Green Mountain Reflections and Global Graduate School Growth

It feels like a million years ago that I marched quietly onto the hill in Brattleboro, Vermont.  I was 22 years young, as green as those mountains in the northeast wing of the US. They call it Vermont for a reason – “green mountain” in French – and highly appropriate for this gorgeous campus that sits upon a hillside, surrounded by endless shades of green.

If you know the School for International Training’s Graduate Institute, you know “the hill”.  The hill is where some of the happiest days of my education and earliest professional development took place. I was young and eager to learn and change the world. After all, who isn’t?!  People from all walks of life surrounded me. They held more international experience in their hippy back pockets than I knew what to do with, but I wanted to be just like them “when I grew up.”  Apparently when I do the math, that was 26 years ago.  Today, I’m the one with some experience in my back pocket to share.  But I still do keep an eye out on what’s happening on that hill because I believe in the power of peace, progress, social justice, dialogue, educational travel, and the future, despite our national politics.

Times have changed and so has SIT’s Graduate Institute – and I’m thrilled that it has done so in such a positive way with several new graduate programs that exemplify how global this school is.  No longer are the days of sitting on the hill for the bulk of a graduate experience.  Heck no, they’re taking it on the road and even partially online in some cases with their new MA programs.

I must digress for a moment as I realize that I now live on another hill – this time in the city of Asheville, North Carolina, jokingly known at the Brattleboro of the South.  It’s a gorgeous place full of SIT alumni. Hmmmm…is that a coincidence? I think not.

My classmates at SIT circa 1991/92. I’m in the 3rd row from the top, 4th from the leftin the purple shirt. Two seats to the right is Melibee speaker, Michael Despines in the red (pink?) shirt..

I recently had the pleasure of bumping into Karen Kray, Assistant Director of SIT’s University Relations, at UNCA’s study abroad fair this fall.  During our chat, I got the scoop on some new graduate programs.  As a cross-cultural career coach at Melibee Global’s C4, I am always eager to hear what educational opportunities there are out there for people with vast international experience who want to “do good” in this world.  Career seekers often romanticize their time abroad and immediately assume that should be translated into a career in higher education (particularly in study abroad offices), but little do they realize there are vast opportunities for them outside of this traditional box.  Karen began to tell me about four new MA degrees and my ears perked up; they are precisely what those who want a practical and timely degree need. The great news is that in learning about the options, I immediately saw that they still allowed for the deep relationships and network that SIT’s Graduate Institute is known for.  (In that photo of my “class” on the hill, I can say that I am still in close touch with at least 5 classmates. Two served as witnesses when my husband and I eloped – I’m talking CLOSE!) My classmates, whether I saw them last week or 15 years ago, are welcome into my home anytime. They are my network and family – that is what SIT provided me – a lifelong community who understand what open door policy AND an open heart means.

I asked Karen for more information about the program options and was grateful to have her put me in touch with the educators who mapped out these degrees.  What I appreciate about the grad opportunities most is:

SIT takes climate change studies on the road to Iceland.

–       SIT changes with the times:  Their programs mostly require learning outside of the US and off that gorgeous hill. After all, if you want to learn about Climate Change and Global Sustainability, there is no better place to do it than Iceland and Tanzania, right? And if Global Leadership and Social Innovation are your focus, spending a semester in India isn’t my idea of a bad time.

–       Their programs are practical:  Long gone are the days of 2 and 3 year MA degrees.  The new MA options are 12 – 16 months short. Swift. Deep. Abroad and in Vermont or Washington DC.  They’re practical for those who don’t want to go back to school to do a slew of pre-requisites either – for example, the Climate Change and Global Sustainability degree focuses on policy and governance (rather than an MS focused on science.)

–       Future orientation: The degree options offer laser focus on topics such as our youth, leadership, caring for our planet, and peace in a proactive way. They mirror what I see happening in the global job market. (And for those of you thinking you can’t take time to go back to school, they illustrate that you can jump onto a career track and see the light at the end of the tunnel before you even enter the tunnel.)

–       Experiential:  The cornerstone of SIT culture is experiential learning. (True Story: I lived on that hill in a dorm that was built by early Peace Corps volunteers who were learning their skills for their sojourns to serve.) They take experiential seriously and pepper it with a whole lot of theory. These programs come with a practicum requirement, allowing participants to frontload their resumes with real experience.  In my experience as a career coach supporting people with strategic job searches, THAT is a game changer.

There are days that despite being a grateful “edupreneur”, I daydream about being in a classroom again. When I imagine that classroom, I envision being surrounded by diverse people who care deeply for the discipline(s),  are grounded in experience,  respect the gift of immersion abroad, and who want to serve our world in a way that feels authentic, just, and responsible.  When I read about these new MA programs, I am immeasurably proud of my alma mater. They’ve taken a rich history of experiential learning, propelled it into the 21st century, and collapsed it into the most learning for the time allotted. Reading through the program information reminds me of my early quest for the MA degree back when you got an old school prospectus mailed to you when you inquired about a program option. Those days back on the hill feeling like I could change the world – they are still memories that are fresh despite the distance. My MA from SIT (in International Education) changed me forever.  As an elder of sorts with my own rear view mirror to look back at, I see the promise of these programs – not only to do good in our world, but to craft policies, leaders, youth, and hope for it too – and to push along those job seekers who are up against a field of players who have years of experience AND the terminal degree.  The ability and necessity to do much of it abroad is icing on an already mouth-watering slice of global cake.

Author’s Note: I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on my time at SIT and for their sponsorship of this post.  Learn more about “the hill” and all their happenings here!