South Bend, Ind. IU South Bend Professor of Political Science Elizabeth Bennion is the 2020 recipient of the Walter Beach Pi Sigma Alpha Award, an award given annually by the National Capital Area Political Science Association (NCAPSA)?to a political scientist who has made a substantial contribution to strengthen the relationship between political science and public service. Since 1977, the Beach Award has been given to remarkable political scientists who enhance our understanding of political life and bridge the gap between the worlds of learning and governing.
As we near Election Day 2020, we see how important the work of political scientists like Professor Bennion are to civic education, said IU South Bend Chancellor Susan Elrod. Her involvement in debate organization, voter education, and student engagement are tremendously important, and our campus community is proud of her work and this achievement.
Professor Bennion and Professor Dr. Richard Davis of Brigham Young University were co-recipients of this year’s award due to their joint work establishing a new Civic Engagement Section of the American Political Science Association. Bennion and Davis also recently founded the State Debate Coalition, an organization that brings together representatives of the Indiana Debate Coalition (of which Bennion is president), the Utah Debate Commission (of which Davis is a founding member), and other state debate commissions and works to expand the commission model across the nation.
Locally, Bennion’s public engagement includes her work as Director of the American Democracy Project of IU South Bend and Director of Voter Services for the League of Women Voters of the South Bend Area. In these capacities she leads voter registration, education, and mobilization efforts on campus and in the community. Every election season Bennion organizes and moderates a wide range of candidate forums and debates at the local, state, and national levels. She also gives public talks to local civic organizations and organizes civic leadership academies for the general public. She is perhaps best known for her work with local media, providing expert commentary to a wide range of media outlets and hosting a weekly public affairs TV program on WNIT Public Television.
Bennion’s research reflects her interest in conducting work that draws upon the knowledge of practitioners and provides findings that practitioners can use to become more effective in the future. This includes randomized field experiments testing real-world interventions designed to promote political engagement as well as the scholarship of teaching and learning and the scholarship of engagement.
Public engagement infuses my teaching, research, and service in ways that have enriched my life and my career, said Professor Bennion. I am convinced that political scientists benefit from public engagement and that our students, universities, and communities also benefit from our involvement. Political scientists have so much to teach, and to learn, from practitioners. In my view, it is critical that we study real world problems and work together with practitioners to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.
Past recipients of the Beach Award include Jean Kirkpatrick, an American diplomat and political scientist, who played a major policy role in the foreign policy of the Ronald Reagan administration; Donna Shalala, an American politician and academic serving as the U.S. Representative for Florida’s 27th congressional district since 2019 and former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, and American academic, author and politician Paul Wellstone, who represented Minnesota in the United StatesSenate from 1991 until his death in 2002.
NCAPSA is the professional organization in the Greater Washington DC area dedicated to bringing together in common professional and scientific interest those scholars, writers, public service employees, and others to encourage the scientific study of political and governmental phenomena and institutions.