Why Community Colleges Should Be at the Heart of the International Education Community:

Nicholas Shafer Introduces Global Community College Transfers

On March 14, 2020, I was sitting in Amman sharing small talk over a slice of apple pie with a classmate. We were celebrating Pi(e) Day after many months studying intensive Arabic in Jordan. I had been grateful to get funding for this experience via the Boren Fellowship, a program funded by the National Security Education Program (NSEP) and administered by IIE. Funding for study abroad had been elusive while I was a community college student, and I was unaware of any institutional support or mentorship when I applied to the Critical Language Scholarship and Boren Award. It wasn’t until I was a Senior at UC Berkeley and three rounds of applying to the program that I finally received an affirmative acceptance to the Boren program.

Two phone buzzes cut that thought short, as incoming texts crashed into our inboxes: we had 48 hours to leave Jordan due to COVID-19. Now, the following 36 hours are a blur of gathering housing deposits and bags. After more than 24 hours of flights, we all settled back in where we least expected to: our parents’ houses, with Arabic courses continuing online.

COVID-19 put the pause button on the rhythm of international experience and global careers, and I started reaching out to other community college graduates and transfers that had, like me, been pulled back from our experiences. We all felt the same kind of collective regret for having our international trajectories grounded, but also a collective commitment that as community college graduates and non-traditional students we had to find a way to leverage our institutional knowledge and social networks to empower others to access opportunities after the pandemic and as the international education sector would (slowly) restart.

This initial thought evolved over the last two years into Global Community College Transfers (GCCT) the first ever national network promoting global education opportunities and international affairs careers amongst community college, transfer, and non-traditional students by tangibly connecting them with students just a few years ahead of them. We now run a comprehensive mentorship program in partnership with the Meridian International Center and Community Colleges for International Development, which helps students develop foundational career skills by pairing them with a professional mentor.

GCCT has been able to host speakers and representatives from the U.S Department of State, other U.S. government agencies, several IIE-administered programs, and many more in the larger international education community. Last year, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley was the keynote speaker for our public Institute for the Global Education of Transfer Students. Every year, we assist dozens of community college and transfer students with applying to opportunities that many see as beyond their reach and, in doing so, continue building our network inside and outside the community colleges, four-year universities, employers, and global education programs with which we work.

Interested in getting involved with GCCT?  Join the GCCT 2022 Summer Mentorship Program as a mentor working with community college and non-traditional transfer students. Please submit your application by May 4th. Community College graduates and transfer/non-traditional students are encouraged to apply.

Following my time as a Boren Scholar, I was a recipient of a Fellowship at USAID, a Research Fulbright in Morocco, and a Marshall Scholarship for graduate study in the United Kingdom. I lead Global Community College Transfers alongside one of the most talented group of Americans— of any background —I have ever met, ranging from current diplomats and foreign affairs professionals to alumni of programs like Marshall, Fulbright, Schwarzman, Boren, and more. They have overcome so much in their personal and professional lives to get where they are representative of the incredible drive and promise of what community colleges— and affordable, accessible, local education more broadly —promise the American public.

As I argued in a recent piece with the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, community college, transfer, and non-traditional students are perfectly suited to serve in positions across public service, and especially for notoriously high-barrier-to-entry positions in the foreign affairs industry. In fact, being a community college and non-traditional student that accessed international opportunities has remained a core part of my professional journey and something that has remained fundamental to my own sense of evolution and mission, with Global Community College Transfers and beyond.

As we build our volunteer network, GCCT hopes to scale our activities to help serve as an advocacy and institutional glue helping organizations better reach talented community college populations and empower them to re-frame their non-traditional, transfer experiences as something empowering, not limiting.

Scholarships and fellowships form a key gateway opportunity for young non-traditional talent to access competitive careers in foreign affairs and gain the skills they need to be on an equal-playing field with students that can either self-fund or have deeper institutional support. Programs like Critical Language Scholarships, Boren, and Fulbright provide an important ecosystem through which committed students develop language and intercultural abilities, as well as international networks that will grow alongside themselves for a lifetime. We are excited to connect with organizations that share our mission and goals and would love if you get in touch with us directly at info@globalcctransfers.org.

Pi(e) Day may never be the same for me. The experience of being evacuated and grounded in the United States ultimately generated the sense to serve others in challenging situations, compelled us to tap into our diverse networks, and led to our driving mission and launch of GCCT. As the international education and language training sector recovers post-pandemic, we should actively and intentionally strive to center equity and access within program design to ensure that those with limited institutional, economic, and social resources are able to participate in global education and professional foreign affairs opportunities. Otherwise, we will just keep replicating the same patterns of privilege and inequity that have plagued the sector since its inception.

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In addition to leading Global Community College Transfers, Nicholas Shafer is a current Marshall Scholar studying international development and Middle Eastern Studies in the United Kingdom. A past recipient of the Boren Fellowship in Jordan and a Research Fulbright in Morocco, Nicholas previously worked at the USAID Middle Eastern Bureau, Smithsonian Institution, and State Department. He is a proud Bay Area Native and graduate of UC Berkeley and Foothill College.