Thomas Field: My Last Chair’s Message: Stay Creative and Get a Language Minor!

By Thomas Field, GSIS Department Chair

When Dean Haass asked me if I would write an article for ”Horizons” as chair of the GSIS Department, I decided it would be an opportune moment to pen a note thanking you, the students of Embry-Riddle, for convincing me to come here eight years ago.  I first heard about this job in early 2011, when I was 1000 miles away in New York City doing a postdoc on the history of the CIA and the U.S. labor movement.  I’m from a small town, so Prescott’s diminutive size did not put me off.  But I was not familiar with Embry-Riddle, so I was not entirely sold on the job until I had lunch with a group of GSIS students.  My search committee apparently knew something important about this place: Embry-Riddle students are smart, mature, and courteous.  You’re our strongest selling point, and you’re what make it a joy to work here.  When I was asked to serve as chair of the GSIS Department in 2016, I had no idea how much I had to learn from you.  Thank you all for making the last three years such a rewarding time for me.

Now that I’m returning full-time to the department’s regular faculty, it’s useful to look back on the last three years to see how far we’ve come.  When I took over in August 2016, we had ten full-time faculty members, only three of whom held senior rank with tenure.  Today, with the addition of Dale Avery two years ago and Olga Bertelsen last month, and with the transfer of languages and regional studies to GSIS, our department’s full-time faculty now numbers 18, half of whom are senior faculty (with two more promotion applications in the pipeline).  During this same period, our more than 300 students, including two dozen graduate students, have given us very high satisfaction feedback, something reflected by the fact that our undergraduate degree boasts the highest retention (85%) and graduate rate (62%) in the entire university among degree programs over 15 students.  I believe that our success has been due to two factors: (1) Our degree programs have been designed with human beings in mind, and (2) Our world-class faculty are given extensive academic freedom to create learning environments that they feel will work best for themselves and their students.

I’m especially proud of our campus’s languages, which became a part of the GSIS Department this fall.  Serving every semester an average of 200 students taking a variety of major and minor requirements in Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish, our world-class language and regional studies faculty contribute significantly to Embry-Riddle’s goal of nurturing global citizens with high levels of cultural literacy.  100 percent of last spring’s graduating class of GSIS Chinese students reached advanced level proficiency on national standardized tests.  Olga Waesche just became our department’s eighteenth full-time faculty member, and Leeann Chen recently brought in nearly a half million dollars from the Department of Defense to help fund students’ overseas Chinese language study in Taiwan through Project Global Officer.  I’m especially pleased to announce that Dr. Chen, the GSIS Department’s Languages and Regional Studies Coordinator, has just launched an effort to update our minor language course offerings so that we can almost immediately begin serving students across the campus through a standard buffet of minor offerings in Russian, Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish.  By the fall of 2020, we hope to see a growing number Embry-Riddle students enriching their college education by acquiring a highly-marketable language minor (or two!) to accompany their major degree programs in anything from Global Business to Aerospace Engineering.

Further to the question of academic enrichment, our department has long provided campus students with upper- and lower-level general education courses in the fields of social science.  This includes not only our stalwart offerings in US and World History, Security Fundamentals, International Relations, and US Foreign Policy, but also some lesser known courses such as European History, Studies in Global Intelligence, World Political Thought, National Security Policy, and Risk Analysis.  These global topics are not just central to our own degree programs; they also contribute to our campus’s general education mission as well as to minor degree programs in International Relations, Security Studies, and Military and Diplomatic History.

Fortunately for our students, these global studies offerings recently got a boost with the hiring, after a worldwide search, of Olga Bertelsen.  An expert in Soviet and Russian intelligence and security services and operations, Dr. Bertelsen was most recently a Jean Monnet postdoctoral research fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, prior to which she carried out postdoc research at Harvard and Columbia.  Her career as a GSIS Department professor is off to a marvelous start, with research essays on the KGB already accepted for publication in the ”Journal of Genocide Research” and the ”Journal of Ukrainian Studies.”  Later this fall, Dr. Bertelsen will be presenting papers on the KGB in Canada and in San Francisco at the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.

Speaking of 2019 publications, Furman Daniel recently received the final go-ahead for two new books: his monograph ”Patton with the University of Missouri Press, and a co-authored political analysis of future space conflict, ”The First Space War with Lexington Books.  Ty Groh published his monographic analysis of U.S. national security in “Proxy War: The Least Bad Option” with Stanford University Press.  Geoff Jensen edited ”Beyond the Quagmire” (University of North Texas Press), a compilation regarding new interpretations of the Vietnam War, and his Routledge volume on race in the U.S. military went to paperback.  Brooke Shannon presented cutting-edge research on intelligence studies at the International Association for Intelligence Education, while also publishing an article on Kenyan information systems in the Journal of the International Federation of Libraries.  I published articles on Latin America’s Cold War and on CIA labor programs in the ”Oxford Research Encyclopedia on Latin American History” and in the ”Journal of Latin American Studies,” respectively, and I received final approval from peer reviewers for an early 2020 edited volume, ”Latin America and the Global Cold War” (University of North Carolina Press).

The student experience is enhanced through our faculty’s international and global research experience.  Not only are GSIS faculty members currently planning 2020 study abroad programs focusing on security and intelligence issues in Israel, Scotland, Italy, Taiwan, and Jordan.  But thanks to the Undergraduate Research Institute and the efforts of Brooke Shannon and Reg Parker, respectively, Embry-Riddle students won several awards at the 2019 Model NATO Summit in Washington, and more than two-dozen Embry-Riddle students recently became certified project managers (PMI).  Perhaps most importantly, in 2019 GSIS became one of a small handful of intelligence studies programs in the country to receive certification through the International Association of Intelligence Education.

Before closing, I’d like to take a moment to repeat something I have said at every GSIS Preview Day since 2017.  I invite you not only to study with us in the GSIS Department, but to do so with an open mind.  Despite Embry-Riddle’s reputation for professionally-oriented students, it is my hope that programs and courses offered by our department better enable college students to explore themselves and their world, and to eventually identify what type of global citizen they want to be.

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