Welcome to the Land of Opportunity, Dr. Powell

Jonathan-PowellWhat do “lawyers”, “guns”, “money”, and a new UCF professor have in common? We’re not entirely sure but when asked what song he would choose to represent his life, Dr. Jonathan Powell elected the late 70’s hit “Lawyers, Guns and Money” by Warren Zevon.  This song selection sparks interest as new UCF faculty member Dr. Powell joins the University of Central Florida as an Assistant Professor in the Political Science department.

Having obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Western Kentucky University and Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky, Dr. Powell’s primary research and teaching interests lie in the fields of international relations and comparative politics. He is intrigued in the dynamics of conflict and democratization with a special emphasis on the role civil-military relations play in these processes. His research has been published in academic journals, such as the Journal of Conflict Resolution, the Journal of Peace Research, and others. During his first semester at UCF, Dr. Powell is teaching a course on African politics. Next semester, he will be teaching a graduate seminar in comparative politics and an undergraduate research methods class.

With such experience and interest in the field of political science, it might seem surprising that Dr. Powell did not start off in this area. “I was briefly an archaeologist and easily would have kept doing that had stable job prospects been a little better. I worked at Mammoth Cave National Park, in the Daniel Boone National Forest, and even high altitude sites in Colorado and absolutely loved it.”

So what made Jonathan Powell take a “dig” into the political science field? He explains that his career turn towards becoming a political science professor was based on two misconceptions about the occupation:

“Like many undergraduates, I had this incredibly naïve belief that professors had awesome work schedules: holidays, weekends, summers, and a sizable chunk of the winter ‘off’.  Little did I know that the vast majority of work comes with duties that are never seen by students, and that you rarely, if ever really, truly, have a day off.”

His second misconception was that as a professor of international relations, he would be required to travel a lot. “This was way, way, way off the mark. I got lucky as both a graduate student and as a faculty member that I did get some of the types of opportunities I expected. University of Kentucky’s graduate school and political science department were very generous with funding. This allowed me to go to conferences in the U.S. and abroad.  A think tank flew me to Ethiopia. It somehow worked out.”

Despite these initial misconceptions about the profession, Dr. Powell was fortunate to get some of the perks he desired in his career. Now, he has found his way to the UCF campus. What he likes most about the university is its performance of following its motto: UCF stands for Opportunity.

“I have been surprised at the opportunities that are available. Resources, usually research and travel money, are absolutely crucial for faculty members to succeed. I was originally surprised at how good a deal UCF offered at the time of hire. When I arrived on campus I was shocked to learn there were actually more resources than advertised and every few weeks I learn of more opportunities for either the faculty or students.”

Upholding UCF’s motto, Dr. Powell is offering an opportunity for students to help him with an ongoing project he is doing on military coups. “Most previous work has looked at why coups happen. A huge push Clayton Thyne (University of Kentucky) and I are making is to assess the consequences of coups. In other words, what happens after the coup? We have found some interesting trends, including the wildly unpopular finding that democratization happens a lot more often following coups than people realize.” The project’s current focus is exploring how the international community can influence post-coup political trajectories in places like Egypt, Thailand, and elsewhere. “We are always looking for students to help with data gathering so any UCF folks that have a strong interest in the subject should feel free to contact me.”

When questioned on what was the last non-academic book he read, Dr. Powell divulged that it was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. The book, in a way, crosses paths with his archaeology background because it tells a story about reincarnation through different characters’ life cycles and notes the changes in human development.

Seeing how Dr. Powell has begun a new “life cycle” here as a Political Science faculty member, it will be engaging to see how he “reincarnates” himself into the Knight world as he makes it his new home.

Welcome, Dr. Jonathan Powell!

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