The Collegian
Thursday, December 03, 2020

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UR professor wins national mentorship award, shares insights on teaching style

<p>Courtesy of Kim Lee Photography</p>

Courtesy of Kim Lee Photography

University of Richmond political science professor Jennifer Bowie engages students inside and outside of the classroom with court simulations, discussion-based classes and trips to the Supreme Court. Her teaching style won Bowie the Law and Courts Teaching and Mentorship Award from the American Political Science Association in July, a national award that recognizes innovative teaching in the subject matter of law and courts and is presented annually, according to the Law and Courts website.

According to the UR Newsroom, Bowie began teaching at UR in 2011. She teaches several political science classes according to her bio on the University of Richmond website. Last fall, she taught a first-year seminar on rights of the criminally accused. This semester, Bowie said she was teaching a course dedicated to the legal work of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Bowie is also the pre-law adviser, a role she said she took over in July 2019.

Richard Dagger, professor and former chair of the political science department, said he had supported Bowie’s nomination by an outside political science professor for the annual teaching award. He said that Bowie was also nominated for the UR Distinguished Educator Award, which she received at the beginning of the 2020 fall semester. 

“Dr. Bowie goes way beyond the ordinary requirements outside of the classroom,” Dagger said. “She definitely does not simply go into the class and lecture, she has ways of engaging the students.”

Bowie arranges trips to the Supreme Court and plans meetings with Supreme Court justices for her students, for example, Dagger said. 

According to her UR bio, Bowie is also an editor of Law and Politics Book Review, which includes thematic essays that address important substantive, theoretical or methodological issues. Dagger said that she employs current UR students to work at this publication each year. 

Another way that Bowie said she engages students is through her Supreme Court simulations in her American Legal System and Rights of the Criminal Accused courses.

“In these simulations, I create a hypothetical case and students are assigned to legal teams,” Bowie said. "We hold oral arguments where the legal teams argue their position to the Supreme Court.” 

Bowie organizes different types of court simulations, she said, such as plea-bargaining. 

“In my American Legal System and Rights of the Criminal Accused courses, I incorporate a plea-bargaining simulation," she said. "This exercise teaches students the art of negotiation and strategy. Interestingly, no two plea deals have ever looked the same, even when students have been presented with the same case.” 

Bowie’s courses are not only unique because of her teaching methods, but also because of the class environment she creates, wrote senior Bianca Wieck in an email to The Collegian. In addition to being a student, Wieck is also one of Bowie's students and research assistants, she wrote. 

This semester, Wieck is taking Bowie’s senior seminar, The Notorious RBG: Gender Discrimination and the Courts, which covers Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work as an attorney, judge and justice, while also taking a broader look at gender discrimination in the courts. 

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“As I began to understand what RBG did for women, I realized that a course could be centered around her and her work from litigator to Justice on the Supreme Court,” Bowie said. 

“The [The Notorious RBG] class makeup, first of all, is very unique, as there are only seven students,” Wieck wrote. “It is intimate and supportive, as our classes are all discussion-based. Dr. Bowie fosters an incredibly warm and welcoming environment as she guides our discussions each class meeting."

Wieck is only halfway through The Notorious RBG: Gender Discrimination and the Courts Seminar; however, she has already benefitted from Bowie's course, she said.

"I can confidently say that I have learned more about the Supreme Court system than ever before,” wrote Wieck. “I also feel confident establishing my own opinions about the Supreme Court, something incredibly important as a young voter in America.” 

Unfortunately, trips to the Supreme Court and other community-based learning activities have been canceled this semester due to new UR COVID-19 protocol, Bowie said.  

“Next [spring] semester there will likely be changes, as I will not be able to hold any Supreme Court simulations in the moot courtroom at the law school because of social distancing," Bowie said. "But this activity can easily be transitioned to a remote setting." 

Courtroom simulations are a standout method of Bowie’s teaching, but she also engages her students with her enthusiasm and personal knowledge of the Supreme Court and its justices, Wieck wrote. 

“I always look forward to hearing about [Bowie's] crazy run-ins with different important judges and how dedicated she is to her research,” Wieck wrote. “She truly loves what she does and always lights up when discussing anything related to RBG. I think that this has a wonderfully positive effect on her students, inspiring them to come prepared to class and pursue their own interests in political science.”

As evidenced by the words of her students and peers, Bowie extends her experiences in unique and engaging classes. 

Contact features writer Anna Ridilla at anna.ridilla@richmond.edu.

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