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

Teaching and Research

Balance One of the tricks to life is finding balance. I am not always completely successful at that, but I keep trying! One thing about my career is that I have moved between institutions that value different balance in terms of teaching and research and so there is a process of calibration that takes place to navigate the space between my personal preferences and those of the job.

Nazarbayev University after Nazarbayev

The events of the past few days in Kazakhstan are tragic. The tragedy lies in the lives of the ordinary people who will bare the consequences of the actions of elites and opportunists for the foreseeable future.

The Life of the Mind

This will be a short post. I have been thinking a lot lately about the job of a professor. I was reminded recently of the piece by Max Weber about science as a vocation linked here{target=”_blank”} and how being an academic is a career, and one that is based a lot on chance at that.

Twenty Years - a Reflection on the War on Terror

Sweaty Revelations The morning was cool in the high southern dessert of Arizona. We were not too far from the Mexican border. We were two weeks into our training as 97B Counterintelligence Agents for the US Army.

Measurement and Assumptions - Reflections on Osipian and his Nazarbayev Obsession

Note: This content was updated on 4/30/2021 to correct some typographical and grammatical errors in the original post. I have a Google alert set for Nazarbayev University. I set it when I got hired, and I have kept it even though I left NU last July to accept a tenure track position at Stephen F.



Assistant Professor

Stephen F. Austin State University

Aug 2020 – Present Nacogdoches, TX
  • 2022 Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Liberal and Applied Arts.
  • National Intelligence and Security Studies (MA) program and Political Science (Undergrad) as part of the the Department of Government.

Assistant Professor

Nazarbayev University

Aug 2014 – Jul 2020 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.