Oklahoma, Panama and New York City: Heather Pool’s life journey

By Cecilia Salomone, Arts & Life Editor

“Car camper.” Tommy Boy enthusiast. Political theory expert. All of these things, and many more, describe Assistant Professor of Political Science Heather Pool, who is finishing up her first year at Denison. “I’ve done a whole lot of strange things!” Pool exclaims. “And I’m thrilled to be at a small liberal arts college.”

Pool’s journey to Denison has been an unconventional one. Raised in a small town in Oklahoma with “mostly cows and oil,” she joined the Air National Guard at 18, “for a host of reasons, one of which was trying to figure out how I could not live in Oklahoma for the rest of my life,” says Pool. “I ended up only being in there for a short period of time, for a variety of reasons, but I went on a rotation to Panama in 1992 and that was a really eye opening experience for me.”

This led her to transfer from a liberal arts college in Oklahoma to Saint John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “That was really hard, and I didn’t think I was smart enough to do it, which is why I didn’t apply there the first time around.”

After graduating, Pool acquired a plethora of strange jobs including a job as a landscaper, a teacher’s aid—and once even thought she should simply drive trucks. She quickly learned that the job wasn’t for her. “It’s a really hard life. You’re by yourself a lot,” says Pool. “I realized after a month I answered all of the questions I had and I didn’t know what I was going to do for the rest of my life.” Pool returned to New Mexico to work for a few years, then pursued a master’s in women’s studies at Rutgers University.

While at Rutgers, Pool “had a really spectacular failure”— her thesis was rejected. “That was really devastating, but it was also a really important moment to think about ‘What is it that I want? Who am I? Am I the person who takes this and decides I’m not smart enough to go on, or do I do something else?’” She then began working for three years on the New York City Commission for Human Rights, which she describes as “shockingly bad.” Pool jokes, “That was a job so bad it drove me to graduate school!”

She then decided to go west, to the University of Washington, where she received both her master’s and doctorate degrees. “It ended up being a really great place for me.” Pool remained at the university until 2011, and relocated to Ohio last year to begin teaching at Denison.

Pool specializes in political theory, adding that political science is “a very broad discipline…I anchor the part that’s thinking about how ideas turn into institutions or into states.”

When not teaching, Pool enjoys visiting her partner Lisa, a former high school teacher who now works in education policy in Washington D.C. The pair, who met at Rutgers, have been doing long-distance. “We’re hoping she’ll be able to move to Ohio when her contract is up.”

Pool also loves “outdoorsy things” such as hiking and camping, but particularly car-camping. “I’m over the heavy backpack hiking,” Pool says with a laugh. “I really just like to park my car, bring out my air mattress, and camp in that.”

She’s also a movie buff, saying that she tries each year, in vain, to watch all of the Oscar Best Picture nominees. She remains, however, “distinctly low-brow…I secretly love Armageddon, and I also love Tommy Boy.” 

Pool says that one of the things that makes Denison stand out is the work ethic of its students: “The average student here is willing to work harder and willing to put in more effort.” Pool adds that the students are also much friendlier than in Seattle. 

“Y’all are polite! Coming from the famous ‘Seattle freeze,’ where people are nice but distant, people here are really polite and know how to have conversations.”  

Photo courtesy of Derek Finney

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