Victor Cha, a government professor in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (SFS), won a prestigious award for his research on political science and his public service. He was honored at an award exhibition in Los Angeles which ran from Aug. 31 to Sep. 3.
Cha received the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Hubert H. Humphrey Award Aug. 21, which annually recognizes one political scientist for notable public service. Cha received the honor for his research on international security in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly the Korean Peninsula.
Cha said his research is primarily practical and seeks to break down complex international problems, such as nuclear nonproliferation, democratization and human rights abuses in the Indo-Pacific region.
“My research is very applied in the sense that I try to deal with real-world problems and through scholarship try to offer new ideas about how to solve them,” Cha wrote to The Hoya.
Cha has long been a prominent voice in U.S.-Korean relations, serving as President George W. Bush’s primary advisor on North Korean affairs before joining the National Security Council in 2004. President Donald Trump nominated him for an ambassadorship to South Korea in 2018 before later withdrawing his nomination.
At Georgetown, Cha has been a faculty member since 1995 and currently serves as a Distinguished Professor in the SFS, Georgetown’s highest academic rank, and as the D.S. Song-Korea Foundation Endowed Chair in Government and International Affairs. He has published seven books, including his most recent, Korea: A New History of South and North, published in July.
Previous winners of the Humphrey Award include former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf and a fellow SFS professor, Charles Kupchan.
Cha said the APSA recognition was unexpected for him.
“I found out about the award through an email while I was on an airplane,” Cha wrote. “It was gratifying, but especially humbling when I saw who the previous winners were. Then I had a bout of imposter syndrome as I thought ‘Gosh, they must have made a mistake in awarding this to me!’”
For Cha, this award represents a culmination of his winding career path. Beyond his work at Georgetown, Cha works as a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and as a member of President Joe Biden’s nonpartisan Defense Policy Board. He also sits on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy and the Korea Society.
Cha explained that although he knew he wanted to pursue political science, a career in public service was never what he anticipated.
“My goal from graduate school was always to be a political scientist and faculty at a university where I would write books and teach students,” Cha wrote. “The part of my career that I had never expected was to be in public service working at the White House.”
Cha said his public service work has helped him become a better professor and has given him new perspectives on his research.
“Working in the US Government for three years did give me perspective on the world of scholarship, made me a better teacher, and gave me an appreciation of the hard work of public servants on behalf of the nation,” Cha wrote. “I would recommend that everyone spend a part of their career in public service.”
Cha’s scholarship and commitment to his work have allowed him to impact both scholarship within his field and global affairs as a whole, according to Yuhki Tajima, who serves as the director of the Asian Studies Program, which Cha founded.
“Victor has been a model of how scholars can serve the common good,” Tajima wrote to The Hoya.
Department of Government Chair Anthony Arend (SFS ’80) said Cha’s achievements as a teacher and scholar make him a worthy candidate for the award.
“A person with the highest integrity and deepest commitment to global security and justice, Professor Victor Cha personifies the Georgetown ethos,” Arend wrote to The Hoya. “I can think of no other person more deserving of this award than Professor Cha.”
Although the award recognizes all facets of his career, Cha said he is most fulfilled by his time spent in the classroom.
“No matter what I do in the future, my primary identity will always be as a professor and teacher,” Cha wrote. “That is where I am most happy and most comfortable.”