Guest Speakers Bring Real-Life Experience to Polisci Course

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Buzz Bissinger and Pa. state officials to speak at SJU

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

PHILADELPHIA (Feb. 2, 2010) - In a new spin on an established class, students enrolled in Joe Powers’ ’71 state and local government course will spend the spring 2010 semester not just learning about the people and processes of our three-tiered government system, but learning from them. The goal of the five-guest series, says Powers, is to foster a greater understanding and knowledge of what government service, specifically at the state and local level, actually entails.

Powers himself has 37 years experience working in the state government arena, starting his career by tracking legislation for the Pennsylvania Legislative Reference Bureau in 1973, and ending it with his retirement from his post as Executive Deputy Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection in June 2009. In between, Powers held positions ranging from executive director of several Senate committees to Chief of Staff for both the Lieutenant Governor and the House Democratic Policy Committee Chair.

With such a breadth of career experience to support his teaching, why bring in guest speakers? For Powers, real-life examples are an important part of a balanced education.

“I want my students to see that public service can be a very fulfilling career, and enhance their interest in being involved with public service. There are ways you can teach that in a classroom, but there is also merit in letting students see it, or hear about it, first hand,” Powers says.

Throughout his career, Powers also found time to occasionally teach a political science course, including among others, helping Thomas Kane, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, teach a class at SJU 10 times over 20 years. That experience led Powers to recognize that he also wanted to teach some day.

“Having dealt with and advised so many prominent political figures, I realized I was in the position to pass along what I learned to others, and that there’s an enjoyment in that,” Powers says.

On Feb. 8, the first of the five lecturers to visit Powers’ class, Buzz Bissinger, will speak.  A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist most widely known for his book Friday Night Lights, Bissinger is better known in the political world as the author of A Prayer for the City, a journalistic observation of Ed Rendell’s administration in Philadelphia, and how that administration tackled a desperate financial time for the city. Bissinger will discuss his experiences of observing the administration and his recent editorials written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday Edition, which comment on the administrations of Mayors Rendell and Nutter.

In March, the class will focus on budgeting, finance and economic development in order to prepare for Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord on the 22nd, and Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Mary Soderberg on the 25th. McCord will discuss the programs his office oversees and the crisis facing state governments nationwide, while Soderberg will explain how a budget is constructed, offering insight into the recently resolved budget conflict in Harrisburg.

Later in the semester Pennsylvania State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi will speak about overseeing the Senate in a diverse state, and touch on what it’s like to negotiate with the House and governor’s office. Pileggi will also talk about his experience as Mayor of Chester, Pa., the position he held before becoming senator. The series closes with Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger, who will discuss the challenges of running a 3,000-employee agency, specifically at a time when issues of energy and environmental protection are so prominent. He is recognized as a leading authority on environmental and energy matters.

In addition to discussing their careers and experiences, Powers has asked all five guest lecturers to talk about careers in government or government-related work. This way, his students will walk away from these classes with not only a greater understanding of state and local government but will know how and where they can be a part of it in the future.

“I can’t match the years of teaching experience that their other professors have,” says Powers. “What I bring is a practical experience of not only how things work in theory, but how they work in real life.”

Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Associate Director of University Communications, 610-660-3240,

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