Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of profiles on new, full-time faculty members who have joined the Keuka community.
Perhaps it’s fair to say that Angela Narasimhan is intent on expanding the borders of possibility, whether those borders be in political science, motherhood and family life, or long-held traditions about college education.
Indeed, Keuka’s newest assistant professor of political science went beyond borders to pursue her collegiate studies, moving from Washington, D.C., to Romania, where she spent a year in language school before earning her B.A. in political science from Babes-Bolyai (pronounced “Bobbish- Boyea”) University in Transylvania, Romania. That was followed by a master’s degree in political science from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. And while her Ph.D. – also in political science – is from Syracuse University, Narasimhan maintains a particularly global view on American politics.
“I wanted to study post-communist transition, but I was very interested in American politics from an international perspective. My dissertation was on globalization and the Supreme Court, and how different American institutions are dealing with globalization,” she said, adding that her studies have also touched on American politics, public law and public policy.
“We have many individual rights. We have the strongest, most enduring constitution, and we’re very inclusive, very democratic. These are all important, unique things that many Americans take for granted,” she said. “At the same time, we also lag behind other countries in certain things, and there’s a lot of fear of globalization undermining American values. However, the world is increasingly interdependent. We have to deal with other countries on a more direct basis, and we’re expected to have a global set of abilities to compete.”
Prior to coming to Keuka, Narasimhan taught political science at Idaho State University and the Unversity of North Dakota. She and her husband, Kamesh, who hails from India, moved to be near her parents, who had retired to Central New York.
“I’ve been to more rural places than Keuka and Keuka is more diverse than some places,” she said. “Keuka has this international program reputation, so I was excited to come to a place where students do travel and get out in the world, but it’s not just traveling abroad. Once you work in a real-world environment, you start to understand the practical skills you can take away. I like that. I like to teach to the real world; that fits with my personality. Experiential learning is a contact back and forth between practical and theoretical and that’s how my academic pursuit has always been.”
She’d also enjoy taking students abroad, to explore overseas, as she did.
“I’d love to take students to Hungary or Romania and I’d like to go to India, where my husband’s family is from. Or perhaps [lead] a Field Period to D.C. My dad worked for the federal government for 35 years, so that would be fun,” Narasimhan explained.
The Keuka environment will enable her to get to know her students over time, develop thoughts on various topics, and have in-depth conversations across classes, she said. She will serve as a pre-law academic adviser and said she hopes to inform students about different career options they could pursue in public administration, county government or homeland security, not just legal firms.
In the meantime, she may be indirectly pushing students to go beyond borders in another prominent way: as a young mother raising children. As a graduate student at SU, Narasimhan gave birth to her daughter, Mina, who is now 4 years old, and was the first woman in the Political Science department of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs program to have a baby in institutional memory, among both grad students and faculty. Her son, Kiran, is 4 months old and was born four days before their family moved from Idaho to New York.
“I feel I represent a generation in transition,” Narasimhan said. “It’s rather unusual in academia to have kids as early as I did. I think something is definitely going on – maybe we’re advancing our understanding of family life balance. I think more people are paying attention to what it’s going to take to place emphasis on the family and move forward [in your career.]”
In the political world, women like Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts governor Jane Swift have given birth while in office. Swift was eight months pregnant with twins when she went from lieutenant governor to governor in 2001 after Paul Cellucci resigned to become ambassador to Canada. Narasimhan said they stand as examples that a woman can succeed on the job – even in high-pressure politics – and raise her family at the same time.
“I think a lot of other countries have achieved a better work-life balance and we’re learning from them that you can still have a productive business,” Narasimhan said, citing a recent study she knew of where adults who worked in offices where they could bring their children to work to be cared for in the same building, were just as productive as those who worked from home with children nearby.
Another of her generation, a friend working in federal government, gets paternal leave as a benefit, she said.
Nonetheless, she acknowledges that “the politics of motherhood can be some of the most divisive politics you can find. Are you a better mother if you pursue your own interests or a better mom if you stay at home? These kinds of conversations are not going to go away.”
Narasimhan would also like to inspire students to push beyond traditional borders when they approach her as a professor and she insists her classroom will be one of neutrality.
“I don’t want students to think that they’d be marginalized, so I try to keep my political views to myself,” she said, emphasizing that no matter what side of the political fence one is on, perspectives may change.
“We might focus on abortion or gay marriage but in the day-to-day issues of the economy or jobs or education, there would be more in common and I think a lot of people overlook that or confuse cultural beliefs for political beliefs. I do try to separate that. Sometimes as citizens, our feelings or sentiments are manipulated by people in power and you need to be skeptical. You may find you don’t agree all the time. I think everyday citizens agree about a lot more than they think they do.”