Westmont Magazine Research Leads to Relationships
While the growth of the European Union has received little attention in the United States, Professor Susan Penksa has followed it closely. The political scientist focuses her research and writing on the E.U.’s common foreign, security and defense policy as well as on transatlantic relations and the E.U. relationship with Bosnia-Herzegovina.
With its growth from 15 to 25 members in 2004, the E.U. has a population of more than 450 million and produces a quarter of the world’s gross national product. This summer, member states hope to approve the first European constitution. “The E.U. is a global actor with an international agenda,” Susan says. “It’s a partner of the United States as well as a competitor.”
Since 1996 when she conducted dissertation field research, Susan has made seven working trips to Europe, visiting the capitals of Berlin, Brussels, Luxembourg, London, Paris, Prague, Sarajevo and Vienna. She has interviewed political officials from E.U. foreign and defense ministries and from the E.U., NATO and the U.S.
Scholarship like Susan’s typically targets political scientists, but she is enlarging her audience. “A defining moment occurred for me two years ago when a U.N. official in Sarajevo asked me who I was going to write my article for: other academics or policy makers? Bridging the gap between academia and the policy-making world has always interested me. Too often, political scientists just talk to each other and not to decision-makers.”
In addition to doing objective scientific research, Susan seeks to understand E.U. politics and to meet the people who make foreign policy decisions day after day.
This dual approach to field research has helped her understand the E.U., evaluate the effectiveness of the transatlantic relationship, and draw lessons from the role of the international community in Bosnia and apply them to Iraq.
“Over the years, I have developed extensive government contacts in Europe,” she says. “It’s a privilege to pick up the phone or e-mail a political official to conduct interviews. These conversations often confirm existing insights that I have, but I frequently learn new things that enable deeper analysis.”
Invited to attend two conferences of policy makers, Susan participated in conversations with key U.N., E.U., NATO and member state officials and heard their latest thinking on European and international topics. “At the conference in Sarajevo, I was the only American academic present, and I sat at one of the head tables with European diplomats,” she says.
Susan hopes to co-write a publication with an E.U. official who works for the Conflict Prevention Unit in Brussels. This summer she will return to Europe for further study on E.U. security and defense policy and its role in the Balkans.
A graduate of Gordon College in Massachusetts, Susan learned the value of interviewing key decision-makers when she attended the American Studies Program in Washington, D.C., and did an internship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. As a graduate student at Miami University in Ohio, she participated in an innovative summer program on the E.U. that she now co-directs every other year.
The conflict in the Balkans tested the limits of European cooperation and led to innovations such as the common E.U. foreign policy. Susan has made five trips to Sarajevo and attended the dedication of the memorial in Srbrenica. Westmont alumna Amy Meyer ’96, who does economic development work in Bosnia, shares Susan’s interest in policy and the relationship between faith and vocation. The two women have become good friends.
Unfinished and evolving, the E.U. is a dynamic subject to study. “It’s fascinating to watch it happen, to meet the people involved, and to share my scholarly work in classes at Westmont,” Susan says.