To ASU and Beyond
September 02, 2009
The 2009 Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award recipient from the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, Olson has served as head of the Government Department since 1989, and he also helped develop ASU’s International Studies program.
“I was an original member of the ‘gang of eight’ that went to Lüneburg, Germany, to negotiate the exchange program in 1992,” Olson said. “From 1993 through the summer of 2008, I directed or co-directed with Dr. Sharynn Tomlin some 13 study abroad programs in Lüneburg, Sheffield, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland, and in 2009, Italy/Greece.”
Olson has used his government expertise to direct such courses as Politics and Policy in the United Kingdom, Britain and the European Union, and The History of Freedom.
“I believe that international education has become critical to anyone claiming today to have a higher education,” Olson said. “In our global community, it is imperative that our citizens develop an understanding and empathy for other cultures. Study while traveling is essential in developing this empathy.”
Besides International Studies, Olson has a passion for government and has spent 31 years instructing young minds on the intricacies of the American political process. Although he didn’t plan to stay 30 years when he came to ASU from the University of California-Davis, where he earned his doctorate and began his teaching career, it has certainly worked out.
“When I first came, I had never heard of San Angelo,” Olson said. “I debated coming here, but I liked the people, the teaching orientation of the school and the camaraderie within the department. My colleagues became my friends.”
The Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award isn’t a surprise to many of his former students, including Kelby Hagar, president and chief executive officer of Digital Witness, LLC, and a Harvard Law School graduate.
“I took a lot of classes from Dr. Olson,” Hagar said. “He was always helpful and a good adviser.”
Olson’s teaching specialties include the American political process with particular emphasis on the American presidency, campaigns and elections, along with American political culture. He also focuses on comparative politics, international relations and methodology, Texas politics and British politics. He has published articles in American voting behavior, political culture and campaign finance.
Additionally, Olson serves on the ASU Honors Council, which he chaired from 2002-04 after leading the Honors Program Development Committee in 2001. He also serves on the College of Liberal and Fine Arts Curriculum Committee, the International Studies Committee and the Teacher Education Council.
Olson’s reach extends beyond the academic world as he has served as a political or legislative adviser for 30 political candidates and officeholders, including federal district judge and former San Angelo State Rep. Rob Junell and former State Rep. Dick Burnett.
In the community, Olson has moderated political debates and sponsors the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He is a member of the Journal of Borderland Studies editorial board and previously served as co-editor of the Texas Journal of Political Studies.
Such hands-on participation shows Olsen’s passion for the political process, whether he is teaching from a lectern in an ASU classroom or co-directing a program in England or Scotland for his students.