Catching Up With Jennifer Bowie, Pi Sigma Alpha’s Chapter Advisor at the University of Richmond

Building an active chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha can be a labor of love. For Jennifer Bowie of the University of Richmond, it has become an important part of her departmental life. Since 2012, Bowie has served as faculty advisor for the Beta Xi chapter at the University of Richmond, but her connection to the organization stretches back more than two decades. Bowie was inducted as a member of the Chi Nu chapter at the University of Vermont during her undergraduate studies. After UVM, she completed her PhD at the University of South Carolina.

Pi Sigma Alpha National connected with Jennifer to learn a bit more about how she approaches the role of faculty advisor.

What year did you join the faculty at Richmond?

I joined the University of Richmond in 2011. Prior to my appointment at UR, I was an assistant professor at George Mason University, and I also served as the PSA Faculty advisor during my time at George Mason. I was inducted into Pi Sigma Alpha when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Vermont in 2000.

What is the best part of walking into the classroom each day? The students, of course. I love learning from them as much as they may learn from me.  Their perspectives and insights are thoughtful, and I am lucky to work with amazing students at the University of Richmond.

Tell us a bit about what research you are working on right now:

My research focuses on judicial decision-making in federal and state courts, particularly the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Right now, I am working on a co-authored project that examines, using plagiarism detection software, whether U.S. Supreme Court justices borrow language from the State Supreme Court decisions that they review.

You have often taken your students to visit the Supreme Court. What makes this sort of outside-the-classroom experience so valuable?

I have taken students to DC to visit the Supreme Court three different times. The first time, we met with Justice Antonin Scalia. The next visit was with Justice Elena Kagan, and the most recent visit was with Justice Sonia Sotomayor. This event does not happen every year, but usually every other year.   I think that the course trips to the Supreme Court are immensely valuable, especially when it comes to experiential learning. For many students, the Supreme Court seems like this secret institution, so the visits to the Supreme Court helps erase some of the mystery of the Court. Also, we read Court decisions in many of my classes, and to visit where all the work happens is a true experience for the students. I usually coordinate it so that our student group has the opportunity to observe oral arguments, and then we meet with a Supreme Court Justice.

Students are always amazed by how small the courtroom is and how close the Supreme Court justices are to the audience members. They find the back-and-forth between the justices and attorneys fascinating, and they gain a new appreciation for the role oral arguments play. But what the students always like the most is meeting with the justices. Usually, the justices talk for a few minutes about the Supreme Court, their background, or Supreme Court processes. Then the justices open it up to student questions.   Before we visit the Supreme Court, I have the students submit to me two possible questions they would ask the justice with whom we are meeting. It can be very intimidating to ask a justice a question, so I like them to be as prepared as possible. The justices have always been gracious with their time, and they always take a group photo with the students. The visit to the Supreme Court usually ends with courtroom historical talk inside the Supreme Court courtroom and time for students to check out the Court on their own.

Recently, I have taken students more locally to visit judges and courthouses, for example the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, VA. Students were able to watch three oral arguments and meet with Judge Roger Gregory.

What role does Pi Sigma Alpha play in the department at Richmond? 

Pi Sigma Alpha has an active role in the department and the campus at the University of Richmond. The students work to coordinate in co-sponsoring events not only with the Department but with the university community. For example, this year Pi Sigma Alpha co-sponsored a talk by Steven Gillen– who serves as the Deputy Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil, Iraq– with the Political Science Department. Last year, we co-sponsored three talks with the Center of Civil Engagement on topics from the election aftermath, to gerrymandering, and the politics of healthcare.

Why would you encourage students to join Pi Sigma Alpha?

Students should join Pi Sigma Alpha because bring together faculty and high achieving students in political science and provides students with important leadership opportunities and experiences.

If you were giving advice to a first-year faculty advisor for Pi Sigma Alpha, what would you suggest?

Make Pi Sigma Alpha your own. Try to focus on one or two projects for the year and get the student members involved in those projects. I would also suggest that new advisors check out all of the different events, scholarships, and internships Pi Sigma Alpha offers and encourage their students to take advantage of the different (if not all) the opportunities, from the student conference to the Penniman scholarship.  In the end, working with the Pi Sigma Alpha students is rewarding, and that’s what it is all about.