Professor Spotlight: Benjamin Cole

While all aspects of civic engagement are important, what could be more engaged than running your town?


Professor Cole is very involved in local firefighting and emergency management services. Photo courtesy of Ben Cole.

Jane McNulty, Op-Ed Editor

We hear a lot about the importance of civic engagement these days, but personal definitions may vary. There is more to being a civically engaged citizen than just voting, such as volunteering, advocacy, and community organizing.

Chair of Political Science & International Relations Ben Cole promotes all facets of civic engagement while teaching at Simmons. Outside of work, he is involved in his New Hampshire town’s local government, having served on the school board there before.

Cole elaborated to The Voice in an interview that he “ran for school board and got in, served. While I was there, our town government collapsed. All of our selectmen resigned the same night before an election, the week payroll was due. A judge appointed me to take over the town, and so I started getting much more involved locally, and I served for a year until we got a new board in place.” 

While all aspects of civic engagement are important, what could be more engaged than running your town?

He is also very involved in local firefighting and emergency management services, having attended firefighting school while pursuing his degree at the University of New Hampshire.

Professor Cole shared that he is able to bring his interests outside of work into the classroom and vice versa. “A lot of the book learning stuff that I did and the stuff that I teach as a professor, I’ve ended up using in my spare time as a hobby at home,” he said. “I learned things leading a town that I never knew were important teaching public administration public policy because that experience is hard to see.”

Professor Cole mulling cider in class, a fall
tradition. Photo courtesy of Ben Cole.

He said that he was always interested in political science and public policy. “Even in high school, I can remember being interested in political relationships… I found that I could see patterns and power dynamics that other people couldn’t recognize. For me, it was almost like the way that you can see color, or the way that someone can see a new instrument and just know how to play it. For me, that was power dynamics.”

Outside of his community service interests, Cole told The Voice that he is a huge fan of science fiction novels, citing Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel “Dune” and Lois McMaster Bujold’s extensive Vorkosigan Saga as his favorite reads. He described himself as family-oriented and said he spends time helping his kids with their homework, chauffeuring them around, and supporting their interests.

His favorite class to teach at Simmons is the learning community he co-teaches with Professor Heather Hole on the art and politics of the Mexican Revolution. “I never studied art or history in college, so I learn something from Heather every time she teaches it, and she never studied politics and so, it’s ended up being a really cool creation. It’s the best teaching I’ve ever done, and it’s built up a partnership between us that I really value too,” Professor Cole shared.

Long before teaching at Simmons or first taking on the role of professor at UNH, he was drawn to the idea of becoming a professor. “The idea of being a professor and having job security, being able to get paid to read and write and hang out with young people and talk politics sounded like the perfect job.” Professor Cole makes a positive impact on the lives of young people studying at Simmons by encouraging and modeling civic engagement.