Political science professor sees teaching as a calling

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Benjamin Banta

As an undergraduate at Purdue University, Benjamin Banta considered becoming a lawyer. Then a political science professor and his classes convinced him to change course.

“My sophomore year of college, I had a professor who knew his stuff and was rather enthralling,” Banta said. “I wasn’t even a political science major, but I took all of his courses and decided I really wanted to go into academia.”

Banta, assistant professor of political science in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, is receiving the Eisenhart Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, given to a faculty member in the first few years of teaching.

In college, Banta realized he wasn’t cut out to be an attorney because he preferred more philosophical issues and theory. His professor at Purdue, Louis René Beres, took him aside and asked if he’d ever consider becoming a teacher.

“He said you won’t make a fortune, but you get to do what you want, you learn your entire life and you get to work with young people,” Banta said. “He put the bug in my head. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t remember me, but he sparked the interest in me.”

A native of Ft. Wayne, Ind., Banta received his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Delaware and joined RIT in 2015. Banta lives in Chili, N.Y., with his wife, Katharine, and children George, 3, and Ruth, 2. The couple is expecting their third child in July.

He is passionate about political science, and enjoys being able to talk about current events with his students in class.

“Being able to study what’s going on and do research on it, that’s the satisfying part of it to me,” he said. “And seeing in the students some realization that this stuff matters and they need to formulate some sort of position about it, that really makes me excited to teach.”

Marie Bianconi, a political science major from Rochester who graduated in 2016, said Banta is a popular teacher who is sought out by students.

“He works very hard to explain anything that might be confusing or break down information that might be missing for students,” she said. “I consider him to be a great professor and also a great mentor, giving advice to me and other graduating seniors.”

Banta was pleasantly surprised he was nominated for the Eisenhart by his former students, and hopes he will help change their lives as his professor did for him.

“I have no illusions my academic scribblings will make an impact anytime soon, but I’m doing my part to change the world by shaping minds and helping students find their calling,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. It’s a big adrenaline rush when students poke their heads up and seem engaged and passionate about what they’ve learned. Hopefully one of those students will look back 10 years from now and say they remembered my class.”