Professor Spotlight on Dr. David White

Alexis M. Johnson, Staff Writer
October 20, 2010
Filed under Feature

Dr. David White, associate professor of political science, was recently named chair of the political science and geography department.

While White is humbled by the new title, it is clear that his credentials and impressive political experiences contributed to the new honor bestowed upon him.

After graduating from Bucknell University with a B.A. in political science, White moved to Washington, D.C. He then that he realized he wanted to become a professor.

“I worked in Washington, D.C. for almost six years after graduating from college,” White said. “I went to Washington not sure exactly what I was going to do, but in that first year was when I realized I wanted to become a college professor.”

White traces his teaching roots back to his childhood, where his father was a high school teacher.

After securing many lower level jobs, White was able to begin his successful career in the world of politics by networking.

Prior to working at Sen. John McCain’s press office and on Sen. Bob Dole’s presidential campaign, White worked for the Republican National Committee.

“I actually worked for the Republican National Committee for the Republican Party doing fundraising where I learned about how to raise money, both by mail and through big dinner parties, things of that sort,” White said. “And then I got a job in the chairman’s office.”

From his experience, White learned the power of networking.

“I learned that it’s very helpful to know people because I knew someone in the chairman’s office … and he helped me get that position,” White said. “If there are five people that are qualified, but someone on the inside says you should hire this guy, then that helps you out a lot.”

After performing both minimal and larger tasks such as reading memos and handling the budget for the office, White then went on to work for Bob Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign which was no easy task.

“That was a very hard experience,” White said. “He lost, but you worked 12 hours a day and when things didn’t go right, you heard about it.”

After the campaign and more networking, White went on to work for McCain.

“I used to run a lot in Washington,” White said. “I ran a lot of races and one of my competitors worked there. He was going to another job and said, ‘Come in, maybe you can take my job,’ and so I did.”

White enjoyed the experience, but had to get used to not working long hours.

“[It] was a wonderful experience. People would go home at 6:00, and I wasn’t used to leaving for another three hours having worked on the campaign,” White said. “Sometimes I would stay there later just because I wasn’t used to going home.”

What White gained from the experiences is also advice he gives to students.

“I learned that knowing people helps. Being smart, doing well in school – that’s good, that’s what you want to do, but when there are several candidates for a position and you have someone who can vouch for you, that can make a big difference,” White said. “And I try to use that in helping my students get internships and trying to find things.”

In regard to his students, White says that his mission is not to inspire them, but instead to instill knowledge that will not only help them academically, but personally.

“I’m not trying to inspire my students or anything – I’m just trying to get them to understand the political system,” White said. “I want them to be knowledgeable when they read the newspaper, that they understand what’s going on in a political science type of way.”

However, White’s teaching does inspire many of his students.

“There are usually a couple of students that have been impacted by your teaching that come ask you more questions and want to know more and want to get involved, that’s kind of neat,” White said. “But to be honest, I usually don’t find out about that stuff sometimes until years later.”

White’s guidance has helped students receive internships at notable places such as the Democratic National Convention.

White is using his new position as department chair to continue to help students.

“I’m excited about it – I’m learning a lot,” White said. “There are things you don’t know that you’re in charge of until you get an envelope in the mail, but I really want to help the students know what’s out there – that’s my goal.”

White’s outreach to non political science majors is also a goal.

“Another thing I’m trying to do as chair of the department is let students know in other disciplines the impact government has on their lives and the opportunities available to them as well,” White said.

Prior to being named chair, his outreach was successful when he was able to help a non political science major secure an internship with the National Endowment for the Arts.

White says that his favorite thing about FMU, besides teaching, is the faculty.

“I love the faculty,” White said. “I have colleagues; I have friends in so many departments.”

Although White was not familiar with South Carolina prior to coming to FMU, it was his and his wife’s roots in the East Coast that led him here.

“Both my family, my wife’s family were from the East Coast so I applied to schools all over, but certainly getting back to the East was part of it,” White said.

A couple of trips to South Carolina before and after college led him here as well.

“I had only been to South Carolina twice – drove through it once while in college, and I had a friend in Washington who grew up in Charleston, so she had invited me and another friend to come down and experience Charleston,” White said.

White also says he was not aware of FMU’s existence.

“To be honest, I didn’t know it existed,” White said. “But I was in Arizona – I lived out west for 11 years after I lived in Washington. I went to graduate school at the University of Arizona and we lived in Utah for three years.”

Currently, White is working on research for a program called Presidential Advance.

“Presidential Advance are those people that go out before the president makes a trip and they set up the event and all the logistics,” White said. “They make sure that the trip runs smoothly, that the president’s safe, gets his message across, everybody gets fed; they deal with all sorts of issues.”

Outside of academia, White enjoys both participating in and acting as a sports spectator.

“I like to run when I’m not injured. I’ve run most of my life; well, since 10th grade,” White said. “I like to play golf too – I worked at a golf course growing up. I like going to watch the teams here on campus.”

White also has two daughters who are on swim teams, which he devotes time to.

Besides sporting events, he likes to read.

“One thing I would like to find time to do is read books more,” White said. “I like a good mystery, a good detective novel. I like nonfiction too, as a political scientist, because you learn so much.”

White is, however, “afraid” of one particular genre.

“I am a little nervous about reading the historical fiction, where they use real events,” White said. “I’m afraid that I’m going to think something really happened and tell a story about it in class.”

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