OISS Director Peter Briggs Bids Farewell to MSU

Peter Briggs OISS Director

Peter Briggs has served in the field of international education since 1974 and as the Director of OISS since 2001. An insightful leader, devoted mentor, and champion for international students and scholars, he will be greatly missed by OISS, MSU and the East Lansing community. While he is retiring from work as a director he will continue to be involved in international education. We wish him all the very best as he embarks on new adventures. His last day at MSU will be Friday, October 3rd. 

After thirteen wonderful years directing the Office for International Students and Scholars at MSU, I will be taking a new life turn in early October when my wife and I will pack up our belongings to return to our home in the Pacific Northwest.  It is with many mixed emotions that I inform the campus community that my last day with OISS will be October 3.  We have developed many dear friends and close associations here and while we are eager to make the move west, we will deeply miss the land of the Spartans.  We hope that everyone can understand our desire to be closer to our families.  We lived in Eugene, Oregon for twenty years before moving to East Lansing and raised both our children there. And, for the record, I was wearing an MSU shirt the day the Spartans played the Ducks a few weeks ago.

The work in OISS has changed a lot in thirteen years since I assumed leadership of OISS.  The most obvious change is the dramatic rise in the numbers of international students and the flip from being mostly graduate international students to mostly undergraduate international students.  The campus is still adjusting to both those changes and the effort to make MSU an internationally friendly campus is unfinished business that will always be ongoing.  OISS has always been a very caring team of people and dedicated to supporting international students, but the mission changed to include more Homeland Security-related compliance work after September 11, 2001. I arrived on campus in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and dealing with massive change certainly was challenging.  I am proud of how well OISS handles the balancing act to make international students feel welcome at MSU while at the same time complying with federal laws that require regular reporting to the Department of Homeland Security.

One of the innovations I am proud to have brought to campus was to foster a stronger sense of community and engagement.  The creation of the weekly coffee hour (http://oiss.isp.msu.edu/feature/coffee.htm) in 2002 has helped to create a place that launched many friendships. We created a well-known regular place to gather and share conversation with people from all parts of the world over a cup of late Friday afternoon coffee or tea.  Social isolation is a concern for international students and I believe the weekly event showed students we cared about helping them form a strong social support network. Something sprang from this sense of community that was more than we could have anticipated. In 2003, through the connections and friendships that students were making at coffee hour, came the creation of the International Students Association (ISA). I am very proud to have played a founding role with what is now a very important campus organization and the most powerful group to give voice to international students. The first generation of ISA leaders was an extraordinary group of people and laid the foundations for the future.   Another program that I brought to campus was the International Student Essay Contest (http://oiss.isp.msu.edu/feature/essay/).   This allows students the chance to reflect on their experiences living in a culture other than their own and at the same time gives the wider campus community a chance to read some powerful stories about what it is like to experience life at MSU through the eyes of someone from abroad.  In all of these endeavors, my goal was to help international students feel a strong sense of belonging to MSU and for our students to know they have an office that creates programs and services in recognition of their special challenges.  I always felt it important to support student initiatives and programming as best as we could.  In 2005, OISS worked with the ISP Dean’s Office to create a pool of funding that international student groups could request to support their cultural activities.  http://oiss.isp.msu.edu/students/funding.htm .  Also, OISS hosts a student leadership dinner each semester in order for us to thank the leaders of the many international student organizations and to explore ways that we can assist them in their volunteer leader roles.

I am often asked how I got started in the field of international education and what changes have I seen over the years.  The profession of international education has changed a lot since I began in late 1974 as a part time ESL instructor at Seattle University.  It was my first “real” job after completing my bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington.  I was not qualified, but I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to get some experience.  And I loved the work immediately.  It was a life changing experience for me to get to know so many people from so many countries and realize with some humiliation how very little I knew about the rest of the world.  People who knew me then will tell you that I was certainly full of enthusiasm as I entered this line of work and within a few months, I was asked to be the school’s International Student Advisor.  The fall of that year I attended my first NAFSA conference (http://www.nafsa.org/  and met so many others who were also working with international students.  NAFSA is the world’s largest organization dealing with educational exchange and has been a big part of my professional development.  These new colleagues at various institutions around the Seattle area gave me a view of the profession that went beyond simply having an interesting job.  As fate would have it, I met David Horner who was then at Washington State University at that first NAFSA conference in 1975 and this was the start of a friendship that goes beyond our work together.  We later served on the NAFSA executive leadership team together in the middle 1990’s when I was serving as the association’s Vice President and he was President-elect.  It was later my honor to succeed him as MSU’s Director of OISS when he retired.  His friendship and my professional association with him go beyond words.

I now reflect over the past forty years with the wonderful feeling of having been allowed to grow into a career in this field of service to international students and scholars.  It has been a privilege that few others enjoy.  We can all complain about certain aspects of any line of work, but I can truly say that I’ve loved working with international students and my international friendships have been a source of continual inspiration to me.

My career highlights center around the many people I’ve had the chance to know over the years.  It has been so much fun to keep in touch with so many of my former students and that has made this line of work extraordinarily satisfying.  As people know I am fond of saying, “when else in your life will you have the chance to know so many people from so many places?”   I have friends in all parts of the world and I have learned so much from them.  I always liked being in a helping profession.

This list could be longer and I always want to express my appreciation to so many people that I’ve enjoyed knowing over the years, but here is a short list of a few of the things that are most memorable to me.

  • I was hired as the Assistant Director at the University of Oregon’s Office of International Services in January 1981 and within two years of arriving in Eugene started the tradition of the weekly coffee hour (yes, I’ve been drinking coffee on Friday’s for many years!) and started the International Cultural Service Program (ICSP) https://international.uoregon.edu/isss/icsp during that same year. I was having so much fun at work, I was learning every day and was totally exhausted.
  • My role at the University of Oregon changed in 1997 when I was asked to serve in a new position to direct a program for international student recruitment. This was a new university initiative and I was the first in the position.  In the four years I directed international recruitment, I was able to travel widely, connect with former students who mentored me about the local recruitment networks and strengthened alumni chapters.  I had incredible experiences and continued to learn so much from others.
  • My career owes a lot to NAFSA: Association of International Educators. I’ve played a number of leadership roles in the association and was fortunate to be asked to be on NAFSA’s third delegation of NAFSAns to China in 1987.  Spending a month in China at the precise moment when China began its system of market reforms to revitalize the economy was a memory that is still fresh in my mind.  I’ve now been to China eleven times and seeing the changes that have transpired there after market reforms opened up the economy has been one of the most amazing stories during my lifetime.
  • I have enjoyed many successes, but certainly my time at Michigan State University has been the highlight of my professional career. I am proud of the OISS team and believe we handle our challenging jobs with distinction. The office staff and mission has evolved over the years as the enrollments have grown.  The current staff is outstanding.
  • I’ve been connected with Global Michigan and its goals to make Michigan the most immigrant friendly state in the country from nearly its inception five years ago and believe in its economic development goals. The language of retaining talented people in Michigan has been a great influence on me.  More recently, I have helped to create Global Lansing which aspires to make our community more globally friendly.  I have loved contributing to the development of both organizations that I believe will have lasting impacts in Michigan.
  • My proudest success has not been at work. I’ve been married to my wife Kathy for 33 years and have two grown children who both live and work in San Francisco.  My family means everything to me and we are looking forward to being able to spend more time with them.

Turning in the keys to the office does not mean ending my work in international education. I’ve been doing international education work since 1974 and while I will not be at a desk or holding a title, I will remain involved in connecting people around the globe.  I like change and this is a big life change that should open up new vistas.  I am on the boards of several NGO’s and plan to continue to make contributions to this profession.  I will also be doing some writing for professional journals.

International exchange gives hope in a world that needs positives. Gandhi spoke about losing oneself in a life dedicated to service to others.  Making friends around the world and working toward international understanding are noble goals for a life’s work.  I am more idealistic now about the possibilities of what can be achieved with the right vision, the right leadership and the willingness to take action.  I am grateful for having had the chance to serve in such meaningful work.  Go in peace, my friends.

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