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Tuesday, April 23, 2024 — Houston, TX

Joseph Cozza: from campaigns to classrooms

Faith Zhang / Thresher

By Amelia Davis     1/9/24 11:18pm

Joseph Cozza has always been sure about one thing: following his passions. From an early age, he knew it was politics. 

“When I was five years old, my kindergarten had a mock election and the teacher wrote Dole and Clinton on the board. I didn’t know either of them, so I just wrote Clinton on a piece of paper and I went home every day and asked my mom to turn on CNN so I could see how Bill Clinton was doing,” Cozza said. “So I’ve always been interested in politics, and I majored in political science then as an undergraduate, where I fell in love with law.”

After graduating from Villanova University, Cozza was a policy advisor for the Delaware State Senate, where he spent time researching and writing legislation, including work on Delaware’s conversion therapy ban. 

“I realized while I was working on that job [that] I really enjoyed research that went behind the legislation, and didn’t so much enjoy the glad handing of politics and the negotiating that went afterwards,” Cozza said. “I enjoyed the research and so that’s why I decided to go get my [doctorate], and it was there while pursuing my [doctorate] that I got opportunities to teach that I realized, wow, I also really love teaching.” 

Though he has only recently transitioned to academia from the campaign trail, most notably working on Delaware State Senator Harris B. McDowell’s re-election campaign in 2016, Cozza has found his place at Rice. He joined Rice’s faculty in 2023 as an assistant teaching professor after working as a visiting professor from the University of Texas at Austin for the past two years. He also serves as undergraduate advisor for Political Science students and the associate director of the Politics, Law, and Social Thought minor. 

Diego Palos Rodriguez, who has taken several of Cozza’s courses, said that Cozza’s passion for anything and everything related to politics is evident in his teaching. 

“In all the classes that I’ve taken with him, he’s always extremely prepared and shows a lot of enthusiasm for the topic,” Palos Rodriguez, a Will Rice College junior, wrote in an email to the Thresher. “In classes more independent in nature, like Research Methods, he showed a lot of interest in everyone’s research projects and pushed everyone to challenge their own knowledge and skills while also being a great resource.” 

Palos Rodriguez also said that Cozza is active outside the classroom, often taking on a mentorship role for students interested in law. 

“On top of classes, he’s been able to provide myself and other pre-law students with his own experiences taking law classes at UT Law and even brought a law professor from UT here earlier this semester to talk about constitutions,” Palos Rodriguez wrote. “Overall, he’s been a great resource in and out of the classroom, whether it’s about class, research or law school. He’s the type of professor that makes you appreciate the program and school even more.”

Peter Caldwell, a colleague of Cozza’s and director of the Politics, Law, and Social Thought minor, said that he was impressed by Cozza’s research and was excited to bring him into the department.

“Dr. Cozza’s work on constitutional change is excellent — I had the chance to read one of his articles, which I found really illuminating. His courses add a lot to our curriculum and especially to the set of classes that interest students in the program in Politics, Law, and Social Thought,” Caldwell said. “When the opportunity arose to invite him into PLST as a co-leader of our program, we jumped at it.”

In addition to teaching, advising and organizing, Cozza remains a prolific researcher and writer, which he said is helped by Rice’s research-focused approach to faculty.

“Rice provides so many opportunities to be able to invest in both your teaching and research that I actually do find I have the time and resources to do both without sacrificing all of my weekends and nights,” Cozza said. 

Aside from work in publishing, he finds time to stay connected to his passions, such as cooking. 

“I come from a big Italian family, so I particularly enjoy cooking Italian food. However, living in Texas for the past six years, I’ve branched out to incorporate more Tex Mex into my recipe repertoire,” Cozza added.

Following passions is important to Cozza, and a part of his advice to any student. With experience in many aspects of political science, from theory to practice, Cozza said that any student stands to benefit by pursuing what is fascinating to them.

 “What I love about the political science curriculum is that there’s a lot of flexibility,” Cozza said. “My advice is always just explore, take what you find most interesting.” 

Disclaimer: Diego Palos Rodriguez is the Thresher’s assistant sports editor.

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