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Father and daughter share UW-Eau Claire campus, passion for political science

| Judy Berthiaume (story); Jesse Yang (video)

Plenty of new freshmen at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire are legacy students, Blugolds who grew up listening to their parents’ stories about favorite professors, dorm life and hiking the hill.

Dr. Eric Kasper teaches political science at UW-Eau Claire, his alma mater. This fall, his daughter, Maddie, joined him on campus and began working toward her own degree in political science. (Photo by Bill Hoepner)

Dr. Eric Kasper teaches political science at UW-Eau Claire, his alma mater. This fall, his daughter, Maddie, joined him on campus and began working toward her own degree in political science. (Photo by Bill Hoepner)

Maddie Kasper is taking the legacy idea a step further — the freshman from Rice Lake is studying political science at her father’s alma mater, where he now is known as Dr. Eric Kasper, professor of political science.

While Maddie never set out to follow so closely in her father’s footsteps, his passion for constitutional studies and U.S. law was a bit contagious as was his love for UW-Eau Claire.

“I’ve been interested in other career paths, but I always end up coming back to political science,” Maddie says. “I’ve always found political science really interesting because there are so many ways to look at it. And the law and the constitution are the foundation of politics.”

When she was younger and didn’t have school, Maddie often would tag along with her dad when he went to campus. As she got older, she came to appreciate all the university offers, including its highly respected political science department.

“I got to see the campus and get a little comfortable with it before I even started looking at colleges,” Maddie says. “So, when I started looking, this felt like a natural fit and I knew what to expect.”

Dr. Kasper says it already was a bit surreal to be working at his alma mater as a faculty member, teaching alongside some professors who had once taught him. Knowing his daughter now is learning from some of those same colleagues makes it even more surreal, he says.

“It certainly is a lot of fun having her on campus,” Dr. Kasper says. “She’s in a political science class taught by a colleague and it’s enjoyable to hear about her experiences as a student in a 100-level political science class.”

A passion for political science

Maddie has long been interested in political science, an interest inspired in part by her dad’s habit of closely following and often talking about current events.

However, while she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and then a law degree — just as her father did — Maddie has no plans to pursue a career in academia.

“I want to be a political or legal correspondent,” says Maddie, who has a minor in journalism. “So, to do that well, I want to get a law degree. The legal studies path I’m on here will set me up to that.”

Maddie became interested in being a correspondent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her high school classes were all virtual, so she was often home, where the news was always on. She began seeing a career in journalism as an opportunity to use her political science and legal expertise to help others better understand important and complex issues.

So, while they share an interest in educating people about issues relating to the law and political science, they will go about it in different ways.

“Her career path is different than my path,” says Dr. Kasper. “She’s interested in combining political science and journalism. We often do have the news on, so she’s had the opportunity to soak that up. When issues are discussed in the news, we would discuss them too. I think that planted a seed.”

Maddie came to UW-Eau Claire already planning to study political science, but it’s a field that Dr. Kasper discovered after he was on campus. As a Blugold, he was active in Student Senate for four years, and served as president of the student body his senior year.

After Dr. Kasper graduated from UW-Eau Claire, he earned a law degree and a Ph.D. in political science before beginning his career in higher education. He taught at multiple UW System institutions, including UW-Eau Claire – Barron County, before joining UW-Eau Claire’s faculty in 2014.

“It was really a great opportunity to come here and teach in that same program where I was a student,” Dr. Kasper says. “Part of what drew me here to teach was the same thing that brought me here as a student — knowing it is a top-notch academic program. I also knew having my former professors as colleagues would be an interesting and fun experience. It is a collegial department filled with faculty who care very deeply about teaching their students.”

Within UW-Eau Claire’s political science programs, students can pursue a variety of interests that can take them on very different career paths, preparing them for jobs ranging from lawyers to campaign managers to government workers, says Dr. Kasper, who also serves as a municipal judge in Rice Lake.

The Menard Center for Constitutional Studies — a nonpartisan center that promotes research, education and community outreach on matters relating to the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions — creates even more opportunities for students. Dr. Kasper is the director of the center.

“We give our students the skills and knowledge that prepare them for their next step, whether that is graduate or law school or a job in politics,” Dr. Kasper says.

So far, Maddie says the university and the political science department are living up to her expectations. Her first political science class is “going very well and is very interesting.”

Love for UW-Eau Claire

While UW-Eau Claire’s campus looks much different than it did when he was a student, Dr. Kasper says the heart of the institution and its mission remain the same.

“When I came back to teach, it was kind of like coming home,” says Dr. Kasper, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2000 with a political science major with a legal studies emphasis. “It was a first-rate academic program then and it is now. The campus remains today what it was when I came here — a place to get an excellent undergraduate education.”

Knowing the quality of the program and university makes him even happier that Maddie decided to be a Blugold, Dr. Kasper says.

While she’s only been a Blugold for a couple of months, Maddie already is loving the experiences she’s finding in and out of the classroom. She’s a member of the Blugold Marching Band and is exploring various student organizations.

“It’s nice here because there are so many organizations to get involved with,” Maddie says. “So, while I’m interested in political science and law, there are a lot of other interests I can pursue, like the marching band.”

Special connection

Having Maddie on campus is helping both father and daughter adjust to her living away from home for the first time.

“It’s great to have her on campus,” Dr. Kasper says. “We have lunch together a few times a week. It’s been a nice transition with her now not living at home. It’s time for us to be together to talk and stay connected. But then she goes on her way and does her thing. She lives in the dorms and is busy doing the sorts of activities we want a student to do as a freshman.”

For Maddie, it’s helpful to have someone nearby who is so knowledgeable about the university.

“Coming in, I have a support system,” Maddie says of beginning her college career. “It’s also just nice to know that if I have a question about classes or anything else, I can text him and talk it over.”

While both enjoy their special connection via their shared campus, precautions are in place since Maddie’s major is political science. Given the potential for a conflict of interest, Dr. Kasper will not be grading any of her academic work.