Oct. 8, 2021

Inspiring Teacher: Kjersten Nelson, associate professor of political science


Kjersten Nelson
Kjersten Nelson, standing, teaches a variety of political science courses. She joined the NDSU faculty in 2009.

Kjersten Nelson remembers what it was like to be a freshman college student. It’s a time when sometimes uncertainty, timidness and self-doubt overrule logic and confidence.

The associate professor of political science thoughtfully addresses it with each new class.

“I really wanted to prove I was a good, engaged student,” she said. “But I didn’t really know how, besides doing well on tests and papers. I recall getting advice to go to office hours, but I didn’t know what we would do there. If I didn’t come in with a really specific question, what would we do? The potential awkwardness prevented me from reaching out and getting to know my professors any better.

“I try to give my students excuses to come and see me. In larger classes, I give students a participation point to come see me and introduce themselves.”

Nelson said she tries to help students better understand political science by cutting through the clutter of excess information to find truth. She also hopes to add humanity to each classroom experience. 

“Teaching must emphasize that we are not just robots processing all of the information.” Nelson said. “Remembering there are human beings behind all of that information is even more important than the information, itself. We are all trying to be critical thinkers, but you can do that while make space for the humanity of all those involved. It actually should be the central consideration.”

Nelson teaches a variety of courses, including Intro to Political Science, Intro to American Government, Problems and Policies in American Government, Campaigns and Elections, Applied Research Methods, Women in Politics and Public Policy Analysis.

She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She also earned a Master of Public Administration from Syracuse University. She joined the NDSU faculty in 2009.

“Students have really helped me develop my communication skills. I tend to live in my head, but it only takes a few semesters to realize that it’s not going to work in a classroom setting,” Nelson said. “So, I continue to push myself to communicate more, and in more detailed ways, than I might assume I need to.

“Students have also taught me, again and again, that most people are doing the best they can.”

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