by Alexandra DeMarco
It is an honor to announce that our Global Engagement Champion for August is Dr. Krista Wiegand, associate professor of Political Science and director of Global Security at the Howard Baker Center.
Wiegand studies international affairs — including territorial and maritime conflict, conflict resolution, civil war and more — in East Asia and the Middle East.
As a teenager, Wiegand became interested in international affairs after a trip to Europe.
“When I was in high school, I studied abroad in Germany for a summer, and I was hooked on international affairs from that point,” Wiegand said.
She went on to major in international affairs at American University with the goal of becoming a professor and later completed her master’s degree, also at AU, with a focus on the Middle East.
“That was around the time when Islamic terrorism was happening a lot in that region,” Wiegand said. “There weren’t any major wars going on the Middle East, but it was a lot of terrorism going on. Al-Qaeda was pretty active. This was just before the 9/11 attacks.”
Wiegand went on to obtain her master’s degree and PhD in political science from Duke University. Eventually, she transitioned her research focus to include East Asia and began studying several maritime conflicts in the region, including the South China Sea Dispute, the East China Sea Dispute and a dispute between Korea and Japan.
“I got really interested in current events going on, and it seemed like Asia was the place to watch for international politics,” Wiegand said.
Throughout her professional career, Wiegand has traveled to every country in East Asia and led study abroad trips to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. She also taught on the spring 2015 voyage of Semester at Sea, a study abroad program that takes students around the world on a cruise ship for three months.
“It was just eye opening being, for example, in Myanmar one day, and then the next week we were in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, and they’re such different cultures,” Wiegand said. “It made it much more obvious to our students, and even to us, that there are so many cultures and unique characteristics about these countries that it was almost like such an intensive immersion into multiple countries, all within a few months.”
In 2017, Wiegand lived and worked in the Philippines for five months as a Fulbright Scholar, interviewing government officials about the South China Sea dispute between the Philippines and China.
In June 2022, Wiegand accompanied Vice Provost for International Affairs Gretchen Neisler, Director of the CGE Office of Communications and Office of Asia Engagement Rachel Rui, Associate Professor Moonhee Cho and Associate Professor Noriko Horiguchi on a trip to Korea, Japan and the Philippines.
Here, Wiegand worked to initiate a partnership, funded by a Global Catalyst Grant from the Global Research Office, between UT and the Institute on North Korean Studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. Wiegand and colleagues selected that institute because of the threat posed by North Korea to South Korea and the United States.
“We are essentially going to be working with them on research collaboration,” Wiegand said. “They’re faculty in political science, international affairs, other similar areas who hopefully will co-author with us. We’re also planning to do several workshops or conferences both in South Korea and here in Knoxville to bring people here.”
She plans on collaborating with Yonsei on virtual workshops as well and visiting South Korea again in December once the partnership is established.
“Our intention is to have a long term relationship with the university there, as well as other professors in other universities who are interested in similar topics,” Wiegand said. “As far as I understand, the University of Tennessee has no partnerships with universities in South Korea right now. We have a lot of partnerships in China and Japan and other countries, but none in South Korea, and so that is one of the goals.”
Wiegand is also working on other initiatives with South Korean partners, including a project funded by the Korea Foundation to write two papers on Japanese-Korean relations.
“We just held a workshop, and we brought in scholars from all over the country and from South Korea to Knoxville to have a conference about that, and that was very successful,” Wiegand said.
While in Korea, Wiegand attended a conference with the Jeju Peace Institute as well, which promotes international affairs with the goal of attaining world peace
In Japan and the Philippines, Wiegand worked with other colleagues to foster partnerships with universities abroad. In her role as the director of Global Security at the Baker Center, Wiegand has previously worked with the Center for Global Engagement and specifically CGE’s Office of Asia Engagement in engaging partnerships in Japan.
“One of the reasons why we’re so invested in that is because Senator Baker, who’s our namesake of the center, was ambassador to Japan, and as a result the Baker Center and the University of Tennessee and the state of Tennessee all have close relations and a special relationship with Japan, and so Japan is one of the countries that we really focus on closely,” Wiegand said.
As a professor, Wiegand’s classes mostly center around international affairs and international conflict or conflict processes. She says that her experience collaborating with other professionals around the world has been key in expanding her research and teaching.
“If you’re teaching classes on international affairs, it’s really important to have personal experience outside of the U.S. to be in the country, to be in the culture, to collaborate with people, other scholars, who are experts in their own countries,” Wiegand said. “That really adds a huge advantage to my research and others’ research. It just really changes our perspective on what international affairs looks like in other countries and it helps our research be stronger.”
Wiegand added that she believes it is vital for all students to be globally engaged, regardless of whether or not their major pertains to global engagement in particular.
“I absolutely agree that promoting global engagement is really important for the University of Tennessee. … We’re all impacted by globalization, and so it’s really important for students, for faculty, for staff, people in the community to understand what happens in the world affects us here at home in Tennessee and vice versa,” Wiegand said.
In her experience leading study abroad trips, Wiegand has seen students adopt this global mindset and even sometimes change their majors or career paths because of a newfound interest in international affairs.
“Overall, any student who studies abroad is impacted in a way that when they come home, they will never see their local environment the same way because it’s always through the lens of we’re just one state, one country in a much larger world, and that awareness of what’s happening in the world is really helpful to be successful as a citizen in Tennessee and the U.S.,” Wiegand said.
With her professional experience around the world and continuous work to forge partnerships with scholars abroad, Wiegand truly embodies what it means to be a Global Engagement Champion.
Jason Moody (865-974-5752, firstname.lastname@example.org)