Behind the Desk| Thomas Ambrosio

Thomas Ambrosio has always loved teaching because he can learn at the same time.

Thomas Ambrosio, professor of political science at North Dakota State, was born and raised in New Jersey and moved to two different states before finally making his way to NDSU. Since 2000, he has been committed to helping NDSU students succeed. What students do not see is who Ambrosio is behind the lectures and the class assignments.

When Ambrosio is not at NDSU researching, teaching or advising, he can be found announcing for the local Fargo-Moorhead roller derby team. He can be seen doing this at the next roller derby game March 9.

Ten years ago, his wife, Beth, joined the local roller derby team and later became the president of the league. This led him to become the coach and later the announcer for the team. When the roller derby team first started and he became the coach, he used his love for teaching with the sport. Now, as the announcer, he is able to teach the crowd about the rules and what is happening during the game.

“It’s gratifying actually seeing students succeed.” 

-Thomas Ambrosio

In his spare time, Ambrosio plays historical/political board games because they are “a great way to unplug.” It not only allows one to relax, but it works the mind while relaxing. During this, he is able to create a social network by finding like-minded people through one of his favorite hobbies and clubs he belongs to.

Once Ambrosio graduated from Trenton State College with his undergraduate degree in political science and philosophy, he knew his next step would be to become a professor. He had always enjoyed researching and learning facts, so he found teaching to be beneficial for two reasons. For one, it allows him to constantly learn new things, and two, he gets to teach others about the things he has learned.  

“I always found myself kind of explaining politics, international politics to other people, so it was kind of a natural progression from that sense,” Ambrosio said. He explained his love for explaining politics to friends that couldn’t understand what was happening in the world.

While attending the University of Virginia to receive his master’s degree and Ph.D., he met Beth. It was all by chance. He ran into her while picking up a friend from a wine and cheese social, and they have been together ever since.

After that, Ambrosio ended up teaching at Western Kentucky University. He explained that he had a bad experience, which led him to finding the job in North Dakota.

Currently, Ambrosio is the only faculty member teaching law courses. He explained how in some ways his courses are preparation for students interested in attending law school because there are excerpts students read that they would if they were going to become a lawyer.

Some students stand out to him by demonstrating their true commitment to learning about politics, rather than those who are there simply for the grade or degree. It is apparent when it is a general education course which students are there for the experience and which students are the ones who stick with him.

Two years ago, one student stood out when Ambrosio received what he said was the most interesting question that would remain with him. That question being: “Could you ever see America not being a democracy or democracy failing America?”

The students remained speechless and in shock as he responded with a quick “yes.” “The one eternal truth of politics is that everything changes, and everything ends, nothing lasts forever,” Ambrosio explained.

Through his experience at NDSU, he has had many successful students cross his path through various courses. Students that he has taught in the past have ended up as members of Congress, the state department or went on to receive law degrees. Ilhan Omar, the first Somali American member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is a former student of Ambrosio’s. He explained how gratifying it is to see his students succeed.

Ambrosio teaches many courses in the political field, but no one ever talks about their favorite course or their most difficult course, so he explained what it is like teaching different levels in the college. Although he loves teaching all of his courses, International Politics is the most interesting to him. “It’s kind of the first time students get a sense of what’s going on in the international system and what causes international politics,” Ambrosio said.

While that course is fun, the most difficult is Introduction to Political Science, mostly because many in the course are first-time students that are also experiencing politics for the first time. Often, they are freshmen who do not understand how college works yet, so incorporating learning about politics is difficult.

On the other hand, the international law courses are difficult in a different way. Because the material is more difficult and denser in content, it can be a challenge for students to understand.

While professors have their own life beyond the university, there is a lot about being a professor that students and others do not realize or actively think about. These hidden aspects are the things that Ambrosio finds to be the most difficult part about being a professor.

Most would assume that giving a bad grade would be the most difficult part of being a college professor, but instead it is managing different parts of the job. It is not just simply grading and teaching courses. Behind the scenes, there is research and service that students do not see that is all a part of the job. Balancing all of the aspects is challenging, but doable once you have gotten used to the job.

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