Dan Lipinski - Representative for Illinois

Daniel Lipinski (PhD 1998), Representative, Third District, Illinois

Q: When did you attend Duke?

1991-1998, grad school. Ph.D. in 1998.

Q: Did you major or minor in anything other than political science?

As a grad student I did not. But I did take some courses in other areas such as statistics, public policy, and speech. I wish I had taken more advantage of the Sanford School (then Institute). It was great that Sanford had people like William Raspberry and David Broder come in to teach when I was there.

Q: Why choose political science?

I took an unusual path. After earning a BS in mechanical engineering from Northwestern University I made a last minute decision to not go to law school. Instead, I went to grad school at Stanford University, where I earned an M.S. in engineering-economic systems. But after a short-term systems engineering job in Switzerland for Swissair, I decided that I wanted to go back to school so I could become a college professor. I figured if I was going to spend my life teaching and researching something, it should be what I love, which has always been government, politics, and public policy. Duke took a chance on me as a political science grad student because of my background in economics and my mathematical abilities. I had only taken two intro-level poli-sci classes as an undergrad.

Q: Who influenced you the most? What faculty member influenced you the most?

There were a number of faculty members who had a big influence on me, especially because these were almost the first political science courses I had ever taken. It was not only learning the concepts but also learning what it is like to be a poli-sci professor. I quickly learned that there is not one mold of extremely bright, intellectual people. David Paletz was an early influence on me as I studied political communication. As I moved more to studying Congress, Bill Bianco was my big influence. But my biggest influence was John Aldrich because he was not only the type of political scientist so many of us aspired to be, he was also an incredibly nice, generous guy.

Q: What is your favorite memory from your time at Duke?

I will never forget the great discussions with my colleagues about all sorts of issues, both inside the classroom and outside. I didn’t realize at the time that I would probably never again be surrounded by so many intelligent people at one time. I will also remember playing pickup basketball with my polisci colleagues and others at the on-campus gyms. I wasn’t any good, but they were fun times getting out of Perkins. I remember a couple of times watching former Duke players like Grant Hill and Johnny Dawkins playing pickup ball in Card Gym.

Q: What aspects of your education at Duke have you found most important after graduating?

Learning from my professors and my colleagues and being challenged constantly drove me to think more deeply and broadly and work harder. All of this still drives me today when I am looking at issues and working to solve problems.

Q: How do you think your experiences at Duke got you involved in what you are currently doing?

After teaching for a few years I decided that I wanted to try to get involved in the political process and I ran for Congress. David Price was certainly an inspiration for me as a poli-sci professor who made the leap into Congress. David was on my dissertation committee during his brief hiatus from Congress. Studying Congress and doing my dissertation on the messages that members send to  their constituents has helped me to be a better congressman and probably a better politician. My education at Duke undoubtedly makes me better at what I do.

Q: What advice do you have for current Duke students pursuing a political science degree?

For undergrads I would say to make sure that you get a broad education, take advantage of the great opportunities to learn at Duke inside and outside the classroom, and keep your eyes and mind open to what you might want to do after you graduate. Don’t fall into the trap of just following typical pathways but pay attention to what interests you and what type of future you think you will find fulfilling. Always remember that you have been given a great privilege in attending Duke and think about how you can give to others in what you do. I think majoring in poli-sci gives the opportunities to be open to these types of thoughts.

Q: What outside interests do you have?

I am a runner (I run races from 5Ks to half-marathons) and cyclist. Duke was a great place for those activities. I remember running at Duke with Ole Holsti, a great poli-sci professor and good person.