Jody L. McBrien is an Associate Professor in the College of Education at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. She received her doctorate in Educational Studies from Emory University in May, 2005, where she was the 2004 recipient of the university’s Humanitarian Award, given to students who demonstrate exemplary service in social justice. She received the 2011 Faculty Research Award from USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy for her ongoing work in the formerly war-torn town of Lira in Uganda, Africa.
If you were selling USFSM to an incoming student what would you say?
Take advantage of the small class sizes. They give you the opportunity to really learn from some highly trained experts that fill our colleges. Do not think that just because you are at a small university, the professors are not top researchers and experts, because they are! We have professors from Stanford and Harvard, from top public universities, and from international universities that offer a diversity of knowledge and perspectives. Come with more than a degree and career goal in mind; come to absorb the upper level knowledge and array of subject matter that does not get taught in high school. Fill your mind with new knowledge and concepts you have never thought of before. The undergrad experience is truly one of a lifetime. Live it fully!
How has USFSM made you a better professional/person?
I began at USFSM in 2005, the last year the campus was on the New College campus. The collegiality of the faculty and staff were nurturing and helpful as I learned my way around the full-time world of academia. I also taught in Tampa for the first two years of my career, and I had the best of mentors on that campus and at Sarasota-Manatee. I will admit, I wish I could teach more courses in my area of expertise, Comparative and International Education. However, this university has supported my international research even though we do not offer the discipline of international education at any of the USF system campuses, and this support has allowed me to receive several research awards and a fellowship resulting from that research. This support has certainly made me a better academic on all three levels of this career: teaching, research, and service. And though I do not teach a regular course in comparative education, you can be sure that my research serves my teaching and my students. Most people would never guess that Florida is the top state in the country for resettling refugees and asylum seekers, along with Cuban entrants. That number came to 28,000 in 2012. Even if our students in education never teach outside the state of Florida, in order to support our international population of children, many of whom have special challenges due to past experiences of war or terror, they need to understand perspectives of other cultures, other school systems, and the psychosocial aspects of migration. They must have a healthy debate with themselves and others that breaks past the powerful negative stereotypes about children and families they are hired to teach. My personal research with resettlement, camps, and the post-war experience gives them first-hand examples and perspectives they have not heard previously. Most are not even aware that there are millions of children around the world who would love an opportunity to go to school, but they will never have it. This kind of knowledge is life changing. It alters perspectives and teaches about privilege in a powerful way.
What are some of your goals for the future?
My immediate goal is to finish the Lira book and prepare for the amazing opportunity I have to live and work in New Zealand next year. I hope to complete the year in Australia if I can receive a Fulbright. Then when I return to USFSM, I will begin work on a book about policy and practice in the four English-speaking resettlement countries of the world: the US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, as I will have experience in each.
I would like to have a stronger voice in policy and working towards policy that follows careful research into practices that work and make sense. I hope the work I do in New Zealand will be helpful in that goal. I also want to become more engaged in the workings of USF World, especially in international partnerships and opportunities for our students to gain international experiences while students. This July I am taking an undergraduate student, Ashley Metelus, with me to learn from the schools and the people of Lira. What an exciting opportunity to open the eyes of a highly dedicated and caring student to the rich culture of Uganda! I wish every student could have at least one international opportunity.
What is the best part of USFSM?
I think the strength lies in having the best of two academic worlds. We maintain a nurturing environment with our small classes and opportunities for students to work closely with professors. The non-traditional campus creates classes with 20-70-somethings learning from one another. At the same time, we have opportunities that come from working within a research extensive university system. Tampa resources offer us plentiful, top-notch databases for research, for just one example. I belong to the Genocide Research Group that meets twice each semester in Tampa to remain updated on other work similar to mine that occurs in the USF System. For our students and staff that enjoy sports aspects of university life, it is not too far to travel to support Bulls athletics; and we are building quite a crew team on our own campus. Our new campus is beautiful, and as we build our student body, I am hopeful that student clubs and activities continue to grow and offer our students, staff, and community opportunities to grow their minds and hearts together, from the remarkable Perlman music program in December/January to cutting edge speakers, world class biology housed at Mote, and more.