Name: Dr. Vicki Birchfield
Position: Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs; co-director of the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies; affiliated with the Jean Monnet
Centre of Excellence
Favorite color: hues of blue
Favorite food: French cuisine – especially “les fruits de mer,” a.k.a., seafood, and above all lobster
Interests/hobbies: Paris marathon in 2001, Chicago/Atlanta half – yoga, cooking, reading, theater/arts
Auburn University – Bachelors;
Graduate Institute of International Studies (Geneva, Switzerland) – Diplôme d’études supérieur;
Auburn University – Master’s thesis on French women in electoral politics in political science;
University of Georgia – PhD in comparative political science in international relations
Throughout middle school the running joke was that teachers had a blow-up air mattress beneath their desks – and so basically did nothing outside of the classroom. Ha-ha, so funny! Except that’s never the case, and we knew it. Even in college, we don’t see half of what our professors are up to. All people are more interesting once you’ve taken time to get to know them: they have stories and perspectives different from anyone else. And now, let me assure all you middle schoolers: teachers are way cooler than you think.
Take Dr. Vicki Birchfield, for instance. She’s a co-teacher for the International Affairs class, and because the class is co-taught, we haven’t spent as much time in the classroom with her, but I got the chance to sit down and talk to her just a bit ago.
Our International Affairs class centers around the politics of the European Union in terms of Metz and the region of Lorraine. The inspiration of Professor Sonia Serafin, the other co-teacher of the class (and one of the French teachers here at Georgia Tech-Lorraine), brought this class to life, and Professor Birchfield helped to create a curriculum to fulfill the Global Perspectives requirement. The region of Lorraine has a rich history in terms of the European Union, and they know it. In fact, that’s what Professor Birchfield really wants GTL students to tap into: there is so much information and history at our fingertips.
Dr. Birchfield believes strongly in the value of a higher education – but also knows that there is a privilege to it, and coupled with it the “responsibility to be critical consumers of information and formulate one’s own view.” As this world become more and more saturated with information, it becomes harder to discern the factual, unbiased truth, but equipped with the tools of education, we can dig a little deeper for a better understanding.
That’s part of what she tries to bring to Georgia Tech-Lorraine with her class: the opportunity to bring the history of the European Project to life through site visits and class discussions. She creates this during her summer program in both Paris and Brussels, which takes 300 students to discover what Europe is – both culturally and politically. That’s also why she finds teaching one of the most rewarding part of her position in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs: opening their minds to the complexity in a career to essence of the life of the mind. She can bring her passion in her research into the classroom, and this coexistence between the spheres is beneficial, as it inspires a deeper conversation.
The mark of full professorship requires dedication in the three spheres of the position: education, research, and service. Dr. Birchfield has worked since 2000 at the Sam Nunn School an instructor, making waves along the way. Today, she runs a summer study abroad program, is affiliated with the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence and a co-director of the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies, and has multiple publications. With all of the dedication she’s brought to her career and to Georgia Tech, Dr. Birchfield has been awarded full professorship, and it’s understandable that achievement represents one of her most cherished professional achievements.
However, when I asked the question “What is your biggest accomplishment?” that wasn’t her first response. In fact, she believes her greatest success lies in “the deep joy and fulfillment in relationships,” especially with her family. She’s accomplished quite a bit, but her husband and daughter bring her much happiness.
Another great source of pride is the being inducted as a Chevalier into l’Ordre Nationale du Mérite of France in 2012. Dr. Birchfield studied French extensively, even attending the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland for her Diplôme d’études supérieur. As a bit of a Francophone myself, this would be a wonderful dream come true: to be recognized by a country and culture that you’ve studied, lived in, and loved. For all the work she has done to promote understanding and the studies of France and Europe, she has been knighted by the country of France in a National Order of Merit created by Charles de Gaulle himself. If that’s not an indicator that you’re making an impact, I don’t know what is.
Her work is reflected across the Georgia Tech-Atlanta campus. She works closely with the French Consulate and, on top of her work with the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence and Center for European and Transatlantic Studies, she organizes speakers – from diplomats to a panel of speakers on “Brexit” (the impending vote of the British people on their future in the EU) to a Danish filmmaker who created a documentary on the Denmark refugee dilemma.
So, yes, Dr. Birchfield has accomplished so much, but she has a life outside of work, too. Currently, she loves a good yoga session, and in years past, she’s run quite a bit, participating in the Chicago Half and the Paris Marathon. She really enjoys cooking, as well as reading and the arts – especially theatre! (The Atlanta theater scene is vibrant, and I love volunteering at a theater near Georgia Tech, so I was elated to hear this.) She’ll be spending some time here in France, though, so that will have to be explored when she returns to Georgia Tech-Atlanta. She loves travel just as much as the rest of us at Georgia Tech-Lorraine, too: her favorite places? Definitely in France: the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, the Emerald Coast of Brittany, and Belle-Île, a small island off of the coast of Brittany.