JetWit knows that a lot of JET alums are interested in working in the fields of international education programs and student services, so we asked future international ed expert Pam Kavalam (Shiga-ken, 2007-09) to talk to some JET alums in the field and share her conversation for the benefit of the JET alumni community:
Spotlight on University Administration
by Pam Kavalam (Shiga-ken, 2007-09)
Are you looking for a career that can utilize some of the skills you learned over in Japan- cross-cultural exchange, working with students, and (for the truly lucky) the offer to travel again? Think about working at a university- either in international exchange or student affairs. I sat down with Shannan Spisak (Kawasaki-shi, 96-98) to talk about her experience from the JET Program to higher education administration.
Tell me about your journey into the field of international education.
Shannan: After I came back from JET, I moved to New York City with a friend and worked at a private Japanese company for 2 years. I decided to switch careers to move into the international arena; the United Nations in particular interested me. I went on a number of informational interviews with fellow former JETs working in the field and they all recommended graduate school. I decided to study Peace Education and International Exchange at Teachers College, Columbia University. In order to finance my education, I took a job working as Assistant to the President of Barnard College while attending classes part-time. During the process of completing my M.A., I realized I had grown more interested in the education component of my degree than its relation to UN work. Consequently, my focus shifted towards seeking a career in international exchange in higher education.
What do you do now?
Shannan: I work at the Institute of International Education (IIE) in the Global Scholarships Division. The IIE is a 90 year-old non-profit organization that runs over 200 programs around the world, including the Fulbright. I manage three international scholarship programs through the GE Foundation and the Chubb Insurance Foundation. I organize the review and selection of applications, notify finalists, award grants, and manage special components of the scholarships such as Leadership Development Seminars and Career Workshops. I also coordinate the global communication and program initiatives between our offices in each of the participating countries. Our programs serve undergraduate and Masters students in 14 countries, chiefly studying science and business. Right now, I’m looking into new ways of managing our student alumni network – which aligns with what I’ve been working on for JETAANY as Alumni Database Manager.
In what other ways have you been involved with the JET Alumni Association?
Shannan: I was Chapter President of JETAANY for 3 years, then served as one of two Country Representatives for 2 years (because of our increase in local chapters in 2008, the U.S. now has 3 representatives). I had an amazing team that worked well together during my presidency – we focused on increasing the professionalism of JETAANY and put the chapter on the (long) path to becoming an officially recognized 501c(3) organization. I am now a member of our organization’s Board of Directors.
In my role as Country Representative, my focus targeted increasing communication, coordination, and growth of chapters in the U.S. I assisted in planning and executing two National Conferences, including one that involved not only our 19 official chapters, but also 20+ representatives from various subchapters. Also, I attended two International Meetings, where Country Representatives from all 15 countries who participate in the JET Programme gathered to discuss global initiatives for the association.
In fact, I prominently featured the work I did for JETAANY on my résumé. Many of the skills required for jobs in higher education were part of my duties as an alumni representative, and I’m convinced they were integral in getting me my current position at IIE.
And finally, what is your advice for JETs looking to break into higher education?
Shannan: The best thing you can do is get out there and network. Talk with JET alumni. We all have a shared experience but come from such diverse backgrounds. Find alumni in your industry. Be proactive and make an effort. The more networks you create, the better- you never know who might have a great job that you’d be the perfect candidate for.
Thank you so much to Shannan for imparting helpful wisdom and perspectives and offering her experience for those of us interested in the field.
If you’re interested in, or already involved in, higher education administration, stay connected and sign up for the JETAA Student Services Google Group. Also, if you currently work in the field and wouldn’t mind being interviewed for the JET alumni newsletter, please email me at pkavalam [at] gmail [at] com.