My Name: Austen Edwards
My Hometown: Tifton, Georgia
My Major: Public Policy
My Secondary Major: International Affairs
My Minor: European Union Studies
I Am Also: President's Scholar
As a Georgia Tech President’s Scholar, I am committed to representing liberal arts on campus.
Since arriving on campus I have felt a deep-seeded responsibility to ‘pay back’ the investment that Georgia Tech has made in my education. My scholarship has given me the flexibility to pursue some truly incredible opportunities that I may never have been able to otherwise enjoy. In return, I spend much of my time giving back to my community by developing new, innovative ways for students to live and learn on campus. This commitment has driven me to stay involved in Student Government and tackle large campus-wide issues.
Why I study at Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts
When I was originally looking at colleges, I wanted to find a school that gave me all the opportunities of a large research university as well as the individual attention and sense of community of a small, private college. When I visited Georgia Tech, I found that the Ivan Allen College had the perfect balance—right in Midtown Atlanta. While other universities only talked about how much money I could make with their degrees or dropped the names of their famous alumni, Georgia Tech is clearly committed to bringing its motto (Progress & Service) to life; nothing embodies that more than the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. Students explore unique fields like the history of science & technology or the policy of innovation to find ways to better serve their communities. As a liberal arts student, I have been able to delve into both undergraduate research and internships while also having service-learning classes with as few as 9 or 10 students. This balance has been exactly what I sought as a high school student.
On visiting campus, I was immediately struck by the duality of the atmosphere. Georgia Tech gives you access to all of Atlanta without retaining an industrial, urban feel—despite the skyscrapers looming overhead. Other universities in major cities often feel stretched across a dozen city blocks in some hectic business district. Georgia Tech, however, keeps the campus from disappearing into the urban sprawl and maintains the sense that you are on a beautiful, green college campus. This unique quality means that students can take advantage of the best parts of a large metropolis while also feeling part of the Georgia Tech community. On the weekends, my friends and I are always able to find new restaurants or local hangouts across the city; but, during the week, I can also escape the roar of traffic and the stressful hum of the city by staying on campus to focus on my studies.
My decision to major in International Affairs and Public Policy was years in the making.
When I was a child, my family and I would sit down each night to watch an evening news line-up of Dan Rather and Peter Jennings. Over the years it fed my fascination with global events, cultural studies, and history. I remember naively sending President Clinton a stern email at the age of ten in regards to the dangers of intervention after the U.S. bombed Yugoslavia in 1999. Even as a child I saw no reason why I could not be part of the conversation and someone who shaped the news. Years later, when I was seventeen, I moved to Washington DC to serve the US House of Representatives as a Congressional Page – essentially, a young liaison among the congressmen, party leaders, and offices on Capitol Hill. Amidst the political melee, I began to understand for the first time the challenges and the opportunities of good governance.I learned that good policy is rarely good politics but, through public policy, the potential to positively influence society is boundless.So, when I came to Tech, I wanted to design a degree that allowed me to explore the dynamics of the world stage and also gave me the skills needed to analyze and design good policy. Thankfully, the Ivan Allen College has given me the flexibility and encouragement to do just that.
When I first started at Tech, I quickly became fascinated by the intersection of Science & Technology and Foreign Policy, such as its role in regional development around the world. So, I registered for Dr. Cozzens’ Innovation and Development course. This course altered my understanding of foreign policy from a statesman’s game in the gilded halls of Vienna to a more personal level where individuals bear the results of grand international decisions. From my EU seminars in Brussels to my study abroad program in Krakow, I took courses that exposed the dynamics of how transnational policies can define the success or failure of international development programs. These courses have all contributed to my evolving interest in building a career in international science and technology cooperation.
Speaking of my studies in Europe…
My time abroad was a truly life-changing experience, as almost any student will say about their study abroad experience. I studied the integration of the European Union and transatlantic relations. My home-stay with a wonderful Belgian family and my travels to Paris, Berlin, and Krakow allowed me to explore new ideas of transnational policy and its effects on European citizens. I also learned from the cultural and linguistic barriers of a life abroad. When my train overheated or my taxi driver had a flat tire on a small country road, I had to learn to adapt to each new obstacle and overcome it with greater confidence.
My liberal arts education has made me a better leader.
As the Student Body Vice President, I am primarily in charge of maintaining the policy agenda for Student Government, managing the 70 members of our Executive Branch, and overseeing our progress on various projects aimed at improving student life at Tech. I can safely say that nothing has prepared me for this challenge as strongly as the lessons and skills of my liberal arts education. Sure, as new scholars, IAC students learn hard lessons in the design of policy and the intricacies of theory; but, as students, we also learn soft skills in teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. I firmly believe a broad liberal arts education has given me the ability to read and understand people, group dynamics, and the complexities of a problem in ways that have redefined my leadership style while at Tech.
Ultimately, leadership is about building a community that leverages the commitment, creativity, and input of its members to accomplish something together, as a community. Well, the same can be said about the policy-making process, cultural studies, and diplomacy. With this in mind, numerous employers have expressed to me that it is easier for them to teach a liberal arts students the technical demands of science and engineering than to try to teach an engineer the personal and communications skills necessary for real success. While SGA has given me the opportunity to have a meaningful impact on my campus, only the liberal arts have given me the skills to overcome the many obstacles to improving the student-faculty interaction, building new service-learning and leadership programs for students, and redefining the way we live and learn in aging campus facilities.
On that note, you’re probably wondering how I plan on applying my education.
Have you ever watched The West Wing? I want to be the White House’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh Lyman. I think it would be incredible to stick it out in the trenches of governance, fighting the good fight to design policies that build up and protect the US. I’m not sure I necessarily have the temperament for the turbulence of politics but I think the intricacies of the game would always keep me entertained as I strove to build a career as a public servant.
As a freshman, I accepted an internship with the Georgia Tech Center for Strategy, Technology, and Policy. In this on-campus research center, I helped organize international conferences on foreign energy security. After one particularly long day, my supervisor invited me to join her for dinner with two North Korean diplomats and a 90-year-old Japanese acupuncturist. Expecting our guests to be austere and even humorless, I could only sit back during our dinner in one of Buford Highway’s many Korean barbeque restaurants and think about how surreal the experience was. The cross-cultural commonality we established was incredible and I tallied yet another lesson-learned on the importance of mutual understanding in international policy.
I also interned at the Canadian Consulate General in Atlanta. The Canadian Foreign Ministry allowed me to delve into projects immediately as an International Marketing Coordinator, building trade missions of communication and aerospace firms to visit the US. By researching a profile of these industrial sectors in the region and consulting corporate executives on how to market to the US military, I was able to apply the theoretical work I had been learning in my courses at Tech.
What advice do I have for students?
I would encourage liberal arts students to take advantage of every opportunity in college to discover their passion and welcome failure. In the Ivan Allen College, we have an incredible freedom and flexibility in designing our own education and we are constantly pushed to explore our interests without a fear of failure. These four (or five or maybe even six) years are the only time in life when we can really pursue these passions with the support and encouragement to fail beautifully at it.
Yes, as students, we need to make sure that our grades are where they should be; after all, we are here for the expressed purpose of mastering a body of knowledge in order to start a career when we graduate. However, an important part of a college education is this chance to discover your passions and develop as a strong individual in the process. Approaching each opportunity without hesitation or reservation allows students to make the most of their time at Georgia Tech and learn to pick themselves up when they fall – something we will all need to master for stepping into the ‘real world.’
So, outside of classes, I believe every student should try to participate in three types of student activities: 1) something you have always enjoyed, 2) something you have always wanted to do, and 3) something you never expected you would do.
My name is Austen and I am liberal arts!