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All the world’s a stage

The International Relations and Global Studies major, the fastest growing Liberal Arts major, is challenging a new generation of global leaders.

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Stephanie Fine

Stephanie Fine, an IRG senior, plans to use her global knowledge to engage students when she becomes a teacher. Photo: Tommy Tran

A good teacher improves test scores, takes control of the classroom and engages students in lively discussions. But Stephanie Fine, an International Relations and Global Studies and education senior, aspires to be much more than just a good teacher.

“A truly great teacher must have an enhanced global perspective,” says Fine, who tutors elementary students in East Austin school districts. “It’s important for teachers to understand their students’ cultural backgrounds, enhance their chances of getting into college and help them avoid falling into a vicious cycle of poverty.”

With a passion for making education more equitable for students in the public school systems, Fine has set her sights on becoming a public school teacher in some of the nation’s most underrepresented inner-city schools. Eventually, she plans to embark on a career in public policy for education reform.

To hone her language and teaching skills, Fine chose to major in International Relations and Global Studies (IRG), an interdisciplinary program in the College of Liberal Arts that focuses heavily on cultural studies and foreign affairs.

Since its inception in 2010, the IRG major has attracted 670 undergraduates, making it the fastest growing major in the College of Liberal Arts. Michael Anderson, IRG interim director and lecturer, says students are realizing there’s a high probability they will be working with people from other countries. And now — more than ever — they need a solid understanding of international life in order to get an edge in the global economy.

Michael Anderson

Michael Anderson, IRG interim director, says students now realize a global perspective can help in the job market. Photo: Kathryn Rowe

“We’re at a moment in international history where this kind of major is especially interesting to students,” says Anderson, who teaches Introduction to International Relations and Global Studies. “They recognize from the moment they come to campus that we’re entering a world that is far bigger than the United States.”

Although some international relations students aspire to work at the Department of State or the United Nations, many are interested in pursuing careers in various fields, such as education, journalism, public policy, business and law.

But to thrive in these careers, students must learn a language and have a solid understanding of the world outside of the United States., Anderson says. To help them cultivate these skills, the IRG major requires at least six hours of advanced language courses and a semester studying abroad.

From her experiences studying abroad and in the classroom, Fine says she now has the tools to succeed as a teacher in the U.S. and abroad.

“The IRG major — which I think is the best major in the university — encourages students to go outside their comfort zones by immersing themselves into new cultures,” Fine says. “There are a lot of different perspectives in the world, and this major really promotes that exploration of other cultures and to find similarities within those groups.”

One of the biggest draws of the major is that students can customize a course of study that best fits their interest, Anderson says. They have their choice of four tracks: Culture, Media and the Arts; International Security; Science, Technology and Environment; and International Political Economy.

“This major was designed for those who want to think differently,” Anderson says. “I think it appeals to students who are comfortable being self-starters and for those who want to take ownership of their education. It’s really empowering for students to find a subject of interest and pursue it in a way that makes the most sense to them.”

Tower map graphic

Graphic: Suloni Robertson/LAITS

Anderson says one of the most rewarding aspects of his job is seeing how students like Fine evolve as they wrap up their experiences in a capstone research course. During their senior year, IRG students are required to write a final paper that allows them to explore a subject of global interest in considerable depth.

“The IRG major gives students an unforgettable learning experience that doesn’t end at the edge of campus,” Anderson says. “The benefit of this major — and the kind of education students receive at UT — extends the walls of the university, not just into the country, but around the world. This major shows the university is serious about its creed, ‘What Starts Here, Changes the World.'”