Powell named 2020 Distinguished Maine Professor

Richard Powell, a member of the University of Maine Political Science Department for nearly two decades, has been named the 2020 Distinguished Maine Professor, the university’s most prestigious faculty award.

The annual Distinguished Maine Professor Award, administered by the University of Maine Alumni Association, honors a UMaine professor who exemplifies the highest qualities of teaching, research and public service. 

The UMaine classes of 1942 and 2002 sponsor the award, that includes a $4,200 prize. Powell will be honored at the annual Alumni Achievement Awards and Recognition Ceremony April 24 at Wells Conference Center.

Powell is a professor of political science and the founding director of UMaine’s William S. Cohen Institute for Leadership and Public Service. He also directs the Peter Madigan ’81 Congressional Internship and the Kenneth Palmer State Legislative Internship programs, and the interdisciplinary minor in leadership studies. 

His research focuses on the U.S. presidency, Congress, American political thought and elections, including term limits and gerrymandering. Powell is the co-author of four books, most recently “The 2016 Presidential Election: The Causes and Consequences of a Political Earthquake.” In 2010, he was a Fulbright lecturer at Zhejiang University in China.

Powell, who earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University, joined the UMaine faculty in 2001.

In their nomination letters, colleagues and former students describe Powell as an innovative, gifted and empowering teacher who maximizes students’ success and celebrates learning; a prolific researcher regularly tapped for his expertise by local and national media; and an engaged community member committed to public service.

Alumnus Peter Madigan, a former participant in the Congressional internship program that now bears his name, said that Powell has been an exceptional steward. Madigan, a longtime political and policy adviser in Washington, chairs the Cohen Institute board of advisors. He says Powell has modernized and enhanced the program — the nation’s first Congressional internship program. 

“Frankly,” Madigan wrote in his nomination letter, “(the program) equals anything I have seen from the top 10 nationally ranked schools. Many of our students are hired on Capitol Hill as a result.”

Under Powell’s direction, similar growth has occurred in the leadership studies minor that launched in fall 2014. Enrollment has grown from 17 students to more than 400 taking leadership studies courses each year, with 63 students with declared minors in September 2019.

Current and former students know Powell as an enthusiastic teacher and mentor with a passion for his subject matter and a natural ability to connect with students — wherever they are in their learning journey.

Powell “exemplifies the highest qualities of teaching, research and public service, and represents the best of what a student could hope for in a professor,” said alumna Jessica James in her nomination letter. “His guidance, enthusiasm and support are fundamentally tied to my success, both at the university and in my career.”

Alumnus James O’Connor, now a graduate student in political theory and methods at the University of Texas, wrote in his nomination letter that Powell “gave me guidance, took an interest in my independent work, taught me what it means to be a scholar and gave me the hope I needed to keep moving. I am where I belong because Dr. Powell taught me to be.”

Alumnus Jesse Clark echoes the reflections.

“One of the most admirable qualities of Professor Powell is his teaching is not confined within the walls of a classroom,” wrote Clark, who graduated in 2016 and went into a Ph.D. program in American politics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “He recognizes talent and potential in his students, and pushes them to succeed in their areas of passion.

“I can unequivocally say that I would not be in the position I am today without his guidance and the research that we have done together,” said Clark.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745