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Manteca High grad receives doctoral degree
Elizabeth Nicole Simas receiving her Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of California at Davis. - photo by Photo Contributed

Elizabeth Nicole Simas is a shining example of the influence teachers wield on the young minds that they are charged to mold.

The younger daughter of Ted and Rita Simas of Manteca, just last month, was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science by the University of California at Davis. She has accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston, Texas. She will start her new assignment in the fall.

“My (Advance Placement) US History and Government classes (taught by Jack Miller and Joe Johnson at Manteca High) can probably be credited for starting me down this path,” Simas said in an e-mail interview conducted earlier in the week while she was in the midst of packing her things in Sacramento for the move to Texas.

She has always nurtured an interest in history and politics which was later “fueled” by “some really interesting teachers and professors,” she said.

After that initial blush of inspiration from Miller and Johnson at Manteca High where Simas graduated as co-valedictorian in 2001, she took Introduction to US Politics during her first quarter at the University of Santa Clara which cemented her decision to hitch her academic wagon to a future career in political science.

She not only loved the course; “my professor was amazing,” Simas said.

“She eventually became my academic advisor and gave me my first opportunity to lecture in a college class. She really played a huge role and we have maintained contact over the years. Overall, I have just been incredibly fortunate to have had such wonderful teachers and mentors at all levels of my education. And, of course, having parents who have always given me unconditional support doesn’t hurt either,” added Simas who followed in her father’s footsteps by going to the University of Santa Clara after high school. Ted Simas, a Manteca businessman and former board of trustee for Delta College, graduated from Santa Clara with a degree in marketing.

During her junior year at Santa Clara, Simas spent a semester in Washington, D.C., which further intensified her interest in government. She received the Hackworth Fellowship upon her return to Santa Clara.

“I think this fellowship experience with the Ethics Center convinced her to pursue a career in academia,” Rita Simas said.

In 2005, Elizabeth Simas graduated summa cum laude from Santa Clara. She was also selected for membership to Phi Beta Kappa upon graduation.

At UC Davis where she went for her graduate studies, she was awarded the Excellence in Doctoral Research from the College of Arts and Sciences. She has also been published in the American Journal of Political Science, the Political Research Quarterly, and the Journal of Politics.

When Simas was awarded her doctoral degree during the commencement exercises on June 6, 2011 at UC Davis, she was escorted by her major professor, Dr. Walt Stone, and received her hood and degree from Dean Gibeling and Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter.

Found she was competing against 150 applicants for every teaching job

Explaining her decision to accept the position at the University of Houston in Texas, Simas said, “In this economy, academic jobs, like all jobs, are very difficult to come by. With states tightening budgets, most public schools are finding it hard to hire. I applied broadly and was fortunate to be granted the interview at Houston, which was actually one of my top choices. I really liked the department and the people working there so I am thrilled with the opportunity. Of course, it will be hard to leave California, but I’m excited for the change, and I know that with technology and ease of travel, I really never will be far from home.”

Many of the positions she applied for had “around 150 applicants” for one spot, she said.

The other big plus for the job at the University of Houston is that it is “tenure track so I have the potential for advancement,” Simas said.

“But honestly, I am open to wherever the road will take me. I never would have guessed I would end up in Texas, so I won’t even begin to speculate what may come next. But I do know I enjoy teaching and working in the academic environment, so I imagine I will stay in that sector.”

By doing so, Simas is continuing a family tradition. Her mother, Rita Simas, is a graduate of the University of the Pacific School of Education. Her older sister, Anne Marie Shaw, graduated from the University of San Diego and earned her master’s degree in Speech Pathology at UOP. Now married and the mother of two young boys, she is currently working for the Manteca Unified School District.

Besides excelling in academics at Manteca High, Elizabeth Simas served as Student Body president and was active in three sports and in numerous school organizations throughout her four years. She finished her elementary schooling at St. Anthony of Padua School in Manteca.

Explaining why she chose political science as her focus of study, the newly minted college professor said, “I think the biggest appeal to me was the fact that you can so clearly see the real-world applications of the concepts that are taught in the classroom.”

She added, “I think I knew from a young age that I wanted to teach and my interests/subject matter are better suited for college rather than K-12. And in order to teach at the college level, the PhD was needed.”