Sam Brown, Director of International Student & Scholar Services at Brigham Young University.
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 Sam Brown.
Sam Brown is the Director of International Student & Scholar Services at Brigham Young University. He leads the office team in assisting students and exchange visitors to maintain status, and in providing supportive programs. Sam received a BA in English, an MPA and an EdD in Educational Leadership and Foundations from BYU, and an MS in Academic Advising from Kansas State University. He has served in various leadership positions with NAFSA since 2012 on both the regional and national levels and is currently serving as the Treasurer of Region II.
1. What made you choose international education as a career path and your specialty specifically?
I’ve always loved traveling and other cultures and experiences, and this was amplified when I was able to live abroad for two years in Argentina. I learned early in my university career that I wanted to work with students and not just administratively. I had the opportunity to connect with the international student and scholar services (ISSS) office when I was working in another area on campus, and it was easy to see how being involved with international populations would be an enriching and uplifting experience. When a position opened in the ISSS field, I jumped at the opportunity.
2. What does a typical workday look like for you?
Lots of paperwork and lots of meetings. Quite a bit of the meetings tend to be administrative and policy meetings, but I still get to work with a small queue of students and scholars, which is my favorite part. I also get to work with amazing colleagues, both at my institution and across the country, and connecting with them daily is equally uplifting and motivating for me.
3. What do you consider one of your career successes? How did you achieve it?
I’m proud to have gotten a doctoral degree in educational leadership. This was particularly challenging because I was employed full-time throughout the entirety of the degree process, which meant consistently early mornings, late nights, and weekend work. However, that also meant I could work on research that was directly related to my own career and field, and I’ve been able to continue that academic research across five countries and through many studies over the past decade.
4. What do you consider a challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
It’s hard not to choose COVID-19 as one of the greatest challenges in our field. This time of uncertainty and personal tragedy for so many continues to be sobering for me. But despite the hardships that our students and our field faced, I was touched to see the kindness and outreach from others as well. One example that sticks out to me was when we were all unsure about whether international students would be given an exception to the online credit threshold at a time when all institutions were going completely online. As we worked through this on my campus, I saw social media posts from non international students volunteering to give up their seats in the few in-person classes available so their international counterparts could have more options and professors reaching out, volunteering to teach a class just for international students in a local park where social distancing could happen. While, ultimately, this hurdle was given a governmental exception, it underscored for me the value of working together as a community to help those in need.
5. What area of your field do you enjoy most, and what aspect would you like to further explore?
Colleagues and students are easily my two favorite parts of this field, and I’ve gained a lot of friends and colleagues through my volunteer work with NAFSA. I’ve had the opportunity to serve at both the regional and national levels, and each experience has been enriching and fulfilling professionally.
One of the areas that I would like to explore further is the academic side of NAFSA and the field. Outside of reviewing articles for the Research Symposium, I haven’t submitted anything myself, and I’d love to work on that in the future.
6. What membership benefits offered by NAFSA have helped you in your career?
I’ve found the most benefit from the connections I’ve made. This includes not only the people with whom I have served in leadership opportunities or met at conferences, but also the online connections through the networks as well. It is so refreshing to know that when there are complexities and nuances that feel overwhelming or overly complicated, you can turn to people all around you in the field to get insights and support.
7. Which of NAFSA’s special member interest groups (MIGs), regions, or knowledge communities do you belong to?
I haven’t been as involved in the MIGs in an official capacity. I’ve attended several events to help support colleagues, but this is also an area in which I can improve.
8. What advice would you share with job seekers or rising international educators?
Absolutely consider this field! I’ve never been in a community that genuinely cares about others as much as the international education community. If you’re still a student, then find ways to increase your global citizenry through study abroad and exposure to international students and groups. If you’re looking to enter the field from another professional area, then consider ways to associate with groups like NAFSA or within your sphere of influence so that when opportunities arise you are prepared to leverage this knowledge and your experiences to enter the field. Become familiar with all the different knowledge communities and areas of international education and find the place that meets your needs and maximizes your strengths.