Profiles in International Education: Brian Whalen

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I'm so pleased today to share our third Profile in International Education, Brian Whalen. Brian's been a key player in international education, especially in Study Abroad, for over 20 years. He co-founded Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, and has been instrumental in working with the Forum on Education Abroad. He is Dean, Associate Professor of International Studies and Associate Provost and Executive Director of the Office of Global Education at Dickinson College. He also teaches cultural psychology, American literature, and the assessment of education abroad learning outcomes. He has degrees from Marist College and the University of Dallas. Personally, I remember when Frontiers first came out, when I was working on my PhD at the University of Minnesota. I was in Dr. Michael Paige's office, working together on something, and we all just were SO happy and excited that here was something tangible that worked to bring a meaningful intellectual dialogue to the field of study abroad. It has truly changed and enhanced the field.

We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Brian about his work in international education. Here's what he had to say...



WE: Please tell us a little bit about yourself - your travels, and international education experience...

BW: I have been involved in international education since 1985.  My first job in international education was teaching English to international students in the MBA program at the University of Dallas.  In 1987 my wife Annmarie and I moved to Italy to work for the University of Dallas Rome campus and I spent five years total in Italy, directing the Dallas Rome campus and program and then the Boston University Italian Center in Padua.  Those years in Italy were a wonderful orientation to education abroad and I still draw on my experiences in my work as a resident director in what I do now.  I have great respect and affection for the resident directors who work in education abroad.  They are in many respects the most important people working in our field.  It was also a job that I loved and in some ways miss. 

We returned to the U.S. in 1992 and I worked in the Division of International Programs at Boston University, which was a great place to work.  When I was hired I knew virtually nothing about how study abroad was organized on "this side" of the world.  I had tremendous colleagues like Tim Perkins, Ned Quigley, Liz Ross, and Jane Dickson, from whom I learned a great deal. While at BU, in 1995, I and a number of close colleagues founded Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad.  Our first, informal meeting to discuss the idea was held at Judy Tilson's house in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we had a "Pig Poke," a true example of blending in with the locals.  Frontiers has flourished over the years and is generally recognized as the definitive academic journal for education abroad. 

In 1997 I took a position at my alma mater, Marist College, and became their first Director of International Education.  I stayed just under three years and help to initiate a range of programs that have continued to develop.  Marist is a special place with very committed faculty and staff, and it was a true privilege to work at an institution for which I have a close lifelong attachment. 

In 1999 and up until the present day I have worked at Dickinson College, where I oversee the college's global education office and international initiatives.  I often describe this as the best job in international education because it is a wonderful community of people committed to global education.  Dickinson is one of the most internationalized institutions in the world and its faculty are deeply involved in our global education programs. 

Just over three years ago I became President and CEO of the Forum on Education Abroad, the membership association for the field of education abroad, and have held this position while maintaining my Dickinson responsibilities.  Over these three years the Forum has tripled in size and now has over 400 institutional members and draws well over 700 people to its annual conference.  Happily, the Forum is based on the Dickinson campus, where I shall remain when I transition to work full time for the Forum beginning January 1, 2010. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, when I am not focused on international education, I enjoy things local, and also having to do with the U.S.  I have a longstanding and passionate interest in American roots music, and have played guitar for 35+ years.  I am a student of American blues and ragtime guitar music.  I also have a fairly extensive collection of 19th century American first edition books, mostly in the fields of literature, travel and nature writing, psychology, and philosophy.  And, I love local gardening and local history.  One of my favorite activities is to discover a local historical site on a Saturday morning.  I think my leisure interests have always provided a good balance with my professional international education work.



WE: What drew you to the field of international education?

BW: My wife.  Annmarie opened my mind to Europe and Italy.  The summer after we married we traveled to Italy together where she research Giotto's frescoes for her master's thesis.  It was my first trip abroad.  That led to our staying on the University of Dallas Rome Campus, where Annmarie had studied as a student.  Then director, Jim Fougerousse (who later directed Duquesne's Rome Program and most recently the University of Redland's Salzburg Program) said we could stay for free on the campus in exchange for doing odd jobs.  We heartily agreed, and we got along with Jim famously.  He offered us jobs on campus the following year, so we returned to Rome to work and teach on the UD campus.  Jim was very passionate and articulate about the meaning and purposes of education abroad.  He compared the experience to Shakespeare's "The Tempest," and considered the resident director to be like Prospero in orchestrating the educative elements of the students' time on the "island."  I loved the job from the beginning, and when Jim left Rome to take a job heading up the International Academy of Philosophy in Lichtenstein, I became director of the program.  What I loved about the job is what I continue to love about international education: it impacts every dimension of students' lives.  It is the best form of holistic learning and a great responsibility we have to make it the very best learning experience that it can be.



WE: What is the state of the field of international education?

BW: I think the Frontiers History of Study Abroad volume will be the best source to answer this question, so let me say more about that.  It is fascinating to me that education abroad has matured to the point where we now recognize the need for a history.  Bill Hoffa, our dear and esteemed colleague, deserves the credit for recognizing, promoting, writing and editing this History. The second volume (of which Steve DePaul also serves as a co-editor) is a truly outstanding and important work, not just because it tells the story of the recent past of study abroad.  It is also the case that the authors, who are well-known colleagues in the field, analyze this history and point to current and future issues and trends, and in doing so provide a sense of the State of the Field.  I will not try to steal the thunder of this volume, which I believe is one of the most important study abroad books ever written,  but will simply point people to the web site where it is described:



WE:  How can international educators - and travelers -  promote intercultural and diversity issues?

BW: I believe that promotion is ideally something that one "lives."  Promotion should be a habit, a state of mind, rather than a mechanical, abstract idea, or a checklist of actions.  I try to incorporate the promotion of intercultural and diversity issues into everything that I do on a daily basis.  At the core of our work in international education is the goal of learning about and understanding other people, cultures and societies.  Both the content of our programs and the processes that guide them should support this goal.  This may happen in a conversation with someone, in an e-mail that one writes, or in a policy one creates.  Whatever aspect of our work we are involved in, we have the opportunity to promote the values that keep us excited about being international educators.



WE:  What are you currently working on?

BW: My main projects right now are:

-- Overseeing the Forum on Education Abroad, which involves me in every aspect of heading up a non-profit.  I work closely with colleagues on the many content areas that serve as the basis for member services and benefits.  These include publications, web resources, conferences, institutes and workshops, and webinars.  Another major part of the job is member recruitment and retention, and the third major area is administration, including personnel, financial management, and strategic planning. There are a wide range of important projects currently underway, and the best way to learn about them is to visit the Forum web site and sign-up to receive a complimentary copy of the Forum News, the organizations electronic newsletter.

-- As editor and publisher of Frontiers I oversee a separate non-profit charitable organization, Frontiers Journal Inc.  We are completing a very interesting and valuable History of Study Abroad, 1965-Present, which will debut at the Forum Annual Conference in Charlotte, NC, March 24-26, 2010.  This is the second volume of our history project.  The first volume was written by Bill Hoffa and covered Beginnings to 1965.  This volume is edited by Hoffa and Steve DePaul, and involves 20 colleagues who have authored the various chapters.  We also have another special project called, "Study Abroad and the City," which will result in a Special Issue that will come out in 2011 that examines innovative and effective curricular approaches to understanding selected cities in which programs are located.

-- At Dickinson, I am working on a number of projects, including helping to develop semester study abroad options on some of our traditional academic year programs, as well as preparing for my transition out of my position at the college.

--On the personal front, I am working hard to learn Reverend Gary Davis' "Slow Drag (Sometimes called "Cincinnati Flow Rag")" which in my judgment is one of the greatest guitar pieces ever written.



WE:  What's up next for you?

BW: Next for me is to focus my full attention and energy to advance the mission and goals of the Forum on Education Abroad.  That encompasses a great deal.  I am looking forward to being able to work even more closely with education abroad colleagues in this role.



WE:  Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

BW: Thank you for the opportunity to stop and reflect a bit on my work, life and career.  We should all do this more often because I'm sure it has some health benefits by reducing some stress in our lives.



WE: Thanks so much, Brian! Your work in the field of international education has been invaluable.

FOr more information on Brian's work, please see:



Click here to see all of our international education profile features, in Profiles in International Education: A Compendium