Kate Knutson


Associate Professor in Political Science and Faculty in Residence for the First Year Experience and First Term Seminar Director in Residential Life

One of my very first political memories involves standing and waving on the side of the road next to giant cut out letters of a candidate's name on Election Day in Mt. View, Hawaii.  I was about five years old.  My interest in politics continued to develop and in high school I had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. for a week through a program called Presidential Classroom.  A year later I won another week long trip to D.C. for an essay I wrote on the role of women and minorities in World War II. 

In my first semester of college at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, I took an introductory course on American politics from one of the toughest professors on campus.  I was scared to death of Professor Leichter, but also enthralled by his knowledge of American politics and history.  To this day, I still have the pages and pages of notes I took in his class that semester.  When the time came to choose a major, I did what any good Type A personality might do: I went through the entire Course Catalog and circled every class that looked interesting to me.  Sure enough, I ended up with nearly all of the courses in the Political Science department circled!

The opportunity to study political science at a liberal arts college had a deep and lasting impact on me.  The close relationships I developed with faculty and other students, the opportunities to work collaboratively on research with faculty, and the opportunities to conduct my own original research inspired my interest in pursuing a career as a college professor in the field of political science.

I left Linfield for a PhD program in Political Science at the University of Washington.  Here I had the opportunity to pursue my developing interests in the subfields of religion and politics, interest groups, public policy, and political communication.  I also had the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant for several excellent professors.  I learned that I deeply enjoyed the interactions I had with students in the sections I taught and that it was a fun challenge to find ways to spark an interest in politics among students who found politics to be boring.  I assisted in courses on American politics, the Presidency, Congress, and political communication and eventually taught my own American Politics and Political Communication courses at the University of Washington.

My dissertation research merged my interests in religion, interest groups, media, and policy, examining the question of why some public policy issues are framed in the media as "moral" issues, while others are not.  I found that religious advocacy groups were active in a variety of policy debates, making the argument that policies such as low income housing vouchers were indeed "moral" issues.  Journalists, however, generally resisted these attempts at framing.  Various portions of this research appeared in the article, “Breaking the Chains: Constraint and the Political Rhetoric of Religious Interest Groups,” (Politics and Religion, Vol.4, No. 2, (2011): 312-337) and the book chapter, “Same-Sex Marriage: The Impact of Religiously-Motivated Political Action on Public Policy” (in Church and State Issues in America Today, Steven Jones and Ann Duncan (Eds.), Praeger Publishers, 2007: 37-74).

After completing my PhD in 2005, I left the Pacific Northwest for the great state of Minnesota and Gustavus Adolphus College.  Ironically, despite growing up in Hawaii, both my parents are native Minnesotans and I was born less than fifty miles from Gustavus!  I joined a phenomenal department of award winning teachers, accomplished scholars, and caring mentors.  I also joined the campus residential community, serving as a Head Resident in Rundstrom Hall from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2012.

At Gustavus, I primarily teach courses in American politics, including U.S. Politics and Government, Public Policy, Congress, Interest Groups, and Media and Politics.  I also regularly teach the Analyzing Politics course required for all Political Science majors.  Occasionally I have the opportunity to teach more unique courses such as the First Term Seminar course titled Fast Food and Society and January Term courses such as The Politics of Same Sex Marriage, Inauguration Politics (a travel course to Washington, D.C.), and Hawaii Beyond Tourism (a travel course to Hawaii).  My philosophy on teaching and learning is that students learn best when they can become fully involved in the learning process.  I strive to incorporate many active elements into my courses including regular small and large group discussions, service learning projects, field trips, group projects, films, guest speakers, and simulations.  For example, students in my Public Policy course organize Gustavus' annual Day at the Capitol event, where Gustavus students travel to the Minnesota state capitol to advocate for state funding for higher education.  My U.S. Congress course is organized as a semester-long congressional simulation.  Students assume roles as members of Congress and then write, debate, and vote on legislation.

In addition to teaching, I also maintain an active research agenda at Gustavus, and have been fortunate to have had many students as collaborative partners. Several students have attended national conferences with me to present our research.  One of these conference papers developed into the journal article, “Sharing the Faith: How Religious Interest Groups Build Media Strategies” coauthored with Mikka McCracken ’09 and published in The Journal of Communication and Religion.  My most recent research project began with the help of Jackie Schwerm '11 who, with the support of a Presidential Faculty-Student Research grant, participated in interviews and data collection on the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition.  I recently completed a book based on this research, Interfaith Advocacy: The Role of Religious Coalitions in the Political Process

The 2012-2013 school year marks the start of a new season for me at Gustavus.  After being awarded tenure and taking a refreshing year-long sabbatical, I now move into two new roles at Gustavus: Director of the First Term Seminar program and Faculty in Residence for the First Year Experience.  These two roles will allow me to focus of developing more comprehensive programs for First Year students at Gustavus to ensure they make the academic and social connections necessary to succeed in college.

The changed position in Residential Life also means a change in housing.  This summer I moved from Rundstrom Hall to Sohre Hall, where I now live with my husband, Brian, and daughter, Maya.  When I'm not teaching or researching, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, running, yoga, playing Settlers of Catan and Scrabble, watching Modern Family and Parks & Recreation, trying out new recipes, reading for fun (!), drinking coffee, and shopping garage sales.  I serve on the church council at my church, Two Rivers Vineyard Church in Mankato, and am an active volunteer for Royal Family KIDS Mankato, a camp for kids in the social services system.


B.A. Linfield College; M.A. and Ph.D. University of Washington

Courses Taught


POL-220 (U.S. Public Policy) and POL-399 (Sem:Interest Groups)

Synonym Title Times Taught Terms Taught
POL-110U.S. Government and Politics162014/FA, 2012/FA, 2010/FA, 2010/SP, 2009/FA, 2008/FA, 2008/SP, 2007/FA, 2007/SP, 2006/FA, 2006/SP, and 2005/FA
POL-220U.S. Public Policy82014/SP, 2013/SP, 2011/SP, 2010/SP, 2009/SP, 2008/SP, 2007/SP, and 2006/SP
POL-268Career Exploration52010/JN, 2009/JN, and 2007/JN
POL-200Analyzing Politics42014/FA, 2012/FA, 2009/FA, and 2009/SP
POL-312U.S. Congress42013/FA, 2009/FA, 2007/FA, and 2005/FA
POL-099Senior Thesis42011/SP, 2008/FA, 2008/SP, and 2007/SP
POL-344ST: Interest Groups42011/SP, 2008/FA, 2008/SP, and 2007/SP
FTS-100FTS:Fast Food & Society32013/FA and 2007/FA
POL-318American Presidency32010/FA, 2008/FA, and 2006/FA
POL-202Politics of Same-Sex Marriage22008/JN and 2007/JN
POL-115MN Politics & Govt.12014/JN
NDL-268Career Exploration12014/JN
POL-399Sem:Interest Groups12013/SP
NDL-150Hawaii, Beyond Tourism12011/JN
POL-244Special Topic: Politics and Media12010/SP
POL-111Inaguration @ Wash, DC12009/JN