Member Spotlight: Jason Lau

Jason Lau
Jason Lau

This is the first in a series of interviews with members of NAFSA: Association of International Educators to share insights, knowledge and expertise about career opportunities, growth and development. Today we hear from Jason Lau, Ph.D., DSW., CPRE.

Jason holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy & Leadership Studies from The University of Iowa. He earned his BA (summa cum laude) and MA in Leisure, Youth and Human Services Admin from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). In addition, he achieved a Diploma in Social Work from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and served as a registered social worker prior to furthering his studies in the United States.

Jason traveled from Hong Kong to the United States to further his education. He had no money and brought just two suitcases with him to Iowa. He became the first member of his family to receive a college degree. In 2011, the University of Northern Iowa's (UNI) Alumni Association honored him with the prestigious Heritage Honours Young Alumnus Award. In 2016, he was inducted into the UNI's Elinor A. Crawford and William R. Thrall Hall of Excellence. 

He has over twenty years of experience in higher education. Currently, he serves as the Interim Associate Dean and Senior Business Officer for the School of Extended and International Education at Sonoma State University. He also serves as the Senior International Officer, PDSO and RO for SSU and an adjunct faculty member at Santa Rosa Junior College. He serves effectively as a commissioner on Marin County Child Care Commission and board chair for the Marin YMCA of San Francisco. Prior to serving as Treasurer Apprentice for Region XII, he served on NAFSA Member Engagement Committee (MEC) and Leadership Development Committee (LDC).  

Jason grew up in Hong Kong and is a multinational, holding citizenship from Hong Kong, Portugal and the United States.

1. What made you decide to choose international education as a career path, and specifically your specialty?

I traveled from Hong Kong to the United States to further my education. I became the first member of my family to receive a college degree. I could not have done this without the support from the faculty, staff and international education professionals. There is no better way to give back and support international education than being a NAFSA member-leader and participating in NAFSA activities and advocacy work.  Because of my personal experience, I truly believe in the power of international education. Together we change lives for the better. Together we build a more welcoming and globally engaged United States.

2. What does a typical work day look like for you?

Currently, I serve as the Interim Associate Dean for the School of Extended and International Education at Sonoma State University. I am also the Senior International Officer and PDSO for the campus. I am responsible for the administration and integrity of the daily operations of all personnel, business and programs, including both credit and non-credit programs. The pandemic has significantly changed how we operate. It is fair to say that no two days are the same anymore. We learned to be more flexible and agile. Our typical work day requires us to maintain a balance between working and serving our students both in-person and remote. I always consider myself more like a cheerleader supporting and providing my staff with the tools and resources they need to be successful. 

3. What do you consider a challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

One of the biggest challenges is to be able to work effectively with people who have a different perspective than my own. I always have to remind myself that it is very important to hear differing perspectives that challenge our own. To be an effective leader, we must learn to become a good listener and respect others. After all, it isn't about right or wrong, but about getting the job done and serving the best interest of our students.  

4. How did the global pandemic affect your day-to-day working life?

The COVID-19 Pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges unlike anything we have ever seen. Without any advanced notice, the entire State of California and the country were completely shut down. We shifted from a primary in-person operation to an entirely remote one. 

5. What membership benefits offered by NAFSA have helped you in your career?

I took advantage of the e-Learning Courses when I first became a DSO and ARO. I found these on-demand training resources very essential, providing new professionals easy access to develop competence and gain access to valuable knowledge, resources and materials to advance our career. 

6. Do you belong to any special Member Interest Groups, Regions or Knowledge Communities? And if so, which ones and why?

Previously, I served on two of NAFSA's national committees, including the Leadership Development Committee (LDC) and the Member Engagement Committee (MEC). Currently, I am the Treasurer Apprentice for NAFSA Region XII.  

7. What impact has NAFSA had in shaping your career?

In 2014, I participated in the NAFSA Academy for International Education Class of 11. I'd consider this is probably one of the best decisions I've ever made in my career. The Academy not only expanded and deepened my understanding of international education, it also connected me with a seasoned international educator as my coach and the like-minded individuals in my national cohort. Many of my teammates have become my lifelong friends and colleagues. We traveled to many NAFSA national conferences and served on many different NAFSA committees together. This experience has literally changed my life and allowed me to build a stronger professional tie to the field of international education.  

8. What is a piece of advice you would share with job seekers or offer a new international educator just beginning their career?

Networking, Networking and Networking. But networking is just not about what you know or who you know, it is more about how well you know them. NAFSA is the world's largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange with more than 10,000 members and international educators worldwide at more than 3,500 institutions, in over 150 countries. There is no other place like NAFSA that can allow us to make long-lasting personal connections and learn cutting edge professional knowledge in the field of international education.  

9. Is there a particular area of international education you enjoy working in, such as campus internationalization, global learning or thought leadership etc.? Why?

I enjoy mostly every aspect of international education, particularly building new partnerships and programs with people. I always believe that there is so much to learn. Albert Einstein famously said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.” International education provides us with immeasurable benefits and possibilities. Building new partnerships and programs allows me to always explore new ideas and build new friendships. 

10. Finally, what is something unique about your career, or career path?

Being a recipient or beneficiary of international education makes my story a little bit more personal and powerful, but I know my experience is by no means unique. Thanks to the hundred of thousands of hard working international educators and professionals in the United States and around the world, we continue to benefit from global experiences provided by access to study abroad, interactions with international student peers, and an internationalized campus. I had no idea what was ahead of me 25 years ago. I had no money and brought just two suitcases with me to Iowa. I thought I only came to pursue my education. I was unaware of the many opportunities that would be available to me and what the field of international education had to offer. I am always thankful for the support I received in college when I was an international student myself. I consider myself very lucky now that I get to work and give back to this very important field of international education. Confucius once said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I guess I didn't just find a job, I found my life's work.

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