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Spotlight on Commerce: Terri L. Batch, Senior International Trade Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service, International Trade Administration

Guest blog post by Terri L. Batch, Senior International Trade Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service, International Trade Administration

Black History Month is a time of reflection and celebration. We celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans throughout the world.  It is an opportunity for us to tell the stories that enlighten us about our past and inspire the next generation.

As a lifelong public servant, I recognize that the work that I am privileged to do was not always accessible to African Americans. In telling my story, I honor all those who came before me with their courage to sacrifice that enabled me to live the life and career that I enjoy today. My story includes my biological and church family, professors, mentors, colleagues, and so many others who have helped me along my path. I acknowledge my ancestors, my husband and two daughters, and the countless people within my sphere of influence. As Maya Angelou so eloquently stated, “I come as one, but stand as 10,000.”

For the past 18 years, I have worked in the West Los Angeles Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) U.S. Commercial Service. I have served as a Global Team Leader for the Global Design & Construction Team working with architecture, engineering, and construction companies. My efforts earned me an individual Bronze Medal Award recognition for Superior Federal Service. I also served as the Founding Team Leader for the Global China Team. During my tenure on the Global China Team, I not only established a new global team, but I was also able to use my hard-earned Mandarin language skills. I traveled throughout China, regularly interacting with our U.S. mission colleagues, and created promotional activities to help U.S. companies succeed in a challenging market.  Most recently, I worked on outreach to minority-and women-owned companies for global expansion. Amid so many challenges, my work directly supports the U.S. economy and helps U.S. companies access and compete in markets around the world.   

In the summer of 2020, amid a global pandemic and social unrest following the killing of George Floyd, Black employees within ITA recognized that there was a missing component in our bureau. We did not have a recognized and sustainable infrastructure that focused on supporting Black employees. We lacked an affinity group that galvanized support for diversity and ensured an inclusive environment where Black employees could be seen and thrive professionally. I worked collaboratively with colleagues throughout ITA to create B-BOLD, Blacks Building Opportunities to Leverage Diversity. I am currently serving as the inaugural president of the group. I hope that through our work, we will create a space that not only benefits Black employees, but all employees of ITA and beyond. Our group is intentionally focused on building a pipeline for recruitment, retention, and promotion of Black employees, supporting our mental health, and developing outreach opportunities to Black-owned businesses with resources for exporting.

The biggest influences in my life have been my biological family and extended church family. My roots are in South Georgia, where I grew up around a host of relatives who instilled in me hard work, integrity, and determination at an early age. I’ve always understood that if I were to achieve anything of significance, I would have to work hard to achieve it. I grew up in church surrounded by a community of believers that put God first and lived out their faith in tangible ways through community service. The missionaries that I admired influenced my interest in international affairs and my perspective on the human condition. It is because of this influence that I work as unto the Lord and seek reward and recognition from a heavenly source. My faith has played a major role in my life and has enabled me to take risks and to pursue interests that were not expected of a young African American girl from a home of divorced parents and limited resources. 

Another major influence in my life was the decision to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, GA.  As a Historically Black College and University specifically for women, Spelman gave me the confidence and the foundation that I needed.  I count it a true privilege to have been educated and nurtured in the same environment as trailblazers such as political powerhouse Stacey Abrams and Rosalind Brewer, soon to be the only Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.    Just like these two ladies, I’ve had to overcome many challenges, but when I look back at my undergraduate experience, I am so grateful that I was in an empowering environment that opened many doors for me to grow and develop.

While a student at Spelman College, I participated in the National Security Education Program (Boren Fellowship) to study in Beijing, China during the summer and fall semester of my junior year. For the first time, leaving the United States to live in China for six months was a life-changing experience. During that time, I learned to love the language, culture and people of China and knew that I wanted a career that engaged the country. At Spelman, a professor handed me a pamphlet and encouraged me to apply for a Fellowship called the Ronald H. Brown/Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation with the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration. He knew of my interest in international affairs and China. It was an interest that wasn’t related to my chosen major of Computer Science, but I still pursued the fellowship and was awarded the full-ride scholarship for my remaining two years and a portion of my graduate school studies. When I was awarded the fellowship, it opened a whole new world to me. I participated in a Summer Institute at the University of California Berkeley as a part of the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. That experience introduced me to an area of study I had never considered, Public Administration, and prepared me to compete and apply for graduate school successfully.  

After Spelman, I attended the University of Southern California (USC), where I received my master’s degree in Public Administration. While at USC, a professor in the School of International Relations introduced me to the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) at the National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan. I applied for and received a graduate fellowship, known as Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS), that covered my expenses to attend an intensive language program for a year. This program enabled me to continue improving my Mandarin, Chinese language skills and studying at the top university in Taiwan. During my time in Taiwan, I traveled throughout the island and around southeast Asia to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. It was a time of great exploration and discovery as my world view was expanded through exposure to new cultures, languages, and history.  After my language studies, I returned to Los Angeles and completed my master’s degree at USC while also studying Mandarin.

After graduation from USC, I remained in Southern California to begin my career and eventually my family. I received the Commerce Department’s Ronald H. Brown Fellowship, which provided me with a pathway to work in the West Los Angeles Office of ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service. Since then, I have spent my career working in international trade. Los Angeles is a strategic player in international trade and being in Southern California has afforded me many opportunities to work with great partners and companies.

Throughout this journey, I have had to prove not only to myself but to others that I am capable and can achieve excellence. I operate from my core values: love, mercy, grace, diligence, commitment, and superior service. When I face challenges and obstacles, I remember the words of my mother, “the sky is the limit” and those of my grandmother to “keep looking up.”  Their words have comforted me and sustained me over the years.  And, I am always humbled when my mother proudly tells me, “My, my, my, you’ve come a mighty long way.” 

To those of you who are students or still early in your career, I encourage you to seek opportunities to grow and expand.  Most of the fellowships that I received are still in existence and are a wonderful means to gain international experience if you are interested in a foreign language or culture, I also would  advise you to take the road less traveled and to not be afraid to undertake difficult tasks. The hard things we pursue in life build our character and our stamina to endure when the inevitable challenges of life come our way. I also encourage you to build your network.  Make a habit of talking to people who are outside of your comfort zone and reach out to others to offer your time and talents to support their pursuits. Through these efforts, you will learn so much and you will build trust and relationships that will serve you well throughout your career and life.

And finally, in closing, I leave this quote from Carter G. Woodson, the founder of Black History Month.

“We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world, void of national bias, race, hate, and religious prejudice. There should be no indulgence in undue eulogy of the Negro. The case of the Negro is well taken care of when it is shown how he has far influenced the development of civilization.”

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce African Americans during Black History Month.