Alumnus Joe Phillips ’09 is taking his degree in atmospheric sciences to new extremes—to the deepest reaches of Antarctica, where winter temperatures average around minus 70 degrees. But he’s not alone in testing the boundaries of his field of study. Many graduates have gone global, discovering challenging careers and learning where their liberal arts education can lead.
“I’ve always wanted to come to the South Pole, and I’ve always been interested in the atmosphere and how it works,” Phillips says. Both wishes were fulfilled when he was selected as station chief for a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research post to maintain a suite of instruments that sample the atmosphere.
“The job here is almost like being in a dream,” Phillips says. “I’m living the dream.” He credits the opportunity, in large part, to what he learned at the university more than 8,600 miles away from his ice-laden workplace. “UNC Asheville gave me the education experience,” he says, “that helped me stand out in the selection process for this assignment.”
Back in a physical meteorology class taught by Associate Professor Christopher Godfrey, Phillips remembers, he marveled at discussions of atmospheric phenomena that ice crystals produce. “I knew that if I were to end up in the coldest place in the world, I would see some really impressive halos—and I have,” he reports.
Phillips may be on a distant frontier, witnessing rare wonders, but he’s hardly alone among UNC Asheville students and alums who have ventured out into a world that grows ever smaller.
All over the map
As never before, the world is at students’ doorsteps and part of their futures, argues Associate Professor Linda Cornett, chair of the Political Science Department. “I think if there’s anything that defines the current era, it’s an era of globalization,” she said in a recent video promoting UNC Asheville’s Study Abroad program. “Now, whatever field you go into, whether it’s government, or business, or social services, there’s a global aspect to it.”
Many students are getting a jump on international experience well before completing their degrees. In its most recent annual report, covering the 2012–13 school year and the summer of 2013, the Study Abroad Office noted growing levels of UNC Asheville students taking their education overseas. A total of 187 students participated, in 29 different countries. According to Bonnie Parker, the office’s director, the class of 2013 had a record percentage of graduates who had studied abroad (19 percent up from 16 percent during the prior five years).
At 22, Bastian Herr ’14, a double major in French and management, is already a veritable global citizen. Born in Japan and raised in Germany, he moved to Asheville in 2007. Last summer, he returned to Germany for a three-month internship with Daimler AG, the auto manufacturer that counts Mercedes-Benz among its brands. He’ll return for a second internship this summer.
There, Herr says, his undergraduate studies helped him get right to work on his main duties: helping with international-level parts procurement and conducting a cost-analysis project for the company. He also enjoyed perks like test drives in new Mercedes models that hadn’t yet gone on the market.
“I was able to use theories and concepts from many of the courses I took at UNC Asheville,” Herr says.
The ones that prepared him the most, he adds, were Norman Kauffman’s class on managerial accounting and Micheal Stratton’s on organizational behavior. “Furthermore, UNC Asheville’s liberal arts education and its focus on fostering critical thinking helped me throughout my work experience,” he says.
Been there, doing that
Some UNC Asheville alums went global even before globalization, but they offer some of the same perspectives on how the university primed them for international work. Deborah Hart-Serafini ’97 just retired from 15 years working as a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department, after posts in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Liberia and Oman.
Many of her assignments, especially in recent years, were in public diplomacy—conducting academic, cultural and language exchange programs. “UNC Asheville’s liberal arts program made me the kind of well-rounded person needed to address the diversity of problems we tackle at U.S. embassies around the world,” she says. The physics major is especially grateful to Professor Michael Ruiz, “for believing in my ability to succeed long before I did.”
Kevin Ingle ’89, who majored in computer science, was born and raised in Asheville but has lived abroad for the past 15 years. After gigs in Japan, Singapore, Italy and England, in 2005 he landed in Sydney, Australia, where he serves as senior manager for global business services for the country’s branch of Cisco Systems.
Ingle’s time in college paved the way for world-class work. “It gave me a completely different perspective on how to approach my career and my life,” he says. “Prior to going to UNC Asheville, I was totally focused on the sciences … and fully expected to become some kind of research scientist focused on hardcore theoretical applications. It was the liberal arts side of my education that broadened my outlook and made me step back and re-evaluate the career possibilities.”
Studies in the humanities “filled gaps in my previous education that I didn’t even realize I had and helped me take on a multifaceted approach to looking at things, not just through the lens of logic and science but also through the lens of culture and society.” - Kevin Ingle ’89
Working in the global economy, Ingle says, requires more than excellence in just one field, and also the ability to cross cultural borders as much as geographical ones. “I love the many diverse cultures in this world, and I enjoy being someone who helps others understand and bridge the gaps between them,” he says. “Not only technically, but also understanding and embracing the differences that they all have and figuring out ways to use the best of them to come up with something better.”
For all they learned and are learning here, UNC Asheville’s global graduates have plenty to teach others who want to venture into careers far from home. We asked them to share some advice for those who will follow in their footsteps.
The youngest of the bunch, Herr, says he optimized studying abroad by connecting with advisors at the university who supported his venture before, during and after.
The more-seasoned Ingle recommends cultivating an ability to live with each place’s upsides and downsides. “You have to adapt to the new environment and not expect it to be the way it was back home,” he says. “You are in their country, not the other way around. Take it on as a new and exciting challenge and you’ll always enjoy the experience. Fight it and you’ll be miserable.”
Hart-Serafini, who just moved from Dubai to Cairo and recently became the first virtual member of the marketing committee for UNC Asheville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, agrees that working abroad is a never-ending exercise in stretching.
“Be flexible,” she advises. “It’s a cliché, but, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ Or the Iraqis … or the Liberians … or the Omanis.”