Blogger, government professor exemplifies foreign policy savvy

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Associate government professor Terri Givens was one of only 14 professors chosen to attend the annual Brussels Forum last month. The attendees of the conference- which numbered approximately 200- included several policy makers and academics from around the world as well as members of the European Union.

Photo Credit: Raveena Bhalara | Daily Texan Staff

Associate government professor Terri Givens teaches two government classes, updates two weekly blogs, runs marathons and insists on holding a family dinner every night.

For Givens, interest in foreign policy with a focus on Europe was ingrained in her early on, she said. Givens said she began learning French in middle school and went on to study abroad in France during her undergraduate years at Stanford University. Upon enrolling in graduate school at UCLA, Givens switched her focus from international relations to domestic politics and began taking German. She now focuses mainly on immigration issues in addition to European domestic politics. Givens was one of 14 professors to attend the Brussels Forum on March 23-25, amidst approximately 200 invited House of Representatives members, senators, ambassadors, university professors from around the world and members of the European Union.

A focus on Europe was a natural choice for her, Givens said.

“Europe has always been fascinating to me,” she said. “I’m continually fascinated by European politics. And the Europeans are equally fascinated by us, so it’s a two-way street.”

Givens, who has attended the forum several times, said the diversity of attendees this year made the event an enriching experience.

“It was just this amazing array of people from the EU and the U.S.,” she said. “It’s truly transatlantic in that they get high-level officials from Congress and business leaders and ambassadors. It was just this amazing experience.”

Forum attendees discussed current environmental, economic and political issues, including recent activity in Syria and Afghanistan, as well as discussions concerning energy issues. Givens said the topics discussed encompassed many of her direct interests as well as other areas of foreign policy. Givens said other leaders from Europe have mixed feelings about the United States but demonstrated major interest in the recent primary elections.

“I’d say the most questions I got asked were about the Republican primary situation,” she said. “We had a good congressional delegation there with people from both sides.”

The fiscal crisis in Europe was also a major topic of the forum, and Givens said European students are facing a bleaker job market than college students in the U.S., with unemployment rates higher than 40 percent in Spain.

“I tell my students they’re lucky they’re not in Europe,” she said. “It’s horrible for young people there because unemployment rates are really high. If you want to stay in your home country, it’s really hard right now.”

To keep up with current foreign policy issues during the year, Givens keeps two blogs and uses them in class to generate straightforward information for her students.

“I try to condense things down to a readable format,” she said. “Since I’m actively engaged in these issues, it’s easy for me to see the interconnectedness, but I want to be able to write that out in a way that is understandable for the average person.”

In the classroom, Givens said, curiosity is the one thing she strives to instill in her students.

“I tell them at the beginning of the semester, ‘I don’t care what your perspective is, I just want to show you how interesting things are out there,’” she said. “I want students to be able to go to a cocktail reception and have an intelligent conversation about these issues.”

European studies senior Abigail Rakkar said she chose professor Givens to help her with a research paper for her major because of Givens’ extensive knowledge in the area.

“Dr. Givens is really personal,” Rakkar said. “She’s really smart and open-minded without being intimidating.”

Givens also mentors both undergraduates and graduate students because she said her own personal mentors helped push her to success at the beginning of her career and hopes to offer her own students that push in the right direction.

“I was a first generation college student, so I didn’t have any role models in my family,” she said. “But I’ve been lucky to have great mentors along the way, so I want to turn around and pay it forward to others.”

Outside of her life at UT, Givens has two young sons and said she plays many roles during the day.

“I come in and teach, do some writing in the afternoon and immediately shuttle my kids to soccer, gymnastics and tutoring,” she said. “And I make time to run because I love running. It’s my ‘me’ time.”

While Givens said she misses the perfect California weather of her college days, she said she and her husband found their niches in the versatility of Austin.

“We love Austin,” she said. “It’s just been great how welcoming the community has been. We’ve just never found any other place that has all the wonderful things that we get here in Austin. We go to the symphony, performing arts center, ACL and South By Southwest. We could spend every night doing something.”