New directors named for Ripon College’s Center for Politics and the People

Professor of Religion Brian Smith and Associate Professor of History Becky Matzke will serve as co-directors of the Center for Politics and the People at Ripon College during the upcoming 2015-2016 academic year. The Center, founded in 2014 with a lead gift from Ripon College Trustee Bill MacLeod ’73, was created to promote constructive political debate, analyze public policy, and foster engagement between citizens and their government.

“Professors Smith and Matzke are outstanding leaders with a strong sense of our community,” said Ripon College President Zach Messitte. “They are well-respected by the faculty, staff and students as scholars and teachers committed to Ripon College. I want to thank Dr. Lamont Colucci for his work last year. Dr. Smith and Dr. Matzke will continue to develop the Center’s role in the life of the College and the state.”

Smith is the Charles and Joan Van Zoeren Chair in Religion, Ethics and Values. He earned his doctorate in political science from Yale University and is a former Jesuit priest with an academic background in theology. Smith regularly teaches courses on religion and politics, ethics and international affairs and comparative world religions. Widely published and with an expertise on the role of the church and the state in South America, The Ripon Commonwealth Press named Smith its Person of the Year in 2012, citing his compassion and skills both as a listener and a teacher.

Matzke has been a member of the Ripon College faculty since 2004. She earned her doctorate in history from Cornell University and recently published her first book, Deterrence Through Strength: British Naval Power and Foreign Policy under Pax Britannica (University of Nebraska Press). An award-winning professor, Matzke teaches courses related to the British Empire, the history of Middle East and World War I. She recently published an article on the history of missiles located in Nebraska during the Cold War.

In its inaugural year, the Center hosted political candidate debates, student discussions and high-profile speakers from the right and the left, including U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and journalist Mark Shields.

This year’s events will begin with:

• Sept. 30: Cheryl Rofer ’63 will present on the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran at 4 p.m. in East Hall Little Theatre on the campus. The public is invited to attend at no charge. She is a Ripon College trustee, a consultant on nuclear energy issues and CEO of, an online forum. She worked as a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory for 35 years. Her appearance is co-sponsored by Constituent Engagement & Career Services.

• Oct. 2: Rick Estberg ’75, who works at the National Security Agency, will speak on NSA’s role within the larger intelligence community, his career there, current issues involving privacy and security, and career opportunities in this intriguing field. He will speak from 10:10 to 11 a.m. during an open classroom session in Great Hall and during a Return on Investment alumni panel discussion 11:15 a.m. in Great Hall on the campus. His appearance is co-sponsored by the Center for Politics and the People and the Charles and Joan Van Zoeren Chair in Religion, Ethics and Values.

Estberg has worked as a Department of Defense civilian for more than 30 years, including 10 years in Germany, as a senior intelligence adviser at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and as linguist, analyst, program manager, speech writer for his Agency’s director (a 3-star admiral at the time), and Chief of Staff of the Interagency Operations Security Support Staff.

• Panel discussions on a variety of public policy issues are being planned for the fall semester.

Visit the Center’s website for more information.

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