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Chávez's Research Explores Ways to Unlock New Solutions

February 20, 2024

Chávez's Research Explores Ways to Unlock New Solutions

As a newly appointed fellow at the Institute for Global Affairs, the Texas Tech faculty member will engage some of the world’s most complicated problems.

Kerry Chávez sees the classroom as a place where opportunity and aspiration intersect, where the future and the past collide, and especially where students can begin leaning into and learning about the difference they want to make in the world.

And all of this can take place in a low-risk environment that balances potential with possibility.

“I love my students and have great rapport with them,” she says. “I really like nurturing their minds and their dispositions to figure out what their natural skills are, what their learned skills are and where that meets the world's greatest needs. Helping them get there is something I find very rewarding.”

Kerry Chávez
Kerry Chávez

Chávez has been teaching in Texas Tech University's Department of Political Science since 2015. Her areas of emphasis include international security and conflict, two timely subjects in light of current world affairs. They are broad topics she also can expect to engage as one of five newly appointed fellows to the Institute for Global Affairs.

“The institute is specific to U.S. foreign policy,” she said. “These fellowships are about tapping talents and insights to develop innovative alternatives to the status quo of foreign policy. They work to curate a complementary cohort so we (the fellows) can have conversations across the breadth of statecraft.”

The objective is to recommend smarter, better and more collaborative foreign-policy approaches in a world where the post-Cold War landscape has shifted dramatically. The changes have become particularly more pronounced over the past two decades with the rise of groups neither affiliated with countries nor contained within geographic borders.

As a result, the institute, recently rebranded from the Eurasia Group, looks to bring scholars and thought leaders together to not only study these emerging challenges, but also to increase awareness and understanding of them on a global scale. Ultimately, the idea is to use real-time data to inform calls to action and bring about change.

“This is really important, especially in the modern era,” Chávez explained. “So much of our policy apparatuses during the Cold War were designed for superpower competition and state-to-state interaction. Since the collapse of the Cold War, we've seen a proliferation of non-state actors, both armed and benign. We've seen a growing role for transnational organizations, and there are few clear systems to engage them in the foreign policy process. The fellowship promotes exploration of diplomacy and the artful and prudent use of military force to find innovative ways to embrace the richness of that whole taxonomy.”

The fellowship provides Chávez with one more way to bring powerful professional experiences into the classroom and employ them in ways that provide students with a window into the possibilities, sharpening what she describes as their “mental architecture.”

“I enjoy creating curiosity in students and seeing it stoked by different cases and different ideas,” she said. “I want them to know what to do with that curiosity as they become more competent in these issues and learn how to learn and take things outside the classroom.”

Chávez, who holds both a master's and a doctorate from Texas Tech, originally continued her education to gain a broader and deeper understanding in her areas of interest. To her initial surprise, the chance to teach sweetened everything.

“I never saw myself teaching until I taught and then I was like, ‘Whoa, I love this,” she said. “That was part of the unexpected journey. I bring my professional experience and expertise into the classroom a lot, and I think that gives students a dimension of how we engage and apply abstract ideas that we talk about in a classroom setting.”

In addition to her one-year appointment to the institute, Chávez is a two-time fellow of the Modern War Institute at West Point. As an undergraduate, she had an internship at the Pentagon, where she received an up-close look at the inner workings of Middle East policymaking.

“One of the ways I teach is to model my own life for students,” she said. “I show them where I came from and how I cultivated those things, why I prized them and chose to do the inner work and what that led me to. I think that can be inspiring to students, especially seeing a female in security studies, which is not as common.”

Political science and security have long held an allure for Chávez, who dates their personal appeal to when she was just 12 years old. “Which is weird,” she confides, matter-of-factly, “because not a lot of people say that.”

Now, though, she can look back at where she was and the cascading series of formative experiences paving the path to where she is: an accomplished researcher and respected teacher dedicated to excellence in both. She sees how art and science have coalesced in her life.

“The methodology, rigor, parsing of patterns and the data aspect of science is exciting and fulfilling,” she said. “But then I am also addressing issues involving humans that are unpredictable and involve a lot of contingency and dynamism. Seeing through all that static and detecting the patterns behind it engages my whole self. 

“And politics is ultimately how humans wield power over each other, so the fact that I am drawn to that, I'm not sure what it tells you, but I am fascinated by the highest form of the exertion of power and how humans respond to that.”

Expect Chávez to bring that same relentless focus to the thorny and complicated matters at the Global Institute. Her specific area of engagement will be political strategies and emerging technologies of modern warfare and security. 

With conflict boiling over into full-scale war at hot spots around the world, Chávez will have plenty to keep her busy.

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