Spencer L Willardson

Spencer L Willardson

Assistant Professor

Stephen F. Austin State University


I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Stephen F. Austin State University. I was previously an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Nazarbayev University.

I earned my PhD in Political Science from the University of Iowa with major fields in International Relations and Comparative Politics and a minor field in Political Methodology in 2013. I research the foreign policy of arms with a focus on their role in shaping the relations between states. Before entering graduate school I was an enlisted soldier in the Utah Army National Guard. I was a Russian linguist and counterintelligence agent and served two combat tours in Iraq (2003-04 and 2007-08). I completed my enlisted service after 9 years and held the rank of Staff Sergeant.

I earned a Master in Stratgic Intelligence degree while working full-time as a translator for the Researve Language Support Project (RLSP) through the US Army. I was born in the small town of Ephraim, Utah and graduated from Payson High School in Payson, Utah in 1997. I was a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Ukraine from 1998-2000. During my service in Ukraine I lived primarily in the Donbas (Donetsk and Gorlovka) but also spent 7 months living in Zaporozhye. This experience, along with my experiences in the military have had a profound influence on the way I see the world and in my interests in political science.


  • Arms Transfers
  • Foreign Policy
  • International Security


  • PhD in Political Science, 2013

    University of Iowa

  • Master in Strategic Intelligence, 2007

    American Military University

  • BS in Business Administration (Minor in Russian), 2005

    Utah State University

Recent Posts

Purity Tests and Military Service

I follow a lot of political scientists who study civil-military relations. That isn’t an area that I do a lot of active research in - but it is an area that I teach and one that I have a lot of personal interest in.

Missing ISA Midwest

For the first time since 2009 when I was a second year graduate student at the University of Iowa, I am not attending the International Studies Association (ISA) Midwest meeting in Saint Louis.

Settling In

I have been here in Nacogdoches at Stephen F. Austin State University for the past two months. I finally feel like I am settling in. It has been a long journey to get here - literally and figuratively - into a tenure track job in the US.

Civil-Military Relations and Police Violence

The escalation of violence in the aftermath of protests against police brutality has stirred up some feelings in me. I am on the other side of the world, in Kazakhstan, watching the US burn.

Casual Academic Corruption

I am the father of four daughters (current ages 12, 12, 13, 15) and my wife is Russian. We currently live in Kazakhstan and have lived here for the past 6 years.



Assistant Professor

Nazarbayev University

Aug 2014 – Present Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan
  • Teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in political science
  • Research
  • Served as Department Chair of Department of Political Science and International Relations (PSIR) from August 2015-July 2017.
  • Supervising MA theses in MAPSIR program
  • Advising undergraduate students (Won 2018 Outstanding Mentor Award from School of Sciences and Humanities)

Visiting Assistant Professor


Aug 2013 – Jun 2014 Las Vegas, NV
Taught 4/4 course load with following courses:

  • Intro to American Government and Nevada Constitution (3x)
  • Intro to International Relations (2x)
  • International Security
  • Political Violence and Terrorism
  • Research Methods in Political Science

Counterintelligence Agent/Russian Linguist

Utah Army National Guard

Sep 2000 – Sep 2009 Logan, UT
  • Combat tour in Iraq 2003-04 was a Tactical Human Intelligence Team (THT) leader with 3rd Infantry Division to Baghdad and with 101st ABN Div from Iskandiriya to Mosul. Earned Bronze Star and Knowlton Award. (Rank was SGT (E5))

  • Worked 2.5 years for Reserve Language Support Program (RLSP) translating open source documents. Served as quality control for 2 years approving and preparing over 27,000 pages of documents for upload to HARMONY intelligence database.

  • Stationed at Camp Bucca in 2007-08 where I worked as a counterinsurgence agent for compound during surge. Responsible for analyzing records of detainees and separating the extremists from the rest of the population. Developed a system to identify extremists.

  • Final rank was Staff Sergeant (E-6), drilled remotely for final year of enlistment while attending first year of PhD program at University of Iowa.