LIMELIGHT INTERVIEW WITH BOB SPECKING
The League is proud to share our very first LimeLight interview featuring a male colleague in International Education. We recently caught up with Bob Specking of Via, and learned more about his journey in education abroad and the path he traveled to end up where he is today.
Bob is a first-generation college student who grew up in rural Missouri. As someone with an unlikely background to be where he is now, he loves that his current company, Via, approaches international education in a very inclusive way. Bob has a passion for getting international education on the radar of underrepresented student groups and feels strongly about making global experiences applicable and accessible for all.
Read on to learn more about what attracted this self-described small-town Missouri boy to global travel.
1. What is your current title, and where do you work?
Vice President of Growth at Via TRM. I work remotely in St. Louis, MO.
2. How did you learn about your current position? (Ex. Networking, Promotion, External Job Posting)
I knew some Via folks from various conference tabling over the years and always kept tabs on Via as a potential fit for my next career chapter. Mid-pandemic, Via’s previous marketing director reached out with the opportunity. Always be networking!
3. What sparked your interest in working in international education?
My childhood neighbors were the coordinators for international high school students coming to the area. I remember playing basketball in my driveway at about 13 years old and exchange students from Brazil and Germany coming over to play with me. I began developing cross-cultural understanding at a young age through the lifelong friendships I developed with those students. Without them, my world would have remained so small, and I knew I somehow wanted to play a similar role for others in my life.
4. What was your first job in international education?
My first paid job in IE was as an ESL teacher in the Persian Gulf (Bahrain). After this experience, I knew I wanted to continue working in IE but not as a teacher. So, I pursued my Masters at Hult International Business School in Cambridge, MA. I then started working at EF (Education First) in Cambridge, helping U.S. colleges and universities to develop faculty-led programs abroad.
(We also want to include that Bob shared he first met his wife at EF, and they reunited four years later and started dating; the rest, as they say, is history. It’s an education abroad love story!)
5. Tell us about your first international experience, either traveling or working abroad.
Honduras 2005: Service learning trip in high school. I had become interested and decent at Spanish early in high school, and my teacher presented the opportunity to work with Honduran local organizations to build housing for underprivileged communities. It opened my eyes to the inequities in our global society as well as those here in the States.
6. What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Like many in the field, I’d say the student impact is the most rewarding aspect. Via’s software empowers EA administrators and providers to engage more students in global opportunities and nurture their journeys from an early stage. I needed such support to realize my own dreams, so playing a role in that for all walks of students is very motivating.
7. What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
As a (mature) start-up, the most challenging aspect is often quite fulfilling. We’re an all-hands-on-deck team, so I’m always wearing multiple hats and balancing various projects across functional areas. In a unique business space where we’re the “mighty mouse”, innovation is key and drives my team and I every day.
8. What has working in international education taught you about yourself and your own culture?
As a white cis male from the Midwest, my experience in IE has given me empathy as the “other.” This perspective informs my worldview, of course, but it also contributes to my professional competencies and my focus on leading with love.
9. Do you have a career mentor or someone that you consult with about career growth?
I’ve had many, and they’re a big reason I am where I am today. Currently, my CEO, Dave Saben, has been a wonderful mentor, coach, and ally that I feel privileged to learn from. He has helped me realize my potential in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. As well my mentor at EF was Jeff Penedo. He took me from feeling “junior” to feeling like I could lead and believe in myself.
10. Describe a moment in your career that you consider your greatest achievement.
Not necessarily one moment, but in my years with EF developing short-term, faculty-led programs abroad, I had the opportunity to join faculty leaders and their groups each year. It’s hard to overstate how rewarding it was to see the real-time experience and growth for so many students that had never left the US. Those moments really filled my cup and galvanized my drive to excel in this field.
11. What type of things are you doing to balance your mental health and lack of social engagement?
I’ve been working remotely since 2016. As a sales professional, most days are spent on Zoom, so I wouldn’t say I feel too isolated. This setting has allowed me to go about my days on my own terms and ensure I always create space for my family, friends, and two cats. But yes, so many hours in one room can make an energetic extrovert a little stir-crazy, so I regularly run outside, break up the days with chores, and turn other spaces into my “office” as often as possible.
12. What is the best advice you can give to other global educators right now?
Be bold with your career ambitions. Ask for what you want, even if you don’t think you’ll get it. Throw imposter syndrome out the window and trust yourself. Never stop living curiously. Those in our field possess competencies that go far beyond one’s current role. The IE community is tight, interwoven, and supportive, which felt especially true over the last few years. And get out of your own way- something I definitely had to learn. And lastly, don’t let others define your potential.
The mission of the Global Leadership League is to ignite change across the global education field by empowering, connecting, and training leaders. We invite you to reach out to us here or learn more about becoming a member.