Vicki Birchfield, a professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, was promoted from the rank of Knight to Officer of France's National Order of Merit. Birchfield was recognized for her deep commitment to French-American relations and friendship through her ongoing scholarship and role in educating students about France and the European Union.
Dr. Vicki Birchfield, a professor in Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, received one of France’s highest civilian honors for her continued dedication to furthering Franco-American relations. Birchfield rose to the rank of Officer of France's National Order of Merit, thirteen years after being honored as “Chevalier,” or Knight of the National Order of Merit.
A heartfelt ceremony took place at Georgia Tech, where speakers from both Georgia Tech and the Consulate General of France in Atlanta spoke about the unbreakable thread that has long connected Dr. Birchfield to France. Georgia Tech Provost Steve McLaughlin spoke, along with Rami Abi Akl, French Attaché for Science and Technology in the Southeastern United States, and Anne-Laure Desjonquères, the Consul General of France in Atlanta.
All speakers were united in highlighting Birchfield’s many accomplishments, celebrating her enduring and deep connection to France. She remains committed to providing students with opportunities to better understand French politics and culture.
Provost McLaughlin spoke of Birchfield’s pivotal role in furthering Georgia Tech’s commitment to International Initiatives by giving more students access to learning about France and the European Union. From her leadership in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs as Co-Director of the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies, and Director of Tech’s immersive summer European Union study abroad program, to her role in developing Tech’s successful First-Year Semester Abroad (FYSA) program at Georgia Tech-Europe, Birchfield has shown an unwavering devotion to scholarship and to her students.
Rami Abi Akl, and Consul General Desjonquères both spoke with great respect and affection for the evening’s honoree. In describing Georgia Tech’s most dedicated Francophile, Abi Akl was astonished that every time he met with her, he learned something new about France, things that were not found in textbooks. Calling out Professor Birchfield for her “Francophile-ness,” the Attaché spoke of Professor Birchfield’s commitment to helping develop and direct Georgia Tech’s First-Year Semester Abroad Program at Georgia Tech-Europe. The program brings fifty lucky incoming first-year Georgia Tech students to Metz to jumpstart their journey to global citizenship and leadership. Abi Akl noted that, “Beyond the great learning experience, this program has been fostering the next generation of transatlantic leaders that tomorrow's world will need to tackle the upcoming challenges.”
Next, Consul General Desjonquères told of Dr. Birchfield’s many accomplishments, all linked through a “deep and enduring love of France.” After reviewing Dr. Birchfield’s remarkable academic and professional career, with a focus on European politics, the European Union, comparative politics, and international political economy, the Consul General remarked, “Your work has not only enriched academic discourse but has also contributed significantly to the broader cultural and intellectual exchange between France and the United States.”
Thanks to her remarkable devotion to France, continually advancing French-American friendship and understanding, Professor Birchfield was honored with a promotion from the rank of “Knight” of France's National Order of Merit to “Officer.” As Professor Birchfield is bilingual, the Consul General ended her remarks in French, reminding the audience that thanks to the FYSA program, many students were leaving their home country for the first time, concluding, “these students are of course always welcome in my home country.”
Surrounded by a crowd of beloved family and friends, Professor Birchfield was pinned with the medal of Officer of the National Order of Merit by Pierre Keichinger, French Army Liaison Officer, who traveled from his post in Alabama to bestow the medal on behalf of the French government.
A visibly moved Dr. Birchfield addressed the crowd, thanking so many who were in the audience, from Provost Steve McLaughlin to Bernard Kippelen, Vice Provost for International Initiatives, Steven Girardot, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, and Amy Bass Henry, Executive Director, Office of International Education. She also acknowledged staff of the Georgia Tech-Europe Atlanta office, thanking Iyonka Strawn-Valcy, Catherine Bass, Andrea Gappell, Alina Opreanu, and Allie Snyder. She expressed gratitude to Cassie McGinnis, former FYSA Program and Operations Manager, and Elizabeth Reese, the new Program and Operations Manager, in the Office of Undergraduate Education, who gave their all to ensure smooth operations of the First-Year Semester Abroad program at Georgia Tech-Europe. Not in attendance, but also thanked, were leadership, faculty, and staff at the Metz campus, including Abdallah Ougazzaden, President of GT-Europe, Paul Voss, Director of Academics and GTE Dean of Students Representative, Jennifer Orth-Veillon, Director, FYSA@GTE and French lecturer, Sonia Serafin.
Several of Professor Birchfield’s former FYSA students were in the crowd, a testament to a professor who has forever impacted their lives. Second year International Affairs major, Zoe Glickman, was drawn to Georgia Tech by Dr. Birchfield, saying, “In my admission essay to Tech, I wrote about wanting to learn from Dr. Birchfield as one of the reasons I wanted to come to Tech. I was in the second cohort of FYSA in 2022, and when I heard Dr. Birchfield was the director of FYSA, I knew that it was a perfect program for me.” Glickman is currently a teaching assistant for Professor Birchfield’s Global Citizenship course, and she finds Birchfield’s enthusiasm and dedication to her students contagious.
Professor Birchfield has come a long way since her mother helped her scrape together enough money for her first trip to France, thus launching what would become a lifelong love affair with the country. She spoke of what a privilege it is to wake up every day and pursue her passion. A humble Dr. Birchfield said, “Receiving this honor from France, a country and culture that has so significantly shaped my life’s work, is the most deeply meaningful distinction I could imagine, and it will certainly be a highlight of my career here at Georgia Tech. “