Politics & Government



  • EVENTS: Global Justice Film Series, Visiting Speakers, political debates, voter registration.

  • POLITICS CLUB: A student-led club that tackles political topics, provides professional development opportunities and works to bring dynamic debate to campus.

  • MODEL UNITED NATIONS: Competes in the National Model United Nations event in New York City.

  • MOCK TRIAL: Introduces students to real criminal or civil cases to prepare for trial after graduation.

  • INTERNSHIPS: Students intern with political candidates, elected officials, nonprofit organizations and legal professionals.


Maria Struble, Ph.D.

“I like to find where politics hides in places you wouldn’t think to look for it." 

Maria Struble, Ph.D., describes herself as more conscientious student than oracle of political science dogma.

Struble was born in Bulgaria and grew into an academic career that led her across Europe and the U.S., as the liberating nature of learning kindled her love for the classroom experience. As a Political Science professor at Western, Struble says she tries to support inquisitive minds and encourage students to reconsider the ways powerful social forces shape our lives.

“I like to find where politics hides in places you wouldn’t think to look for it,” she says.

Her most recent writing examines the relationship between politics and mountaineering – specifically the conquering of Mt. Everest. She asks, “How does attempting to climb the highest peak in the world and commodifying the mountain construct a particular view of authentic freedom?”

Summiting Everest, she argues, celebrates individual achievement at the expense of community.

And getting the right college education shouldn’t be as strenuous or as specific an achievement as climbing 27,940 feet.

Struble says education is a public effort, with public results. Modern liberal arts education can prepare students for the “real world.” But students often come to college with more questions about themselves than answers. This is where critical thinking skills, and the ability to think in terms of the mechanisms of social power can be legitimizing.

Power, like potential, hides in every student. The trick to teaching, Struble explains, is recognizing the importance of the dialectic environment and the exchange between student and instructor.

“I am really passionate about conversation, dialogue and thinking about the consequences of our actions – for ourselves and those less fortunate – and the decisions we make,” she says.

Since the classroom is a safe place to try on new ways of thinking – a kind of analytic dressing room – Struble focuses on student-centered teaching, counting herself among her students.

 “Teaching is just a really fun way to challenge what I think,” she says. “I find a lot of value in what I do, because I want to move beyond inculcated ways of thinking. I want you to think in an undisciplined way. Challenge me. I’m not some kind of an authority on anything just because I have a Ph.D.”

In the classroom, Struble breathes life into Political Science. She encourages lifelong learning in her students. She tries to make every class session a rigorous and engaging inquiry into what makes us tick as a society. She plays devil’s advocate, challenging students to analyze, take intellectual risks and root out subtle assumptions. This becomes a theatrical approach to learning, based on the performance of reason.

“I think students are shocked by my level of energy,” she says. “My goal in going to teach is to have fun and to really impart engagement. I don’t teach to get paid. I really love this stuff. I can’t teach any other way than really loving this stuff, and I want you to love it, too. I want to stress students out of this self-imposed mode of duh.”

Such apathy, she explains, stifles the natural human passion for learning.

Marginalized populations fascinate Struble. Her doctoral thesis explores how refugee poetry illuminates the relationship between bearing witness to the experience of being displaced from one’s home. Both the student and the refugee share the predicament of having been marginalized by institutional authorities who define them. In an informal paper on the promise of liberal education, Struble states that, rather than focusing on teaching, repetition, and discipline, an instructor “can also be viewed as a [facilitator of the] process of creative transformation of knowledge, of bearing witness.”

Too often, going to school involves being quiet, orderly and regurgitating an instructor’s lectures. Such skills, Struble explains, help students earn good grades and stay in line. But they do little to build critical thinking or authentic individuals.

“We all get enmeshed in this culture of how to be successful and how to elicit compliance in people,” she says. “Modernity has its way of eliciting compliance without us even realizing it.”

In seeking an education, we prevent ourselves from using what we learn, she says, while “education is treated as a means to an end, when it should be an end in itself. “

The culprit is stasis. In struggling to see who we already are, we blind ourselves to who we could be.

Struble lives in Gunnison with her husband, Darren, and their two small children, Damien and Miro. She is the faculty supervisor for Western’s National Model United Nations team, as well as the Politics Club. She serves on the board of her son’s school and volunteers in the community whenever she can find the time. She says she enjoys reading science fiction when not engaged in scholastic theatrics.

Profile by Rebecca Ingram Bryant. Photograph by John McKeith.

Faculty & Staff


Brian Bernhardt headshot
Assistant Professor of Politics and Government
B.A., James Madison University, M.A., University Colorado at Boulder , Ph.D., University of Colorado at Boulder
Phone: 970.943.3025
Office Location: Kelley 205
Maria Boikova Struble headshot
Professor of Politics & Government
B.A., Louisiana State University, M.A., Arizona State University, Ph.D., Lancaster University
Phone: 970.943.3024
Office Location: Kelley Hall 204


FOR REQUIRED COURSES AND DEGREE PLANS, VISIT THE OFFICIAL UNIVERSITY CATALOG. This is a sample of courses offered by Western Colorado University. To ensure the courses you need are offered during the current semester, please visit the university course search.

 POLS 117 - Introduction to Political Ideas (3 credits)

An introduction to political analysis through a study of important political concepts and theories, as well as their historical development. Students study the ideas and practices of the public and philosophical development of concepts such as citizenship, democracy, equality, justice, liberty, or power.

 POLS 180 - Introduction to American Politics (3 credits)

Introduces institutions and processes of American politics, including themes such as constitutionalism, representation, participation, political development, political economy, civil liberties and rights, public policy, and the ideas and values of American democracy.

 POLS 250 - Politics of the Environment (3 credits)

A survey of key issues of national and international environmental politics, the course introduces students to the historical foundations and ongoing debates concerning the environment. A specific political lens informs our discussions while students analyze theoretical, cultural and political domains of various political systems and the ways in which they have gained importance on the international scene. Some of the main issues discussed in class involve a survey of international environmental treaties, government responses to environmental disasters and crises, environmental justice movements, environmental causes of war and displacement, democratic participation as a tool for environmental change, indigenous modalities of treating the environment, and the politics of environmental agreements and developments in the United States. Students learn to examine the connections between the environment and politics in a critical, engaged and broadly-informed way. Prerequisite: POLS 117 recommended.

 POLS 255 - Introduction Comparative Politics (3 credits)

An introduction to the challenges and problems encountered in the study of comparative politics. Students examine various issues of local and national governance through a comparative lens. By looking at similar political phenomena in several contexts, students explore the question of why some countries have successfully developed their political, economic and social systems while others are lagging behind. Some of the issues examined in the class deal with womenÕs rights, poverty, underdevelopment, the environment, and democracy. Prerequiste: ENG 102 with a grade of C- or above.

 POLS 260 - Introduction to World Politics (3 credits)

An introduction to some of the more important concepts and approaches to understanding world politics. Students examine the politics between different countries and seek to answer questions about the promise and peril of the global future. Quest- ions contemplated include: What are the sources of political conflict and how can they be minimized? Under what conditions will nation states cooperate with each other to accomplish common goals? Should tyranny and human rights violations justify humanitarian intervention? Prerequisite: ENG 102 with a grade of C- or above.

 POLS 282 - Issues in State and Local Government (3 credits)

Using the foundations of American Federalism, the class examines policy issues at the state and local levels. With a comparative perspective and, at the same time, with particular attention paid to Colorado, some of the themes examined in states and localities include: budgets and economic policy, education, energy, and environmental Policy. Prerequisite: recommended POLS 180.

 POLS 300 - Constitutional Law I (3 credits)

A study of the historical development of the United States Constitution and Supreme Court through the most important Supreme Court decisions. The course focuses on the areas of jurisdiction of the courts, development of the common law, the separation of powers, federalism, and the inter-state commerce power. Prerequisite: POLS 180.

 POLS 301 - Constitutional Law II (3 credits)

A continuation of POLS 300. An examination of the constitutional protections ofindividual liberties as defined by the Supreme Court. Students study the historicaldevelopment of the Supreme Court's point of view in such areas as freedom of speech, subversion and disloyalty, religious freedom, church-state separation, and equal protection of the law. Prerequisite: POLS 180 recommended.

 POLS 309 - Political Theory I- Ancient to Early Modern (3 credits)

A survey of the historical development of western political theories from their origins in ancient Greece to the development of early modern political theories such as liberalism and republicanism. Students study thinkers such as Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, William Shakespeare, Niccolo Machiavelli, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Prerequisite: POLS 117 recommended.

 POLS 310 - Political Theory II- Late Modern and Contemporary (3 credits)

A survey of the historical development of modern and contemporary political theories since the French Revolution. Issues investigated might include the rise of liberal democracy and its critics, the impact of the industrial revolution on modern politics, and how technological change and environmental limitations have affected contemporary political thought. Students study thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hannah Arendt, and Michel Foucault.POLS 117 recommended

 POLS 331 - Politics of the Presidency (3 credits)

After more than two centuries of change and development, the presidency stands not only as the nationÀs preeminent public office but also its most problematic. This course examines the design and creation of the office, the impact various officeholders have made on shaping future expectations, and the problems of contemporary leadership.Prerequisite: POLS 180 recommended.

 POLS 340 - Politics of Social Movements (3 credits)

A study of social movements, past and present, in both domestic and international contexts. Students examine theories on why social movements develop, spread, and decline, while considering the factors that lead to their successes and failures. Through an examination of transnational movements, students consider the roles of social networks and participatory democracy in a globalized world. Prerequisite: ENG 102.

 POLS 350 - Human Rights (3 credits)

An engagement with the history and current developments in international human rights practices, offering a justification and critique of universal human rights through the lens of various schools of thought, discussing pre and post-WWII developments with attention to specific cases, and examining the relationship between culture, globalization and human rights violations in the 21st century. Prerequisite: ENG 102.

 POLS 355 - Politics of Development (3 credits)

A historical and case-specific examination of development and underdevelopment debates waged about, against and by countries in the Global South, examining assumptions about poverty, sustainability, liberal democratic regimes and free-market economy. The class engages students in a critical examination of what our assumptions about development are and how we can work toward broadening and refining them with the end goal of greater equity, political agency, and empowerment for populations within and outside the Global South. Particular focus on political regimes, their role in promoting development, and the scope of their relationship to economic, cultural, and social processes informs class objectives. Specific topics include malnutrition, food security, rights of indigenous populations, international aid and donors, disease, democratization processes, human rights, and the environment. Prerequisites: POLS 255 and/or POLS 260 recommended.

 POLS 360 - American Foreign Policy (3 credits)

Not since the Roman Empire has any nation had as much economic, cultural and military power as the United States does today. Yet, as has become all too evident through the problems of terrorism, environmental degradation and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, that power is not enough to solve many global issues. This course examines the way in which U.S. foreign policy is made and the variety of ongoing and emerging foreign policy problems the U.S. faces in the context of their evolution. Prerequisites: POLS 255 and/or POLS 260 recommended.

 POLS 370 - Political Economy (3 credits)

A study of economic systems that focuses on the structure and uses of economic power and the relationship between economic and political power. Students think about questions such as: What is capitalism? What varieties of capitalism exist around the world? How has capitalism changed over time? Ultimately, students consider the relationship between capitalism, freedom, and democracy. Prerequisite: ENG 102.

 POLS 376 - American Political Thought (3 credits)

A study of American political thought from the colonial period to the present day through a survey of key thinkers and social movements. Students gain an appreciation for dominant views and key controversies within American political thought, as well how the ideas of challengers, such as Abolitionism, Populism, Progressivism, the Labor Movement, the WomenÕs movement, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights Movement, have reshaped the accepted order. Prerequisite: POLS 117 or POLS 180.

 POLS 380 - The United Nations (3 credits)

A study of the United Nations, focusing on the relationship between the UN, the proliferation of human rights regimes and international human development. Students think about the importance of creating international norms, working toward a sustainable world peace, political efficacy, and human rights in the world. A Model UN simulation is part of the course requirements. Prerequisite: ENG 102.

 POLS 485 - Studies in Political Theory: (3 credits)

Senior seminar in political theory with varying topics. This course meets the Capstone requirement. Prerequisite: senior standing or instructor permission.

 POLS 487 - Studies in International Relations: (3 credits)

Senior seminar in International Relations with varying topics. This course meets theCapstone requirement. Prerequisite: senior standing or instructor permission.

 POLS 499 - Internship in Politics and Government (1 to 12 credits)

Credit earned in an internship may be applied to the Major or Minor with advisorapproval.

Bachelor of Arts
Behavioral & Social Sciences

Political scientists seek to understand the causes and consequences of wars, social injustices, economic disparities and competing political regimes and policies for the purpose of alleviating suffering and providing sustainable solutions.


Politics & Government students are exposed to different and often conflicting points of view on a variety of important political ideas (e.g., democracy, freedom, equality, development and power). Studying how different individuals have looked at these ideas, as well as how such ideas have been practiced in the contexts of real institutions and political controversies, enlarges the mind, develops the tools necessary for effective citizenship and serves to cultivate critical reasoning. Students rethink their assumptions about the world and their place in it, while learning skills to influence issues that matter to them.


In addition to the standard major, the Politics & Government program offers four emphases: Pre-Law, Global Studies, Secondary Licensure and Environmental Management. The Pre-Law Emphasis prepares students for law school and gives them access to law school advising. The Global Studies Emphasis is designed to encourage student engagement with and knowledge of foreign policy, human rights, social movements, political economy, world politics and international organizations. The Secondary Licensure Emphasis qualifies students for State of Colorado Licensure in Social Science Education. The Environmental Management Emphasis is for students who intend to enroll in the Master in Environmental Management 3+2 program.


A degree in politics can lead to many careers, including:

  • Advocacy
  • Campaigning
  • Consulting
  • Data Science
  • Diplomacy
  • Journalism
  • Law
  • Lobbying
  • Local Government
  • National Security
  • Peace Corps
  • Public Relations
  • Teaching
  • Writing


Our friendly faculty would love to hear from you.

Maria Struble, Ph.D.
Brian Bernhardt, Ph.D.