1 October 2013
DR. MICHAEL ANDERSON CHANNELED his passion for history and global relations to develop a program to help students pursue knowledge of the world in which they impact.
“I have always resisted the idea that academics must necessarily narrow their interests as they specialize in a particular field,” Anderson said.
Anderson studied history and received his bachelor of arts from the University of Virginia in 1999. He then continued at the University of Texas at Austin and attained his master of arts in 2003 and his doctorate in 2009. He is now the director of International Relations and Global Studies (IRG) at the University of Texas at Austin.
In the spring of 2010 Anderson found himself in a position to progress the IRG program at the university. The major initially launched in the fall of 2009, but Anderson saw an important opportunity to bring together dialogue from numerous fields of study with humanities and social sciences focusing on international issues.
“Understanding the world’s most pressing problems necessarily involves an interdisciplinary approach, and the IRG major embraces that wholeheartedly,” Anderson said.
IRG embraces a global perspective rather than just a national or regional one. Anderson said this encourages students to look beyond an American centered approach to world affairs and prepare for a fast approaching end to the “unipolar moment” of American dominance.
“While many of today’s concerns—climate change, economic inequality, human rights, terrorism—have very specific consequences, the underlying issues are global in scope, and IRG therefore encourages students to make connections and comparisons across countries and across regions,” Anderson said.
The broad curricular goals for the major were set by a faculty committee under the guidance of Richard Flores, senior associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts. The IRG only has a few classes of their own, so the majority of the courses come from existing international offerings from other departments of the College of Liberal Arts.
“The establishment of an interdisciplinary major by its very nature can seem like a disrupting event for existing departments,” Anderson said. “But I continue to be impressed by the way in which those around the College of Liberal Arts, and indeed in the University as a whole, have recognized the broader net benefits and the potential for collaboration as a result of IRG.”
Anderson just served as the faculty director for UT in Paris, the first study-abroad program tailored for IRG majors. The course included a number of visits to international organizations, like OECD and UNESCO, which allowed the 14 students on the trip to see how the practice of internationalism is carried out in governmental settings.
“I hope that students came away from the program with a far more realistic picture of the challenges facing the project of a truly global world order,” Anderson said.
The IRG major requires the students to participate in a study abroad program and Anderson said this is the prominent reason for students to select IRG as their major.
“This experience opens up so many personal and professional vistas for any student that the benefit is impossible to quantify,” Anderson said. “For IRG majors in particular, their time abroad helps them pull together some of the themes from their coursework and lays the foundation for their capstone project before graduation.”
The UT in Paris is a very unique program that combines two specific study abroad attributes, a faculty led program and semester exchange program. A faculty led program usually takes place during a Maymester or a summer sessions in June and July. UT in Paris happens in August, three weeks before the start of the regular semester, and it allows for a smooth transition into taking classes at the prestigious French university, Sciences Po.
Curtiss Stevens is a Program Coordinator for the International Office at the University of Texas in Austin. He works with the UT in Paris program and said they are fortunate to have Dr. Anderson, who also happens to have a background in French. Stevens said it is difficult to find a professor to make this type of commitment because they must be willing to be abroad until the last week in August, then come back and prepare for class in the fall
“We got really lucky in the sense that IRG was willing to take this over and then also have this amazing connection with SciencePo,” Stevens said. “Throughout the United States, other universities do not have this model. So this makes it really unique.”
Over the last few years the IRG program has experienced massive growth and is now one of the most popular majors in the College of Liberal Arts.
“The challenge over the next few years will be to channel the tremendous enthusiasm of our students and the dedication of our small faculty and staff into a sustainable model for the coming years,” Anderson said.
Anderson sees a great future for the International Relations and Global Studies program. He sees potential in creating greater linkages with existing departments and centers around campus. He also wants to eventually offer IRG students a fuller complement of travel scholarships and opportunities for internships and major specific study-abroad experiences.
“With the right help, UT could be positioned to be a leader in this emerging field of study in the next decade,” Anderson said.
By Alyssa Brant and Angie Pastorek