ASU professors encourage alumna to pursue new career path

By

Amanda Stoneman

Driven by a desire to embody the faculty at Arizona State University, alumna Lynn Vavreck seeks to inspire her students to chase opportunity and excel professionally. 

“One of the things I like about being a college professor is I get to have one-on-one dealings with young people in a way that I can make their lives better … their careers better,” said Vavreck, full professor of political science and communication studies at University of California, Los Angeles. “There are hardly any other more rewarding moments for a faculty member.”

In 1990, Vavreck graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a plan to attend law school. On the first day of orientation, Vavreck said she realized law school wasn’t the right fit and instead wanted to get a doctoral degree in political science.

“I didn’t know that much about being an attorney,” Vavreck said. “I missed thinking about political science. I had taken a couple graduate courses as an undergraduate so I read a lot of the research and it just hit me that I actually liked the political science research a lot and I thought I had a knack for it.”

Since she hadn’t applied to any PhD programs, Vavreck enrolled in the master’s program at ASU. She worked with the political science professors who had opened up their graduate courses to her as an undergraduate: John Geer, current professor at Vanderbilt University; Pat Kenney, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Kim Fridkin, professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies; and Richard Herrera, associate professor and associate director of the School of Politics and Global Studies.

“I absolutely would not have been on this career path if it wasn’t for the faculty members I encountered in my political sciences classes at ASU,” Vavreck said. “I didn’t come to college thinking I wanted to be a college professor. Those people literally changed my entire life. There’s no doubt about it.”

In 1992, Vavreck earned her doctorate from the University of Rochester in Western New York. She completed a post-doc at Princeton University and became an assistant professor at Dartmouth College, where she worked for three years. In 2001, Vavreck became a professor at UCLA. She received tenure in 2009, and she was promoted to full professor in 2012.

“One of the best things about my job is I get to be creative and analytical at the same time. I get to write, but I also get to do a lot of data analysis,” Vavreck said. “This is a great career for being able to use both sides of your brain.”

Vavreck teaches and writes about campaigns, elections and public opinion. She won the 2015 Andrew F. Carnegie Fellowship in the humanities and social sciences, which supports research on challenges to democracy and international order. Vavreck is an author of four books, including “The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election” (with John Sides). Currently, she is on sabbatical dedicating a year to writing a book on the 2016 presidential election.

“The whole idea behind these election books was for social science to enter the conversation with journalists about writing the elections into history,” Vavreck said. “In 2016, we hope to tell the story of why and how identity politics became the driving force behind the 2016 election.”

Vavreck is also a regular contributor to The Upshot at the New York Times — a straight-forward, data-driven approach to questions about politics, health, daily life and more. She writes a piece twice a month on campaigns, elections and public opinion. 

“I was absolutely thrilled to join the writing team,” Vavreck said. “It’s one of the highlights of my professional career. It’s hard but I love doing it.”

In the last 10 years of her career, Vavreck said her leadership experience as part of the Key Club Leadership Scholarship Program, Devils' Advocates and the Greek system at ASU unequivocally set her up for success as a tenured and full professor, especially in dealing with the wider university.

“You never know where good opportunities will come from so you have to be open to lots and lots of possibilities,” Vavreck said. “You have to walk through a lot of doors, even the ones you don’t think will lead anywhere, because you never know where inspiration, good ideas or the next opportunity will come from. Then just commit and work really hard. That’s the key to continued success I think.”