Pioneer Spotlight: Shan Sappleton

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March 7, 2014
Shan Sappleton

Dr. Shan Sappleton is an assistant professor of political science in the UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education’s department of social sciences. Joining the faculty in fall 2013, she teaches courses in comparative politics, international relations and African politics. Sappleton was born on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Kingston, Jamaica, and holds a Ph.D. in comparative politics from the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. Her dissertation research examined and compared the West African countries of Senegal and the Cote d’Ivoire.

What do you enjoy most about teaching comparative politics, international relations and African politics?

I love teaching these courses because they give students the opportunity to relate the theoretical concepts we cover in the course to real world cases. I am able to demonstrate and garner greater appreciation for the complexities and nuances of the world in which we live. The courses also allow students to build those essential higher order critical thinking skills, as they call for explaining when and why things occur the way they do from multiple perspectives. I also love that I am able to bring my own research and background into the classroom discussions. This approach facilitates further learning, as students are able to see how the subject matter informs my own work.

What are some of the topics you discuss in your courses?

In comparative politics, we cover topics ranging from what is a state to how states are formed and the relationship between strength of civil society and the governance of a country. We also explore the similarities and differences between and among democracies and authoritarian regimes. Specifically, we analyze the similarities and differences among nations in terms of political institutions, political economy, political representation and political culture. The course covers regions such as Western Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia.

The international relations course is largely theoretically based. It explores the major theories of international relations. It also examines real-world cases such as Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs and the international community's responses to these. We examine the Gulf War and the recent use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria and the international community's response to these cases. Other topics covered in the course include international trade and globalization, international organizations such as the United Nations, international law and human rights as well as the environment.

In African politics, we examine the historical context of the rise of modern African states (as we know them today), pre-colonial African governance structures and the strengths and weaknesses of the existing political/economic institutions in African countries. The course also examines the role of international aid in Africa’s democratization process and assesses the applicability of the resource curse theory to the region. Additionally, the course explores the role of women political leaders and representatives in containing war in conflict-prone African countries.

What qualities do your students possess that impress you the most?

I have been most impressed by UW-Platteville students' eagerness to learn and their incredible work ethic. This quest for knowledge makes learning in the classroom less structured, more interactive and generally a lot of fun. I appreciate that I can always expect students to give of their best.

How do you hope your classes help prepare students for their careers and their lives?

In my classes, there is a heavy emphasis placed not only on theoretical concepts, but also on how these theories help us to explain and understand world events from various perspectives. I believe that being able to view events and issues from multiple perspectives helps prepare our students to be better problem-solvers in the world. I also think that the more exposed students are to different ways of looking at the world, the more likely they are to be more respectful and appreciative of others’ individual and/or cultural differences.

​Interview conducted by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education.
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