Catching Up with Rob Alexander, Pi Sigma Alpha’s Chapter Advisor at Ohio Northern University
For fifteen years Rob Alexander has served as the chapter advisor for Pi Sigma Alpha at Ohio Northern University. It was all a part of Rob’s plan to be as involved in political science as he completed his undergraduate work at ONU and was inducted into the chapter on campus in 1992. Today Alexander is a member of the Pi Sigma Alpha Executive Council (his second tour on the council) and leads a highly active chapter.
Pi Sigma Alpha National got the opportunity to speak with Rob about his experience in the field of political science, as well as his time at both ONU and PSA.
What influences did you have as an undergraduate student that led you to earn a PhD in political science?
I was convinced I was going to be a lawyer from the time I was in the 7th grade. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that a faculty member mentioned the word “assistantship” to me. I was tutoring students at the time and really enjoyed it. The thought of getting paid to go to school was very appealing. But, it wasn’t until after I had applied and been accepted to several law schools that I finally convinced myself that heading to graduate school to become a professor was what I really wanted to do. I had no idea how much professors were paid, nor did I know what the job market was like. I did, however, know that having an impact as teachers had on me was exactly what I wanted to do.
What is the best part of walking into the classroom each day?
The students! I define work as doing something you don’t want to do and I can honestly say that I hardly work—except when it comes to grading! Having the opportunity to work with young people and push them to reach their fullest potential is very rewarding. They push me too. I am fortunate to have students who are curious and look beyond simply what will be “on the test” and instead seriously consider how the material we examine has effects beyond the classroom.
Tell us a bit about what research you are working on right now.
Currently, I am finishing a book on the Electoral College. It is the second book on the institution I will have written. Whereas the first book focuses solely on presidential electors, this book looks at the relationship between expectations regarding representation and how the Electoral College performs regarding these expectations.
I am also working on the second edition of my first book on the Electoral College. The research originally stems from a project I have been working on with students through a grant obtained by Pi Sigma Alpha. We have been surveying presidential electors for the past 5 elections and have found out a great deal about these mysterious figures. Because electors generally do not have much of an effect upon the outcomes of presidential elections, many publishers were reticent to publish the research, even though they were fascinated with the findings. Fortunately, I was able to publish the first book (which focuses on electors) back in 2012. In that book, I discuss the possibility of Electoral College lobbying campaigns and the fact that many electors are typically receptive to such campaigns. Of course, the 2016 election witnessed one of the most public campaigns to lobby electors and a record number of electors attempted to vote contrary to expectations. Needless to say, the research we conducted was in high demand—appearing in the New York Times, CNN, Politico, and the Christian Science Monitor to name a few places.
What books or articles have you been reading these days?
I read a lot of deep dive news accounts or social science-based analyses from sites like the Monkey Cage and Vox. These keep me busy, although I do have a couple of books on my nightstand waiting to be read. Both are by James McCrone and they are books of political intrigue. The first, Faithless Elector, actually hits pretty close to home. Essentially, a professor and his graduate students who are conducting surveys of presidential electors realize that a number of electors are being murdered after the general election in an attempt to throw the election to the losing candidate. McCrone actually sent me the book after reading about our own research. Dark Network, his follow-up book continues to follow one of the characters from the first book as she examines yet another attempt to steal the presidency from behind the scenes.
How does Pi Sigma Alpha fit into the department at ONU? What role does it play?
Our chapter is a driver of many activities in the Department and across campus. We believe it is our responsibility to engage the larger campus community in all things political. We often work with other campus organizations (student government, College Dems and College Repubs) on our programming. In addition to programming revolving around politics, our chapter also takes the reigns in planning various departmental activities. These include picnics, holiday parties, and other events designed to increase our esprit de corps. This has had a very positive effect for students and faculty throughout our Department. The family atmosphere that has been cultivated is largely due to the strong leadership stemming from our Pi Sigma Alpha chapter.
What advice would you give to a first year faculty advisor for Pi Sigma Alpha?
I would strongly suggest familiarizing yourself with the programs offered through the national office. When I took it over, I had no idea so many things were available for students. From national contests, to scholarships, to support for internships, the national office offers a number of high-impact opportunities for political science students. This translates into high profile experiences and recognition which is valued by one’s home institution. In my first year, I worked with students to procure a grant from the national office to fund an essay contest. Since that time, we have procured grants to fund the Electoral College survey, travel to conferences, bring national speakers to campus, and hold a film and lecture series. Students have learned a bit about the grant-writing process, we have been able to raise the profile of our political science programming, and provide more opportunities for student engagement. Given the scarcity of funds in many Departments across the country, this program has been indispensable for us and I assume for many other programs. So rather than see this service as a burden, you should see it as an opportunity—which it is!