Today we are pleased to profile another brilliant and accomplished UT-Austin AMS undergraduate: Veronica Tien, who was one of two AMS majors this year to be named an honorable mention on the Dean’s Distinguished Graduate list.
1. When you came to UT, what did you think you would major in?
Veronica: I thought I would major in ethnic studies or sociology, and I wanted to minor in economics.
2. What was the first American Studies course you took at UT? Why did you decide to take the course, and what do you remember about it?
The first American Studies course I took was AMS 310 the second semester of my freshman year. I actually took it because it was cross listed with HIS315L (one of those required core courses!). I remember we started talking about the 1920s and ’30s in the context of swing music and then continued on through the decades by popular genres like salsa and rock and continued into even more modern history like sampling in the ‘90s. Though we were talking about music a lot, we also focused on key historical moments from the Zoot Suit Riots to Disco Demolition Night and how it all interacted with public policy. It was the first time I learned about history and policy looking through lenses of music or film, and it really changed the way that I understand history and government.
3. Why did you decide to major in American Studies?
Veronica: After taking that class, I realized it was the perfect fit for my interest in race, sociology, and public policy and was a great complement to economics. Though the field is so broad, I saw that as an advantage because I could specialize and focus on the aspects of American culture and history that were especially interesting to me. Seeing courses on the schedule specifically about pop music, reality TV, and even oil brought the everyday of my life into an academic setting, then asked me to question it. I felt like every time I left class I wanted to talk more about what we discussed that day, which made the task of reading and writing at a college-level more meaningful and really worthwhile. I had to major in American Studies because I was thinking about it all the time!
4. What have been some of your favorite courses in the American Studies department and why?
Veronica: I have so many favorite courses, but I have to start with Introduction to American Studies because it drew me into the framework of the discipline, thinking about music, films, and history all together. We talked about so much stuff – it was challenging, but so interesting to learn so much. American Disasters is another one of my favorites because it challenged me to consider perspectives in issues like “natural” disasters, which we often process as neutral, unfortunate events. I loved this class because it was so discussion-based, so I was always curious to hear what other people thought. Professor Cordova taught both of these classes and really encouraged everyone to participate, which always made our discussions more interesting because we were hearing new perspectives. Borrowing and American Culture and Politics of Creativity are a couple more of my favorites! In these courses I was also able to hear peoples’ opinions in a 15 to 20-person class and was encouraged to share mine as well. All of these classes pushed my writing skills as well, but in research papers where I was able to do my own exploration into a topic that I found interesting. The independent nature of this work has really empowered me to keep reading and writing about things that are specifically interesting to me. And this of course prepared me as much as it could for my Honors thesis (which has taken a lot of independently-motivated effort)!
5. What are some of the most important questions you’ve considered during your time in American Studies?
Veronica: I always come back to questions about identity, power, and the ability to control a narrative in American culture. A couple questions that often guide a lot of my studies are: how are beliefs about race, class, gender, or sexuality made “true” by American narratives? And what concrete outcomes do these beliefs and the rejection of them produce? It has always fascinated me to try to understand why we know the things we know in the exact way that we know them. I think American Studies has the ability to answer a lot of those questions.
6. How do you think American Studies might influence your career after you graduate? How has your time in American Studies influenced your career goals?
Veronica: American Studies has taught me the importance of bringing different perspectives into a conversation and to question what we understand as objective. My other major is Economics, and it would be a career dream of mine to merge research in both fields and bridge a gap I see in Economics regarding thoughtful research of historical context as well as the measured data. I will always want to bring an American Studies interpretation to any economic research I might conduct in the future. I am also determined to keep writing in whatever job I take so that I don’t lose the skills I’ve learned in American Studies!
7. What advice do you have for other students considering majoring in American Studies?
Veronica: Do it! It’s one of the best things I’ve done at UT. But don’t only just do the major—do the readings (as much as possible!) [ editor’s note: yes, do the readings!], come to class, and speak when you feel like you have something to say. The field is so varied and interdisciplinary, so if you think your opinion is too specific or you think some thought is unrelated, just follow it and see what connections you find. Your professors will want to hear your perspective and help you become a better researcher, writer, and historian. You’ll be surprised at how much hard work you’ll do when you’re interested in what you’re studying!