Member Spotlight: Martin Tillman

Martin Tillman [square]
Martin Tillman

This is the latest 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 Martin Tillman.

Martin Tillman is a thought-leader and expert on the linkage of education abroad to student career development and employability. His international consultancy, Global Career Compass, assists international educators develop campus policies and programs furthering support for, and understanding of, the linkage of education abroad to career development and employability. He serves as an Affiliate of the Gateway International Group. He is former (ret.) associate director of career services at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. A NAFSA member since 1977, he is a frequent conference presenter, contributor for twenty years of book reviews to the “International Educator" magazine, and author of four current book chapters about global workforce development and the impact of education abroad on student career development and employability. He served as chair of NAFSA's 2008 Global Workforce Development Career Resources Task Force. Among his numerous publications, his “Student Guide to Study Abroad and Career Development” is a frequently cited resource in study abroad and career offices around the country. His blog, Global Career Compass, is widely read in dozens of countries.

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

In my late 20s, I made a purposeful decision to obtain a second master’s degree. My first master’s degree was right out of college and due to my interest in residential education; I received a fellowship from Colgate University to obtain an MA in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education. That gave me the opportunity to do something I had not done before – an international internship. In my college years (1964-1968), there were no opportunities for either domestic internships or education abroad in the State University of New York! I was accepted into the MA program at the School for International Training (now the SIT Graduate Institute) in 1974.

At SIT, I was lucky to have a mentor named Dr. John Wallace – a founder of the school – who supported my interest in international education and had many useful networks of colleagues in the field. Largely because I had fostered good relationships with graduate students from India in my time as an undergraduate resident advisor, I decided to accept a six-month internship with the Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi.  I also had been invited to do a second internship for five months in The Hague with an NGO after I left India.  At this point in my life, I hadn’t developed a specialty; that was to come much later. But the seeds of my lifelong commitment to the field – and the benefits of experiential learning – were sown through my time in Brattleboro, VT and abroad.

I worked for 11 years as associate director of Career Services at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC. This offer came late in my career and after a two-year job search. It was a pivotal turn from working on campus and in leadership roles with several pioneering non-profit organizations in the field (The Lisle Fellowship, now Lisle International, founded in 1936; and the YMCA International Student Service (ISS), founded in 1911 as the Committee on Friendly Relations among Foreign Students. 

At SAIS, career counseling kept me busy with hourly appointments, workshops and seminars, along with intensive outreach to a portfolio of alumni and international organizations here and abroad. It was in this period that I made an important connection between my previous decades of work developing education abroad programs and supporting the entry of international students to study in the U.S., along with the employability of these students. The linkage of my student affairs role at SAIS and my work as a practitioner in the IE field offered me a unique perspective at a time when few others were connecting the dots between experiential learning abroad and the development of transferable skills building a bridge to the workforce after graduation.

I retired in 2010, but remain extremely active in the field.

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

COVID-19 altered several opportunities to consult but also opened new doors. I’ve partnered with two new start-up consulting practices and continue to actively write and comment on emerging trends as the field has slowly regained momentum after three years. I make a point of reading widely online and maintain numerous ties to researchers around the world through my Twitter feed and my LinkedIn network. My Global Career Compass blog affords me a platform to convey my insights and opinions on cutting edge issues.

3. What do you consider one of your career successes? How did you achieve it?

I can answer this in two ways. First, on a personal basis, I’ve traveled widely in the world for both pleasure and work is, in the most practical sense, a major success! I attribute this to very intentional choices I’ve made about where I’ve worked and for whom; including the type of leaders I sought out as mentors and taking full advantage of the leadership roles open to me. Second, on a professional basis, I’ve worked hard to build my thought leadership in retirement; to publish widely, comment on cutting edge issues and consult widely both on campus and with leading provider organizations and new start-up ventures.

4. What do you consider a challenge that you have faced in your career?  How did you overcome it?

I’ve been lucky to have fairly lengthy periods of employment ranging between 5-11 years, but the job searches – even of a short time – were not easy because my wife and I were not interested in moving around the country. Our goal was to set down roots in a city/community come what may. I took advantage of a wide network of colleagues and mentors and took risks to explore different roles as necessary. By far, it has been the love and support of my spouse of 36 years – whose tenure in the IE field is longer than my own – that has helped me cross over the rocky terrain of my career.

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

Like all professionals, I have learned to accept the limitations of lockdown and the inability to travel by becoming more active in online events and discussions. One of my proudest activities during the early days of the pandemic was collaborating with colleagues in the NAFSA Phase II Member Interest Group in developing “Listening Circles” which offered support and comfort to many colleagues who lost their jobs or faced uncertainty about their continued employment.

6. Where would you like to see your career path going next?

I expect to continue contributing in a meaningful way to the dialogue in our field, at home and abroad, about the future of internationalization, and the need for campuses to assist students make meaning of their global education in relation to their personal growth and future employability.

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

Early on, it was the development of personal friendships and trusted mentors through attendance at conferences. I took advantage of opportunities to write and publish in print and then, as technology emerged, to build a following online via the NAFSA knowledge communities, LinkedIn groups and on Twitter. Decades ago, NAFSA provided services that helped me strengthen the YMCA International Student Service (ISS) of which I was director. This assistance early in my tenure was invaluable and pivotal in sustaining federal funding for a non-profit NAFSA member organization.

8. Do you belong to any NAFSA Member Interest Groups (MIGs), Regions or Knowledge Communities? And if so, which ones and why?

I’ve been active in several MIGs, in NAFSA Regions X and VIII and the Education Abroad and Teaching, Learning and Scholarship Communities. These were best aligned with my professional interests and help me to remain current in my understanding of trends in the field.

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

NAFSA has shaped my professional life for four decades. I met my future wife, Gail Hochhauser, at my first national conference. My ties to a global network of scholar practitioners evolved because of my membership. The Association’s international reach and reputation has advanced my thought leadership and continues to frame my understanding of global trends at a critical time in history.

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

For newcomers to the field, I would suggest they actively contribute at the regional level. Build a very purposeful network of colleagues whom you regularly communicate with and share concerns and ideas. For job seekers, advice depends on time in the field and their professional accomplishments. Generally, they must consider a search as their primary “job.” Create an intentional approach to mapping out the type of campus or organization you wish to work for based on your interests and skills. Use whatever professional ties you’ve developed to seek out new contacts and maintain open dialogue with these individuals throughout the search. If possible, it’s important to continue to attend local or national meetings to remain in touch with job openings (especially those not yet announced) and to meet both old and new connections.

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

I’ve usually favored working within small academic institutions or organizations. This favors mypersonal style and preference for developing close interpersonal relationships. I’ve been fortunate to have a diverse range of interests including design of experiential learning programs, international service-learning, career integration for international students and career advising. I've built a reputation for thought leadership in the area of linking international experience to student career development and employability; I've published widely on this topic along with developing a presence on social media with my Global Career Compass blog and international Twitter following.

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

Given the tremendous churn in the higher education workforce, the fact that I’ve sustained a career in the IE field for over 40 years could be the most unique aspect of my path. Finding new directions and points of entry to rewarding professional roles forced me to accept risks, plow through unexpected roadblocks and not compromise my values and beliefs. I was lucky early after graduate school to affiliate with several leading organizations and identify lifelong mentors.

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