David Olson

Communication Studies

To people who know David Olson, an assistant professor of communication studies at Southwestern, a profession in teaching comes as no surprise. Even as a child, he valued education. “I walked a mile to and from school in minus 30 degrees,” he says.

Born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Olson’s family moved to a community outside Detroit, where he attended high school. After high school, he enrolled at Grand Valley State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English and theatre. He then received three master’s degrees from the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

Olson enrolled in the performance studies doctoral program at The University of Texas, but decided it was not for him. He soon found himself as a speech writer for the Texas Natural Resources Commission. “This was challenging,” Olson says. “I was trying to highlight the personalities of my clients through speech, but I did not know them.” He found that the use of narrative in his speeches was crucial. “I began to ask my clients about their own interests and passions.” Using their background, Olson could better develop the speech and include not only that they were passionate about an issue, but why.

Today, Olson uses the same technique to teach public speaking to students at Southwestern. “What really engages people is a story that goes along with what you are talking about,” he says.

Olson began teaching part-time at Southwestern in 1992 after a short stint writing speeches for the Texas Senate. He now works full-time at the University. In addition to teaching two sections of public speaking, he is an academic advisor for 35 students and directs the Communication Studies Internship Program.

Olson says he enjoys helping students gain confidence as public speakers. “Some students come in to the semester terrified to get up at the podium, and they leave able to rattle off a five-minute speech about words drawn out of a hat,” he says. “Watching them grow is incredibly rewarding.”

Olson also enjoys directing the internship program. “I worked for a short time as a career counselor at a junior college, and I am always thinking about the future of my students,” he says. This semester, Olson is managing 20 student interns as they work in different communication-related fields on and off campus.

In his spare time, Olson enjoys reading fiction and history books. The bookcases that line the walls of his office are nods to that. Currently, Olson is juggling five books. “I read multiple books at once because I tend to dream about the books I read,” he says. “I must be strategic.”

Olson says he appreciates the opportunity to teach at Southwestern. “Southwestern students are different,” he says. “In a big school, as a professor, you may spend five minutes with a student. Southwestern students are much more demanding. They want my time, and I want theirs. Through our mutual demands, we form relationships. They get to know me and I get to know them, and that is terrifically gratifying.”

Nick Simonite ’07

Bob Snyder

Political Science

While the war on terrorism rages, Bob Snyder is keeping a close eye on Pakistan, which has been shaken by the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the ensuing political upheaval.

As Snyder views it, Pakistan sits at the epicenter of international terrorism, with terrorist masterminds Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri suspected of hiding somewhere in that country.

“I think Pakistan is a very troubling country,” Snyder says. “One of the big reasons why the United States needs to be so concerned is that Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal. The United States has to worry about whether this nuclear arsenal is secure.”

For Snyder, a professor of political science at Southwestern, tracking the goings-on in Pakistan is all in a day’s work. Since joining the Southwestern faculty in 1992, Snyder has gravitated toward teaching and researching subjects like the Cold War, international conflict, Islamic extremism and terrorism.

Snyder recalls that Bhutto devoted much of her 2005 speech at Southwestern to terrorism and democracy. By contrast, during a private dinner that Snyder attended, Bhutto focused on the plight of Pakistan’s poor. In both settings, Bhutto came across as personable, smart and articulate, Snyder says.

Another contrast: the facets of Bhutto’s political life. On the one hand, she represented democracy and Islamic modernism, Snyder says. On the other hand, her administration was stained by corruption, he says, and her political ascension was built on family aristocracy.

“There was a certain limitation to the kind of democracy that she was prepared to support,” Snyder says.

He was shocked but not terribly surprised by the assassination of Bhutto, as she had been a longtime target of enemies. Sadly, it was likely that Bhutto would be assassinated, he says.

Obviously, the slaying of Bhutto was a significant topic of conversation in Snyder’s political science classes. In the classroom, Snyder seeks to mix lectures and discussions, history and current events. He frequently plays devil’s advocate to spark debate.

“Sometimes, my classes don’t end on time because we’re still talking about different issues,” Snyder says.

Political issues did not dominate dinner-table discussion at Snyder’s childhood home in suburban Philadelphia, although he has been interested in history and international politics since elementary school. After earning a bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy from McDaniel College in Maryland, Snyder went on to earn a master’s degree in international relations at the University of Pennsylvania and a doctoral degree in political science at the University of Michigan.

Despite his in-depth study of politics, Snyder says he has never been too politically active. He votes in elections, but he has never campaigned for a political candidate. Snyder says he is not interested in being a big-time political player. He would rather stay on the sidelines as an observer.

So, would Snyder ever be tempted to run for public office?

“Absolutely not,” he says. “No desire whatsoever.”