Pacer Profile: Elizabeth Kusko, D.A.

March 13, 2024
Beth Kusko

While WPU Professor Elizabeth Kusko’s endeavors span the political science spectrum, from working in Congress to authoring impactful research, what truly fuels her passion are the connections she creates among her students.

Born in Korea and adopted as a baby, Kusko’s upbringing in the Pennsylvania countryside near Gettysburg significantly shaped her socially and culturally, immersing her in American history. 

Her academic journey began at Shippensburg University, where she pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Political Science, and International Studies. Later, she earned her Master of Arts in Political Science from Miami University and a Doctor of Arts in Political Science from Idaho State University.

During her doctoral program, Dr. Kusko focused on three fields: American government, international relations, and public law. Those formed the basis for her teachings at WPU, where she is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Program Director of Criminal Justice, Political Science, and Pre-Law.

Kusko reflected on her doctoral program as one that instilled a strong foundation for teaching.

“We were taught pedagogy…this specific program wanted us to be good teachers and professors,” Kusko said. 

Though Kusko hadn’t always aspired to work in higher education, a pivotal moment in her career led her to the classroom when — despite aspiring to be a writer — an internship in Congress redirected her path. While there, she recognized the potential to inspire young minds to engage with the American government and politics.

“It was clearly one of those rare times in my life when I was at a real crossroads. And I’m so lucky; it was absolutely the right decision,” Kusko said. “I never wanted to run for office, but…seeing [Congress] in action gave me a passion to inspire that in other young people, like college students, and just get them really excited about American government and politics…and maybe they could run, and they could change the world.” 

Kusko and her husband, Professor Caleb Husmann, who also teaches Political Science at WPU, discovered both a professional haven and a home in the Raleigh area.

“We knew we wanted to be at smaller schools where we could teach all different types of classes…by the grace of the universe, I got this job,” Kusko said.

Balancing Act: Parenthood and Professorship

The couple shares a love for political science and a family with their seven-year-old daughter Jojo. Balancing parenthood with professorship is a unique aspect of Kusko’s life at WPU.

“In my opinion, to have to juggle parenthood and working full-time, it’s definitely one of the best jobs, and I think we just have a lot more flexibility,” Kusko said.

Kusko loves the role and the support provided by WPU for their family dynamics. Jojo accompanies them on school teacher work days, sharing meals in the cafeteria and benefiting from the Education floor brimming with available babysitters. Last year, Jojo had the opportunity to travel with her parents on an international studies trip from London to Paris.

“She is so lucky that when she has to come to our work, she can go to Dr. [Lisa] Bonner’s lab and see what a sheep’s brain looks like and see snakes with Dr. [Patrick] Myer and visit Dr. [Wade] Newhouse in his office to talk about Bunnicula,” Kusko said.

Fostering Active Learning in the Classroom

In the classroom, Kusko fosters interactivity, focusing on active participation, discussions, and simulations. She creates an inclusive environment where students contribute equally to the learning experience.

“My whole approach to teaching is that even though I’m up in the front, we are all equal participants, and it’s a two-way street. I want them to see themselves as participants who have something to teach, too,” Kusko said.

Senior Keslee Hylton said that approach is why she loved Kusko’s classes. 

“Dr. Kusko is arguably one of the best professors I have had. I enjoyed her classes because they were all discussion-based,” said Hylton, who will graduate in May 2024 with degrees in psychology and criminal justice. “She never stood up in front of us and preached her opinion. Her classes encouraged me to explore uncharted territory, think outside the box, and ultimately expand my knowledge of the world.”

For Kusko, the most gratifying moments in the classroom occur when students’ metaphorical “light bulbs” illuminate not just individually but harmoniously.

“That’s my favorite thing – when they’re making connections, and they have the knowledge light bulbs, but they’re all doing it together, and just the community that comes out of that is so special,” Kusko said.

To her, the joy she derives from witnessing students making connections and sharing knowledge is the most extraordinary and rewarding aspect of the teaching experience.

Research Ventures

Kusko’s initial research focused on quantitative and empirical findings about narratives and their influence on American politics and policy. This overarching focus called the Narrative Policy Framework, has led her to work on projects analyzing American foreign policy in Central America, obesity policies, and recycling policies, each of which has been published in various political science and policy-oriented journals. 

However, recently, she has shifted to researching the intersection of politics and pop culture. Collaborating with her husband, they contribute to the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series, including Ted Lasso and Philosophy, The Expanse and Philosophy, and The Joker and Philosophy

“It just really brings together what we like to do in our personal lives, but also political theory because philosophy is our political theory. So we’ll take political theory and apply it to pop culture. It’s so fun,” Kusko said.

Reflections – WPU: More than a Workplace, a Home

Expressing deep gratitude for the work environment at WPU, Kusko considers herself fortunate to be part of a community where students genuinely care.

The average WPU student cares, and they’re rooting for you. I feel very blessed to work here. It would be a professional life well led if I spent my career here. I mean, you can see why people spend decades teaching here. And I feel very, very blessed that I was given that opportunity,” Kusko said.