Alum Salutes Professor With Scholarship

Two political science majors are selected as recipients of the first Lesher Family Scholarship established in the honor of professor Alison Dundes Renteln.
By Orli Belman
“Being around people with differing opinions helps you better articulate and defend your views," said Stephen Lesher.

When self-described conservative student activist Stephen Lesher arrived on the USC campus in 1992, he was ready to do battle with the liberal professors he thought dominated academia.

But for the political science major, a funny thing happened on the way to the battlefield.

Lesher enrolled in professor Alison Dundes Renteln’s course on international law and also participated in her yearlong honors seminar. Although he wrote a paper about the “culture war” in America, Lesher became an expert in how to make peace.

“I found I really enjoyed the discourse with people with different opinions,” he said. “I learned that just because a professor and a student have different ideologies doesn’t mean there can’t be fair exploration of the issues and growth from that experience.”

In an era where conservatives have singled out liberal professors for criticism, Lesher has done the opposite.

Lesher, now a public affairs manager with Shell Oil Products in Martinez, Calif., has singled out Renteln, professor of political science and director of the Unruh Institute of Politics, for praise by establishing a scholarship in her honor at USC.

Renteln may not share the same political views as Lesher, but they do share a love of learning and lively debate.

“Being around people with differing opinions helps you better articulate and defend your views. It also opens your mind to other points of view,” Lesher said. “And that is one of the best educational gifts you can give yourself.”

And now Lesher is passing that gift along.

This fall, political science majors Alexi Robichaux and Katherine Tong were the first recipients of the Lesher Family Scholarship, established in honor of Renteln. The students, who were chosen for their interest in politics and commitment to working for positive social change, received awards of $2,500 each toward their education.

“Steve was a great student who really had an impact both in and out of the classroom,” Renteln said. “With this scholarship, he is making it possible for other students to have an impact as well. We are grateful to him for his generosity.”

After graduating in 1997, Lesher spent several years working in politics, serving on the staff of the conservative U.S. Rep. Bill Baker and State Assemblywoman Lynne Leach. Lesher said Renteln may not have changed his mind politically, but she did get him thinking.

“I just read a book by George McGovern, and though I might still prefer George Will, I would never have done that if not for professor Renteln.”