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BYUH professor says new minors in political science give students an understanding of how they fit into world events

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A photo collage including Sakiusa Tukana, Lehonti Ovalle, Michael Kraft, Bruno Miyabe, Levi Fuaga, Xyron Levi Corpuz and Connor Hansen.

Dr. Rand Blimes, associate professor in the Faculty of Business & Government, said the international experience students get at BYU–Hawaii is what sets them apart on the job market.

“Especially as countries become more and more integrated economically and socially, that [international experience] becomes a real, valuable skill. BYUH students have an advantage going into any kind of international work.”

Blimes said he has been pushing for international relations and international development to become minors since he started teaching at BYUH 10 years ago because when he first got here, it was not a specific minor or major. “I thought it was a little weird, given how international the school is.”

Jarek Buss, a BYUH alumnus and foreign service officer in the United States Department of State currently serving in North Macedonia, said BYUH did everything for his international career and offered him fantastic opportunities for overseas and international experience.

Buss explained he chose BYUH over BYU in Provo because he realized BYUH is where he would be immersed in an international environment. “I had to think about which classes in the political science program I could take to map together a major with an international focus. But now, the new minors can actually provide a structure and a plan so students who are interested in that know what they can do.”

Recognizing the gap

When first starting out as a professor, Blimes shared he had the opportunity to visit Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji. While visiting those countries, he asked BYUH alumni, specifically those who had studied political science, what they wished they had learned but didn’t.

“Almost every person I talked to brought up issues related to economic development. So, I realized there was kind of a gap there.” From there, Blimes explained he started to advocate for the creation of international relations and international development minors by gradually adding classes to the political science curriculum.

“The minors really line up with the goals BYUH has in terms of helping build leaders internationally. There are an awful lot of students at BYUH where, when you sit down and talk to [them] about what they want to do in the future, it’s not something they can accomplish without thinking about how countries interact with each other.”

The international relations minor 

Blimes said it is important for everyone to understand how countries interact and what is going on behind the scenes, even if they are not thinking about working in international trade or becoming a diplomat. International relations is a broad subject and takes in a lot of different topics, he shared, and for some students that’s a great fit.

Students can easily pair their international relations minor with their major, even though it might not look like that at first sight, explained Blimes.

For example, in the field of public health and preventing viral outbreaks, he said the international relations minor can help students understand other components. “You may be studying science so you understand the virus side, but then backing it up with an [international relations] minor, to understand more about how countries can cooperate on issues like this, or understand how international law works, could be really valuable.”

Blimes explained sometimes it is difficult to jump in, read the newspapers and immediately understand how and why the world works the way it does. Common questions such as “Why did this country do this?” or “Why is this happening?” are discussed in the new minor.

“[Students] learn to think about life from a different perspective. To me, it’s super fascinating. I can’t imagine anybody who doesn’t want to understand how the world works.”

The international development minor 

For students who are more interested in countries’ problems that stem from poverty, the international development minor allows them to focus on developing countries specifically, explained Blimes.

Many BYUH students come from developing countries, he said, emphasizing how his goal is to try to help students to work through effective ways to help their countries.

He said this minor is even helpful for those who are in good positions because they can think about how they can help those who are less fortunate. “Having good intentions is great, but it’s not enough. [People need] to have enough knowledge [they] can turn [their] good intentions into actual useful policies.”

Blimes shared it is great to see Pacific Island students come to BYUH and gain knowledge and tools to take back to their home countries. He added students who are from the Pacific are sandwiched between the “two biggest economies that ever existed,” China and the United States.

“That’s an interesting position to say the least,” he added.

Studying those relations and how Kiribati, the Cook Islands or Fiji are impacted by it is something the new minor focuses on, explained Blimes. “There’s a real sense [people’s] well-being in, [for example], Fiji, is not just determined by [them]. It’s determined by other actors and how they treat each other.”

He explained people should want to understand what is happening and what their place is no matter where they are from. “The best thing is to study it in an organized fashion, which we do in political science. We try to make sense out of all the kind of crazy that is going on.”

Blimes explained being surrounded by Pacific Island students impacted his own process as an international relations scholar, as he now thinks more about how smaller states interact with larger economies.

Qudaela Taleni, a sophomore from Samoa majoring in political science, said her goal is to give back to her community by addressing human rights and poverty in her home country. She said political science gives her the tools she needs to realize her goal.

“The classes in those two minors really help me gain a better understanding of global issues, the effects of establishing relations with other countries and some of the resolutions that can be made to solve international conflict.” She added the classes have also taught her how she can contribute to addressing issues in her country such as poverty.

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A support system of professors 

Buss said the new minors could draw in people who thought about studying international relations or international development and draw attention to the real strengths of BYUH.

“There’s a lot of things [people] can do, and [they] get what [they] put in.” Buss explained all the hands-on experience BYUH has provided has been incredibly helpful in his life because other universities with larger student bodies don’t give the same chances.

“That’s the amazing thing about BYUH. There are a lot of opportunities, and when [people] put in the effort, [they] can do a lot,” he said.

There are a lot of different directions one can take with international relations or international development, Buss explained. Whether it be working in a Non-Governmental Organization, as a diplomat, implementing projects or running projects their self, there are a lot of options, he explained.

Buss said he loves his job as a diplomat because he can live in different countries, learn new cultures and languages and be in meetings with world leaders. Then other times, he said his job can lead him to places he didn’t think he would go. For example, in 2020 he said he was put onto a COVID-19 task force with the State Department that focused on helping evacuate a cruise ship in Japan.

Working as a diplomat, Buss explained he still considers his professors some of his greatest friends and mentors and still asks them questions about their opinions on different parts of foreign policy relations.

“They’re just really, really good people who really care about their students, and it made a huge difference in my life. The political science department really does have some of the best professors I have ever met.” •