Three degrees and a dream career

June 07, 2006, volume 36, no. 3
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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From the back seat of his parents' pale pink Vauxhall, a young Randall Martin had his first glimpse of the institution that would eventually grant him three degrees - and the career of his dreams.

“It was 1965, and my parents drove up Burnaby Mountain for a family outing to see the construction of the instant university,” recalls Martin, now special advisor to President Michael Stevenson on internationalization at SFU. “The AQ was still just a shell. It didn't make all that much of an impression to tell the truth. I had no idea that place would become so important in my life.”

A dozen years later, Martin - John Oliver secondary school's class valedictorian - enrolled at SFU to pursue a degree in English literature: “I was thinking either journalist or high-school teacher.” But in 1978, he took a break to travel and teach English in Southeast Asia - a decision that changed the course of his career.

“It was the most important year of my life,” he says without hesitation. “I was living in relative squalor, seeing death and disease and evil for the first time in my life. It honed my value system and developed my global awareness. I recognized how privileged I was and that I had responsibilities to the rest of the world.”

On his return to SFU, Martin completed his BA in linguistics and an MA in education, and then taught for several years at the college level. But in 1986 a former professor tipped him off to a job opportunity with an SFU-run international development project in Eastern Indonesia. He ended up living there for almost four years, overseeing English-language training programs at several local universities. In 1991, Martin parlayed that overseas experience into a fulltime position as coordinator of SFU's emerging international program.

“At that point, we had precisely one student exchange and two field schools,” he says. “Today SFU is recognized as a national leader for innovative international programming with 90 bi-lateral exchanges and 16 field schools in more than 40 countries and programs in place to support the internationalization of students, faculty and staff. And we've set an ambitious goal for the near future: by 2008, we want at least half of every graduating class to have benefited from some kind of international educational experience.”

Almost three decades after his own life-changing trip abroad, Martin will receive a PhD in international education at June convocation. His thesis showed that students with international experience “out-achieve” the stay-at-home student population on many fronts: degree completion; graduate degrees; second-language skills; employment opportunities; and self-confidence, independence and tolerance of differences. And as his career continues to unfold within SFU international, he intends to apply his research “to help us create programs that will optimize those results.”

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