Catching Up with John Dinan, Pi Sigma Alpha’s Chapter Advisor at Wake Forest University

John Dinan has been teaching at Wake Forest since 1996 as a professor for various government and political science courses. As an advisor for the Nu Zeta Chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha since 2003, he finds that the opportunities available in the realm of political science and Pi Sigma Alpha can help make more sense of American politics to students, the general public, and other scholars.

Pi Sigma Alpha got a moment to speak with John about his current experiences as both an advisor for a Pi Sigma Alpha Chapter and a professor at Wake Forest.

As an undergraduate student, what were some influences that led you to earn a PhD in political science?  

My undergraduate experiences at the University of Virginia are similar to what I have found in talking with other current politics professors about what led them to pursue a PhD.  I was fortunate to take classes with professors whose scholarship, teaching, and mentoring inspired me to continue studying politics in graduate school and eventually become a professor.

What do you like most about being a professor of political courses at Wake Forest? 

It is an exciting time to be teaching politics courses, especially the American Politics courses that I regularly teach.  Students come to these classes with so many questions about U.S. politics –about the Electoral College and why it was created and still in use, about partisan polarization and why it has increased, and about Congress and why it has proved so difficult to pass major legislation.  One of the best parts about teaching is to be able to show that political science has something to offer by way of answering these questions and contributing to our understanding of U.S. politics.

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

Among many other notable developments during the Trump presidency, I have been struck by the role of state governments in resisting federal policies.  State attorneys general have filed a number of lawsuits challenging Trump administration policies ranging from travel bans to changes in environmental regulations and health-care policy.  State legislatures have passed laws barring and local officials from cooperating with federal officials to enforce federal immigration law.  I am interested in studying these and other ways that state officials play an important and sometimes unappreciated role in governance. 

Wake Forest students have taken part in the Pi Sigma Alpha Student conference the past few year, why do you think it is valuable for students to take part in events like this?

Four Wake Forest students have taken part in the national Pi Sigma Alpha conference in recent years, and they have all been appreciative of the opportunity to present their research and benefit from valuable feedback and also interact with Pi Sigma Alpha members from around the country as part of the weekend in Washington, D.C.  Several Wake Forest students who have expressed an interest in pursuing a graduate degree have commented that the conference is especially valuable in giving them a chance to formally present their work and gain experience that has proved helpful as they apply to graduate school.

What role does Pi Sigma Alpha play at Wake Forest?

The Pi Sigma Alpha chapter at Wake Forest has undertaken various projects in recent years.  We have organized a faculty-student pizza reception shortly after students declare their politics major each spring.  The chapter has also organized panels on various topics, including a panel of faculty members assessing President Trump’s First 100 Days and another panel focusing on immigration policy.  During election years, the chapter has often partnered with Democratic and Republican organizations on campus to sponsor events, sometimes to view and discuss presidential debates.

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

Work with student members of the officer team to generate ideas for programming of interest to students.  The officers of the Wake Forest chapter aim to organize several events each year, whether to schedule forums on topics of current interest or to organize panels to help students learn about graduate study or how to secure political internships.