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  • Steven C. Poe
  • Linda Camp Keith

It is a humbling task to write a tribute to someone as broadly gifted and as widely known and loved as Steve Poe was in political science and the broader human rights community. It is difficult to select the qualities and accomplishments that best represent his life and impossible to know those by which he would want most to be remembered. So here I simply remember the man I knew, hoping that these small remembrances will resonate with those of you who also knew him as a friend, a colleague, a teacher, or a scholar over the twenty years of his career.

Any remembrance of Steve must begin with Iowa. Steve was born in Wapello, a small town with a population of 2,000, situated somewhat precariously on the Iowa River. Steve began his academic path at William Penn University, a liberal arts college founded by Quaker pioneers in Oksaloosa, Iowa, graduating in 1982, and then moving to the "big city" as he referred to Iowa City to do his graduate work at the University of Iowa. Steve returned to teach at William Penn while completing his Ph.D., and then moved to faraway Denton, Texas to join the University of North Texas where he taught for almost twenty years. Steve's heart still belonged to Iowa. In our last conservation, he expressed a longing for the early morning sunlight gleaming off the mist on Iowa's rolling corn fields. He reminisced fondly about the purity of Iowa's pristine farms, the humbleness of its farmers, and the basic simplicity of its people. These were qualities so easily seen in Steve himself, whether he was teaching a lecture hall full of freshmen, or presenting an academic paper to room full of scholars. He always tried to genuinely connect with each member of his audience, on a very basic level, always beginning and ending with a reminder of the basic human dimension of politics and human rights and of its day-to-day relevance to many lives.

Anyone who ever saw Steve in the classroom knew he loved to teach; he was an innovator and an inspiration, to which his numerous teaching awards attest. He influenced a generation of new scholars and teachers. Steve had a gift for reaching students personally and engaging them actively in learning, even in large lecture halls: sometimes lightheartedly, with his anecdotes and stories of small town life in Iowa or his physically-demonstrated sports analogies; and other times quite seriously, whether it was reading [End Page 1148] the words of Dith Pran or poignantly enacting the fate of a detainee during the South African apartheid. He was a true innovator in the classroom, always working to bring the students actively into the learning process, using experiential learning and simulations long before they became buzzwords in higher education. Neither the walls of a classroom nor the size of the student body constrained him from teaching the way he believed learning was achieved. His students could be found anywhere, huddled in groups all around Wooten Hall arguing over their foreign aid allocations or their campaign plans for the Iowa caucus. I remember coming in to teach after one of Steve's classes, to find Steve still there surrounded by students in a lecture hall full of spent paper airplanes as well as a few piles of half- started planes not quite completed in time to win out in his demonstration of an arms race. Steve never walked out of class alone; there was always a stream of students following alongside him chatting excitedly. Steve's dedication and generosity as a teacher extended well beyond the classroom; he mentored both graduate and undergraduate students alike, training and encouraging both to treat every paper they wrote as a potential publication, taking on more than a dozen students as co-authors. His influence expanded as his students then spread from Texas to Indiana and New York and to England and New Zealand. Each carrying on in some way, Steve's commitment to teaching and to human rights research.

Steve's work as a scholar is well known in political science and the human rights...


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