Campus Closeup: Dave Carlson

Master’s in public administration courses were offered at the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base early in Dave Carlson’s (Political Science) teaching career at NMU. He recalls that In the early '80s, Air Force bombers were kept on alert in case World War III started, but pilots and navigators were allowed to attend class while on “alert duty.”


“The Air Force wanted us to teach and we quickly had a huge complement of military officers in the program. But within a short time, we had about a 50-50 split between local civilians and Air Force personnel, totaling 100 graduate students,” Carlson said. He taught every winter, summer and fall at K.I. Sawyer for 19 years, until the base closed.


During his 31 years on the NMU faculty, Carlson has seen the political science department undergo changes. The program has expanded in size, he said, especially in the pre-law area. An emphasis in public administration has been instituted to help undergraduates prepare for getting a job in this growing field. He also said that he thinks complete degree programs will eventually be available online.


“I’ve used the computer since the first day I came to Northern when we had key punch machines and decks of IBM cards, then eventually we got desktops and finally the laptops. So I’ve been through all the computerization stages at Northern Michigan University,” Carlson said.


He is considering retiring in the near future, but has not decided when he would like that to happen. When he looks back on his early teaching days at Northern, he wonders how he had the time and energy to get everything done. Carlson prefers to assign essay exams, which take hours to grade. Since the real world requires writing and speaking skills, he said he prefers to challenge his students to use those skill sets.


“My favorite part of my job is playing with concepts and ideas, trying to understand how they apply to the world of politics and then to communicate those to students, which is not easy,” Carlson said.


When he first came to NMU in the late 1970s, he became active in the American Association of University Professors. He served as president for a few years and even helped work through a potential faculty strike and secure a contract with tenure intact.


Carlson was involved with local politics for two decades, first on the Board of Light and Power and then on the Marquette City Commission. He no longer serves in a public capacity and is able to devote more time to researching his family genealogy. He has discovered that some of his ancestors emigrated from Sweden to work as miners in Marquette County in the 1870s, something he did not know when he moved to Marquette.


Carlson says he enjoys NMU and the Northern climate. He has lived and worked most of his life along U.S. 2, the nation's northern-most federal highway that runs from Maine to Washington. The high school he graduated from was located on the highway and he went to North Dakota State University. His taught in Minnesota and Montana, both near U.S. 2, before coming to NMU.


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Updated: February 28, 2008

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