College of Liberal Arts

Taking on the World

By Molly Wahlberg, College of Liberal Arts
Posted: May 29, 2012

American politicians often talk about the "leaders of tomorrow," but how many of them actually envision who that might be? If the question is "Who is the next Hillary Clinton?," they might look to Colleen Crawford, a 2012 International Relations and Global Studies (IRG) graduate at The University of Texas at Austin.

Although she lived in Texas as a child, Crawford moved to Cairo, Egypt at age 13 when her mother got a job at the U.S. embassy there. She attended an international school that afforded her many unique opportunities, such as participation in a program called "Week without Walls," during which students would spend one week each academic year in a variety of exotic locations. As a freshman, Crawford went to Vietnam. Sophomore year had her working for Habitat for Humanity in India. Junior year, Outward Bound in South Africa. And to top it all off, a senior-year visual arts trip to Thailand.

"My school was wonderful, and I owe those experiences to why I'm doing the research and the kind of major I'm in now," Crawford says.

She is referring to IRG, a new major area of study implemented the same semester Crawford transferred to The University of Texas at Austin.

"I don't know what I would have majored in if [not for IRG]," Crawford says. "International Relations is a multi-disciplinary program, and UT has excellent programs in many diverse disciplines. It was all around excellence, so I knew the major would be great."


Colleen Crawford posing for a snapshot with Michelle Obama

In an undeniably globalized world, international relations majors have proliferated all over the country. Crawford has been instrumental in the growth and development of IRG at the university through her involvement in the International Affairs Society (IAS), a function of which is to work with Sr. Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Richard Flores, as well as with IRG Director Michael Anderson and IRG advisors to shape and mold the program as it grows.

IAS began with only 10 members, including Crawford, to meet the demand for a professional development group for the major. After only three semesters the society has grown to more than 100 active paying members.  According to Crawford, it has added a lot of substance and practicality to the major.

"We host speakers from private, public and NGO (Non-governmental organization) sectors who speak about their career to give members ideas of what they can do with their IRG degree," Crawford says. "We also have fundraisers for different international organizations we're working with, like an orphanage in Tanzania. I don't think I would be as informed or as excited about the major without that organization."

In addition to Crawford's involvement in the International Affairs Society, Crawford spent the summers after her freshman and sophomore years (2009 and 2010 respectively) as an intern for the U.S. embassy in Moscow. During her first summer, the embassy was so in need of help that Crawford was required to wear many different hats. She started as a technology trainer for employees of USAID, the U.S. government agency providing economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide, teaching them how to use different computer systems they would need for work.

She then worked part-time in Human Resources and part-time in the Community Liaison Office, which helps expatriate families stay connected with the embassy. And on top of all of that, Crawford helped in the embassy's preparations for President Barack Obama's inaugural visit to Russia. She even served on the Secret Service POTUS team that organized the President's pre-arrival.

"I was answering their questions and in the control room with them for an entire weekend. I was a security guard at a function. As a thank-you we got to be in the front line. I met President Obama and had a conversation with Michelle Obama," Crawford says.

"That was at the very end of the summer, and I had had this wonderful experience getting to know the culture and the people and the type of work, and I was finally starting to figure out what I wanted when Obama said that the future is in foreign service, that this is the new frontier - everything that we were doing," Crawford says. "So I took that as a bit of a call; it really motivated me. That was the most influential summer of my life. I realized that it was more than just a summer job, that I was really passionate about this."

During her second summer in Moscow, Crawford interned in the economic section of the embassy, and her substantial research required her to be in meetings with foreign ministers and the Russian counterparts of her bosses. She sat in Duma (Russian equivalent to Congress) hearings, taking notes to the best of her beginner-Russian ability, and had the opportunity to meet and speak with politicians she had been studying that summer.


Colleen Crawford at a mock CNN press conference

So how does one cap off such an illustrious college career? With a senior capstone paper that has already garnered media attention.

Most IRG students use their capstone paper as culmination of their specific focus throughout their four years on campus. Crawford, who focused primarily on Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies, however, saw it as an opportunity to fill in what she perceived to be a gap in her studies.

"I realized that I had purposefully tried to take Russian courses, Latin American courses, European and Middle Eastern courses, but I had nothing for Asia. So I thought, ‘This is a great opportunity to learn!'"

The focus of her paper was to assess why China has been building their navy and how that will affect U.S.-China relations - a topic Crawford became interested in during an upper division Liberal Arts Honors class taught by Hans Mark, the John J. McKetta Centennial Energy Chair in Engineering, whom she cites as "one of the most influential people" during her time at UT. Throughout the semester, Mark emphasized China's future importance on the world stage and motivated Crawford to look into the implications of China's naval rise.

"To answer that I had to go into why China is building their navy," Crawford says.  "There's a man named Alfred T. Mahan who, in the 1800s, wrote this really influential book called ‘The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.' His conclusion was basically whoever controls the seas controls the world."

Crawford's "big question," then, was if the Chinese subscribe to Mahan's take on the world importance of naval power.

"I concluded that this is actually a legitimate concern, their naval rise," Crawford says. "And it's going to be a source of tension for the United States and China, but because of our extremely connected economies it is unlikely to escalate into anything serious."

Crawford's immediate plans after graduation are to dive back in to embassy work, this time in Singapore. She intends to return to graduate school for public policy or public affairs with an additional focus in Asian studies and Mandarin as her new "language frontier."

Ultimately Crawford hopes to work for the Department of State in Washington, D.C., following in the footsteps of her admittedly obvious choice of career role model, Hillary Clinton.

"It's the dream job," she says. "But this degree is so flexible that I'm also very interested in doing think-tank stuff for the private sector as well. But that would be more for the end of my career. I would like to live abroad - maybe be a foreign-service officer networking and mingling in those meetings that I witnessed in Russia and Egypt."

No matter what she decides to do, Colleen Crawford has our vote.