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MU professor lives the campus life to connect with his students

Dec. 08, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- When Dr. Shawn Schulenberg, a faculty member in the department of political science at Marshall University, came to Huntington three years ago he could have scouted out a house, a condo or an apartment in which to live.

Instead, he chose to move into a residence hall for first-year students under Marshall's faculty-in-residence program - and it was a great experience, the rising young professor says.

"I had a nice apartment and I got to see students daily and they got to see me," Schulenberg says. "I think I got as much out of it as -- or more than -- the students."

And more "up front and personal" contacts with students can have very positive effects, he believes.

"When students can interact more closely with faculty, it improves retention rates. Sometimes for faculty it's awkward meeting students outside of the classroom, but this has changed the way I feel. I'm much more comfortable with students now; it's made me a more emphatic professor. I have very strong standards and rules but now I understand their daily lives more."

After completing the two-year residency, he's now living in an apartment off campus, happy to finally be reunited with his dog, which had been cared for by friends since the residence halls have a no-pet policy.

Schulenberg grew up in Minnesota, in the town known for producing the renowned Red Wing shoes, and they're still being made there today, he says. After graduating from St. John's University, and a switch from pre-med to political science, he realized he wanted to focus his studies on Latin America, concentrating on politics and sexuality.

For graduate school, he applied to six universities, was accepted by five and offered fellowships by two, which is how he went to the University of California, Riverside, from where he received his Ph.D. in 2010.

His graduate studies in political science allowed him to pursue his goal of studying and working in selected South American countries. Doing field work for his doctoral dissertation allowed him to travel widely and spend time in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Panama.

"I discovered that South American countries were more advanced and ahead of the U.S. in regard to some gay rights questions," he said. "That provoked my interest. I spent a year in Argentina and six months in Brazil. The field work was very challenging for my dissertation topic. Argentina passed the same-sex marriage law in 2010, the first Latin American country to do that. The next year they passed the most progressive gender identity law in the world."

Widely published, Schulenberg, who is an assistant professor, teaches both graduates and undergraduates and in his short time at Marshall he's garnered accolades and honors for his teaching and research.

Today he's the director of graduate studies for the political science department and he recently served as interim director of sexuality studies. He was awarded the 2011-12 Distinguished Artists and Scholars Award, a prestigious award bestowed on junior faculty members by Marshall University.

This past summer he was selected to teach a course in Chile through the KIIS Faculty exchange program and had the honor of being chosen through a competitive process to teach another course in 2014, this time in Spain. He has held numerous posts in professional political science organizations.

Currently he's completing work on turning his dissertation into a soon-to-be-published book.

However, teaching is still the heart of his work.

"Marshall students have a genuine intellectual curiosity that I haven't seen anywhere else I've taught," he says. "Some top students I had in the past knew how to master taking the test -- that's a priority -- but I didn't feel much intellectual curiosity. At Marshall they're not only interested in good grades but learning. Here, there is a range of students and abilities. I don't want to teach above or below the students' levels. You want to make sure you challenge the best and the brightest in the classroom but not leave behind those who may be struggling who don't have those skills yet. It's a delicate tightrope that faculty have to walk."

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