think he’d be doing it at the college level. Now, after 20 years of teaching in the Illinois community college system, he has been named Waubonsee’s Outstanding Faculty Member for 2013.
As a freshman at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Kiefer was a business major, but he soon decided that wasn’t for him.
“I tried to think about what I liked and could make a living at,” Kiefer said.
A quick stop in the education department determined his path.
“After deciding to be a secondary education teacher, everything clicked,” Kiefer said. “Every step reaffirmed my decision, including student teaching at both the middle school and high school levels.”
He graduated with his bachelor’s degree and his Ohio teaching license — a license that was not transferable to Illinois. While he waited to take his home state’s teaching test, he found a job in academic advising at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights.
“Being at a community college really opened my eyes,” Kiefer said. “I thought it would be such a fantastic place to teach.”
Kiefer’s hunch was confirmed when he began teaching a night class at the college, and so he soon enrolled at Governors State University to earn his master’s degree and a chance to teach full time. That chance came in the fall of 2000 when a political science/history position opened at Waubonsee.
“It was really my dream job,” Kiefer said.
And the 2000 presidential election, with George W. Bush winning the electoral vote and Al Gore winning the popular vote, proved to be a dream for political science instructors everywhere.
“It was really unprecedented,” Kiefer said. “It was a great chance to talk to students about the electoral college and how it works.”
A year later, there was another unprecedented event that Kiefer chose to address with students — the attacks of Sept. 11.
“I helped organize a teach-in the day after the attacks, and I was impressed by how many students and faculty showed up and participated,” Kiefer said. “That is what college should be about; when these events happen, we should gather to learn and discuss.”
Political discussions are a daily occurrence in Kiefer’s classroom, but their tone tends to be markedly different from the political discourse seen in the media.
“I keep my political views to myself in the classroom,” Kiefer said. “I tell my students at the beginning that it’s fine if they disagree with each other, but we are in an academic setting and will keep things civil. There have been some heated debates over the years, but things have never boiled over.”
While Kiefer works to ensure his classroom discussions don’t boil over, he also has to make sure he doesn’t burn out as the only full-time political science faculty at the college. While this means he is always on, it also means he gets to develop and teach a wide array of classes. He developed the curricula for both Introduction to International Relations and Introduction to Political Philosophy, which he teaches each fall, and then follows them up with Comparative Government and State and Local Government each spring to keep things fresh. Plus, the students and ever-changing political landscape help too.
“Every semester is a new beginning,” Kiefer said. “Even if I’ve covered the material before, my students always have a fresh take on it. Plus, we’re always in the midst of an election cycle, so there are always new examples around you.”
Kiefer makes sure students don’t just have examples and case studies to work with, but also, actual politicians.
He has facilitated the Hastert Leadership Seminar for the past four years, where former U.S. Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert and other special guests meet with Waubonsee students to discuss local, state and federal government. This year’s guests included Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross, Village of Elburn Trustee and Mayer Brown Partner Ethan Hastert, and former U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh.
Kiefer has also coordinated Waubonsee’s participation in the national Congress to Campus program that brings former Democratic and Republican Representatives to college campuses to share their experiences with students. Waubonsee took part in the program in both 2009 and 2012.
“Both activities provided unique learning experiences for our students interested in political science,” said Dr. Bill Marzano, Waubonsee’s Dean for Social Science and Education. “I trust the students will remember and cherish these activities in years to come.”
Kiefer witnessed first-hand the impact these programs have on his students.
“Students realize politicians are real people, and that anybody can do this,” Kiefer said.
Waubonsee students get a chance to do the work of a politician as part of the annual Model Illinois Government (MIG) simulation in Springfield. Kiefer serves as the advisor for Waubonsee’s MIG club.
Whether they participate in MIG or just take one of his classes, Kiefer has the same goal for all of his students.
“I hope they leave with a better understanding of the world we live in, what’s going on around them and how governments work.”