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Spotlight on Desiree Weber: Political Theorist and Passionate Educator.

Modified: March 30, 2016
photo of desiree weber

Desiree Weber has spent much of her graduate career improving her teaching abilities through work with the Searle Center and the Teagle Foundation, which helped her secure a faculty position at the College of Wooster beginning in Fall 2016.  A native Midwesterner, she received her undergraduate degree from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she studied Philosophy and Political Science. She chose to attend Northwestern for graduate school because of the strength of the program and its proximity to her hometown: Wooster, in Ohio. 

“Northwestern not only has a really strong Political Science department, but the political theory subfield within that is one of the strongest.” Desiree explains, “There was also the added bonus of being only six hours away from my father.”

Her work at Northwestern focuses on contemporary political theory, specifically, the role of language and its relation to political pedagogy and politics. She studies the work of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, connecting the relevance of his theories to political thinking.

Desiree had her first experience teaching as a Teaching Assistant for a class that was funded by the Teagle Foundation grant project, an initiative aimed at supporting graduate student professionalization in teaching. “It was the first time in graduate school where I was asked to concentrate on developing my teaching skills,” Desiree says. “Even though it was only one quarter, I began looking intensely at my own teaching practices and understanding where I could improve.” This experience led her to the Searle Center, where she completed the Searle Teaching Certificate and worked as a Graduate Teaching Fellow for two years. “Aside from my research and coursework, I’ve spent a lot of time at Northwestern improving my teaching skills and working on how to be an instructor, Searle has been a big part of that and I’ve been able to bring what I’ve learned back to my department,” she says.

As part of her training with the Searle Center, Desiree developed a resource website to help streamline the process for future Teaching Assistants in Political Science.

“One of the things I found when I started being a TA was that I was working with the same classes that others had before me.” Desiree says. “We were reinventing the wheel every time. We decided to create a website in order to collect materials and information that might be helpful to the next TA in the same class.”

In January, Desiree received the K. Patricia Cross Award, which recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders of higher education through their commitment to civic responsibility and teaching. She was one of ten recipients chosen from a pool of 275 nominations from 137 institutions. As part of the award, Desiree attended the annual conference in Washington, D.C. in January.

“It was a really neat experience because there weren’t a lot of other graduate students at the conference,” Desiree elaborates. “It is mostly attended by administrators, full professors, and people that work on education questions at universities. It was great to chat with people that had been in this field for some time.” 

Desiree is a long-time academic debate participant, starting with her time on high school and college debate teams. Currently, she works with the Chicago Debate Commission, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for urban debate leagues and administers high school and middle school debate programs. 

“There has been a national effort to reestablish debate programs, especially in cities,” Desiree explains. “Many programs have gone away because of lack of funding, but they tend to last longer in the suburbs. The Chicago Debate Commission runs the Chicago debate league, which includes around 40 high schools and around 30 middle schools.”

Initially, Desiree was responsible for the organization and logistics of the debate events, but has since moved into a more analytic role. In the past few years, she has been assessing the academic gains that students receive through debate competitions. 

“You can have testimony about how the kids love debate, but the Chicago Debate Commission wanted measurements that were more recognizable by the education community. “ said Desiree, “I look at measuring things like reading level and writing proficiency that will be acknowledged by the school system.”

Desiree will graduate from Northwestern this summer. She has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of Wooster in Ohio, where she will coach their moot court team. She will no longer have to manage long commutes to visit her father, as working at Wooster means Desiree will be able to both pursue her aspirations and live in her home town.