• Carly Hayden Foster, Associate Professor of Political Science

    “I like to know why things are the way they are, and the study of law and politics provides an interesting approach to pursuing those types of questions."

Carly Hayden Foster

What Draws Her to the Profession

“I like to know why things are the way they are, and the study of law and politics provides an interesting approach to pursuing those types of questions,” Foster says. “The rules that govern our interactions, and the process of how and why those rules get made, is fascinating to me.” She also likes how teaching politics, political theory, policy, and law allow her to share her curiosity with students. “We often end up having really intriguing conversations.”

Foster also likes how her position enables her to help guide students as they develop questions about topics that interest them. “Sometimes my students and I share a fascination with politics, and that’s always fun,” she says. “But it’s equally rewarding to watch as my students develop a genuine interest in music, physics, math, or poetry, and find their own unique paths.”

Her Career Steps Before Luther

After finishing graduate school at the University of Kansas, Foster taught for a year at Washington State University and eight years at Southern Illinois University. “Teaching at large state institutions prepared me to be grateful for the opportunity to teach at Luther,” she says. “I like working at a residential college where students never miss class because their car broke down, there was a traffic jam, or they couldn’t find a place to park. I especially love working at a liberal arts college where I often get to hear students singing as they walk between classes.”

A Life of Learning New Things

Foster started graduate school with an interest in political science and women’s studies, but wasn’t yet sure of what she wanted to do for a career. “I knew that I wanted to continue studying and learning,” she says. “When I was offered the opportunity to teach my first class, I thought I should give it a try. A couple of weeks into the semester, I was hooked.”

Foster initially found teaching a little scary. “The students could have asked me anything, and I would have to try to answer!” she says, “But I soon found that teaching was my opportunity to continue a life of learning new things and discussing fascinating topics with other people who wanted to learn.”

Putting Her Research to Work Locally

“My newest scholarship endeavor is a participant-observer study of a newly formed community group called Decorah Power,” she says. “Tentatively titled ‘Community Power’, this project follows Decorah Power as we attempt to establish a municipal electric utility in Decorah.”

A municipal electric utility is a city-owned electric utility, much like city-owned water and sewer utilities. “The Iowa Utilities Board has not granted permission for the formation of a new municipal electric utility in my lifetime, so this is no small undertaking,” she says. “But for a number of reasons (including changes in the wholesale electricity market, a concentration of local expertise at the Winneshiek Energy District, and a failed effort to establish a large community sponsored solar field) this community organization has decided that it is worth the effort to try to bring about change. This research project has allowed me to get to know people in my community and give Luther students experience as research assistants.”

Her Study Abroad Course on Islam

Foster is preparing to teach her first study abroad course during the upcoming January Term. “With my colleague Todd Green, a professor in the Religion Department, I’ll teach Islam in Europe: Politics, Religion and Refugees,” she says. We’ll be traveling with students to Greece, France, Denmark, and London to explore the various ways that people from different backgrounds have found to live together.”

“I love canoeing and kayaking with my family—most often the Upper Iowa River, but sometimes the Mississippi or other nearby waterways. The whole driftless area is a fascinating place to explore. I also enjoy walking the beautiful trails in and around Decorah with my dog Peanut.”

—Carly Hayden Foster