How did you transition from a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology to a career in international education?
I was born in Calcutta, India and raised in Ontario, Canada in a liberal family. Science and allied health fields were well regarded so there were cultural and familial expectations that I would pursue Kinesiology. I had been a student-athlete throughout high school and was grateful to receive an athletic scholarship at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in women’s soccer. During that time, I was exploring my sexuality, but this proved to be a very challenging experience in rural white America - the homophobia, in particular was overwhelming and after 6 months I made an intentional decision to quit the team despite losing my scholarship. Shortly after this decision, a friend suggested that I play lacrosse because she felt that I had a “goal keeper mentality”. After an impromptu mid-season tryout with the lacrosse team, I played in my first game (only two days later) against Ohio Wesleyan University. The lacrosse coach offered me a scholarship and no one on the team was homophobic – they just wanted to win. I began to excel academically and athletically and went on to be ranked second in Pennsylvania and eighth in the country for Division II Women’s Lacrosse. While I graduated magna cum laude, I wasn’t inspired by science or math. A mentor suggested that I apply for a graduate degree in higher education because of my teaching interest and experience as well as my involvement in residential leadership at the university. I was grateful to receive a fully-funded scholarship and assistantship package to pursue a master’s degree in Education Leadership and Policy Studies from Virginia Tech and that’s where the path changed from science to higher education.
2. What was it about the international education field that resonated with you?
During my doctoral work at Michigan State University, I realized that all of my post-secondary education and employment experience was in the US, in essence, I had always been an international student having an international education. That made me curious about the role of experiential education on student learning, development, and career mobility. In 2009, I had an opportunity to participate in a formative professional development experience in South Africa with my academic adviser, Dr. Ann Austin. That experience launched my engagement on the African continent and over the course of the next three years, I travelled back and forth to South Africa to conduct grant-funded research. I immersed myself in the culture as an expatriate but I was also embraced as a member of various local communities. While my accent displaced me as a northerner, my approach to relationship-building was based on mutuality, authenticity, and reciprocity which may have uniquely positioned me as both an insider and outsider throughout the research process. Back on campus, I also co-led various initiatives with the Office of Study Abroad in the realms of research, assessment, faculty development, global internships, re-entry programming, and more. The concept of “giving back” - a central part of who I am and an embedded value in international education - resonates with me and was something that I learned from two influential mentors. They are Dr. Inge Steglitz, Associate Director, Office for Education Abroad, Michigan State University, and Brett Berquist, Director International, University of Auckland. Mr. Berquist’s leadership has inspired me to take on challenges that seem insurmountable and his coaching has been pivotal to various stages of my career in international education. Dr. Steglitz has contributed immensely to my personal and spiritual growth, setting an example for how to embody a positive work ethic and apply care in the workplace.
3. Why did you decide to leave academia and become a consultant?
The concept of an “institution” didn’t mesh well with my artistic and creative side. I also had a knack for entrepreneurship because my family has owned and operated businesses in Canada for over 30 years. My first client was the MasterCard Foundation. I was asked to conduct a landscape scan about internship opportunities in Africa. Simultaneously, I developed a brand and a friend put together my first website. The Foundation later invited me to consult on three different projects, including a strategy paper on African higher education, co-leading the inaugural secondary education convening in Rwanda, and co-leading the Request For Proposal (RFP) process to expand and deepen the outcomes of The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program. I had high impact results in six months! That created momentum and I began to speak on the conference circuit, presenting and publishing my work on the ethics of mobility programs.
4. What are some of the challenges you face as a consultant?
The not so glorious side of consulting work is that you are constantly trying to secure the next contract. Aligning your professional and personal values with those of the client can also be challenging as it’s not always a match. The toughest challenge has been to make decisions that are both in the best interest of my young family and my career trajectory.
Pamela Roy is the founder of the Consultancy for Global Higher Education. She offers project management and strategic leadership in the areas of youth education, diversity and equity, faculty development, and higher education capacity building in the Global South. Some of her clients have included the MasterCard Foundation, Diversity Abroad, Michigan State University’s Alliance for African Partnerships, and Youth Empowerment Programs, Academic Internship Council, Association of American Colleges & Universities, Professionals in Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, and more. She has led programs to South Africa for 60+ Canadian undergraduate students to engage in teaching, learning and community development, and to Rwanda where she co-planned and co-led the Secondary Education Scholars Convening which offered youth from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Ghana and Rwanda (MasterCard Foundation Scholars) to find their leadership voice, develop community give back goals, explore career understandings, and create high-value relationships with other youth from across the Continent. She also created the curriculum for and managed the program experience (pre-departure, onsite, and re-entry) for Diversity Abroad’s Global Institute for Inclusive Leadership held in South Africa (June 2017) and New Zealand (January 2018) for cohorts of 10 senior administrators from various universities who were interested in gaining skills to better support their global education and diversity-related work. Dr. Roy has over 15 years of experience in international higher education and has committed her scholarly background and creative leadership abilities to foster community-building at the local, national and international levels. She received her PhD in Higher, Adult, & Lifelong Education from Michigan State University.
Learn more at www.pamelaroy.net.