Dr. Julie Biskner has no problem admitting she didn’t care for politics when she was younger.
“All the way through high school, I hated history.
I hated politics. I thought it was really boring,” she said.
The topic she loved was psychology, but as she commuted back and forth from her classes at Central Michigan University to her job at a freight company, something happened.
“I was listening to the news on the radio just to keep from getting bored on the long drive, and I totally got into it and started talking politics to everybody at work,” Biskner said.
Before long, the drivers had nicknamed her “Margaret Thatcher.” She also found herself with personal reasons to care about what was going on in government — her brother enlisted in the Army Reserves, and she thought he might get called up to Iraq.
“I didn’t really understand what was going on there, so I started paying close attention,” Biskner said. “Politics is often more interesting when we feel we have something personally at stake — and at the end of the day, we all do, we just might not know it.”
With all of that swirling around, the idea of being a counselor was quickly overshadowed by the appeal of teaching political science. She started shadowing a professor she knew, and before she turned around, she had a new career path.
Now Biskner pays that forward — she helps University of Mobile students fall in love with government, law, criminology and all the career options they could have in those fields. She loves the possibilities offered by UM’s criminology major, an interdisciplinary study program the school started two years ago that includes criminal justice, government and law, psychology and sociology classes.
There are no solid walls between the psychology and political science classes Biskner teaches each semester — in fact, she says they’re “deeply linked.” Blurring the lines between the disciplines helps students prepare to think well, listen well and look at the world from a broader perspective, no matter what career they go into, she said.
“With all of my students, one of my biggest goals is to get them to look at the world not from their preconceived notions, but to try hard to go out there and see things from multiple points of view,” Biskner said.
That approach definitely helped Jessica Catlin ’13, a UM graduate who’s now an assistant district attorney in Mobile County. She said Biskner’s teaching style was the clincher that made her choose UM.
“I already knew I wanted to be an attorney, and when I visited UM, I went to one of Dr. Biskner’s classes,” Catlin said. “The way she taught class, she never shared her opinion but wanted you to be able to explain why you believed something in a good critical-thinking way. Not only that, she knew her students’ names and got them involved in the conversation. That was how I wanted my classes to be.”
Over the years, Biskner became a mentor to Catlin and later a friend and colleague — she now works alongside her as Catlin coaches UM’s mock trial team and teaches the class that goes with it.
Jessica Catlin “The way she invested in me is the way I’d like to invest in students,” Catlin said. “She’s a great person, and I’m so grateful for how she helped me along the way.”
WORDS TO LIVE BY:
“Politics isn’t just for other people; democracy is built on participation. There is a role, whether big or small, for everyone.”