Fulbright honor gives adviser opportunity to follow in students’ footsteps

By Tom Gresham, University Public Affairs, 804-828-6051

Photo of Sarah Carrier

Sarah Carrier. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Carrier)

When Sarah Carrier, academic advising coordinator in the Global Education Office at Virginia Commonwealth University, traveled to Germany and Belgium this fall as part of the Fulbright International Education Administrators program, she found time to visit with VCU students who were studying in the region. The students were not only excited to see her but also proud to share everything they had learned.

“You could tell how much they loved having a visitor from home,” Carrier said. “They got to be my tour guide and show me around. They were very excited to get to do that.”

Carrier applied to the Fulbright program for the opportunity to spend two weeks learning about higher education in Germany and Belgium, but she also wanted a fresh reminder of what the students she advises encounter when they choose to forego the familiar confines of Richmond to test themselves and learn in a foreign land. As part of her role at VCU, Carrier works with VCU students who are studying abroad at universities that have partnership agreements with VCU. She also advises international students who come to VCU as part of those partnership exchanges.

The Fulbright International Education Administrators program serves mid-career professionals. Candidates apply to programs held in various countries around the world. Carrier chose the program based in Germany because she was captivated by the higher education system in that country, particularly its success with STEM fields and its appeal to VCU students. The trip also included a stint in Belgium, where Carrier had studied as an undergraduate.

Carrier earned a master's degree in counselor education from the VCU School of Education in 2012.

Carrier and her fellow Fulbright recipients visited eight universities in Germany and Belgium during the trip. In addition to the campus visits, Carrier’s group participated in other related activities and events, such as a wide-ranging discussion at the European Commission regarding international student exchanges.

Carrier, who earned a master’s degree in counselor education from the VCU School of Education in 2012, said the trip proved to be an eye-opening, energizing experience. The opportunity to learn how other higher education institutions work with their students and tackle particular challenges offered valuable insight. For instance, she was struck by Germany’s commitment to providing training and education to its large refugee population and by the tight-knit relationship forged in the country between higher education and industry. Carrier said each school she visited offered unique lessons and perspectives that expanded her worldview.

Carrier also found herself navigating many of the same day-to-day issues that her students face on their own trips.

“Working in international education, it’s reinvigorating to get to do a program like this one,” Carrier said. “It’s excites me and it helps me prepare students for their international experiences. When I can do something that’s academic — and not just travel — it helps me help students when they ask certain questions. It reminds me of the type of stuff that they need to know to have a great experience. I can get back into their mindset better.”

Carrier said one of the key advantages of the trip was the professional connections she made on behalf of herself and the Global Education Office. Carrier and her fellow Fulbright participants attended events at the U.S. Embassies in Brussels and Berlin, mixing socially with members of the State Department and with American faculty and students also there on Fulbright programs. Carrier routinely speaks with VCU students who have studied abroad about applying for Fulbright grants through the National Scholarship Office, and she embraced the chance to quiz Fulbright students in the midst of a trip and gain new insight she could share with VCU students.

Carrier said the advantages of participating in a Fulbright program will endure now that she has returned stateside.

“You’ve got a network of Fulbrighters after you get back home,” Carrier said. “I can now tap into my Fulbright network when I’ve got questions or I’m looking for ideas about places we might be exploring for VCU programs. I also might be able to build on those relationships to create new partnerships.”

Back on campus at VCU, Carrier has been keenly aware of the boost her two weeks away provided for her and her career.

“It was a really good fit for me for my professional goals and for our goals as an office,” Carrier said. “Something like this gives you a chance to meet other people and think about more creative things you could be doing. Sometimes, it takes something like this to shake you up a bit and reawaken your creativity.”

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