In early 2012, just after completing a Fulbright research grant in Brazil, I was hired by CIEE to assess the study abroad programs in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, identify which parts of the operation could be salvaged, and take apart and rebuild the programs. Catharine Scruggs, long-standing Executive Director of all CIEE programs and an important figure in all of CIEE’s expansion and development initiatives, recently shared some reflections on my work as Resident Director (2012-2015), the same type of services I am now offering as a freelance consultant:
“I first met Jacob Dyer Spiegel in early 2012 when I interviewed him for a Resident Director position for the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) programs in Salvador, Brazil. During his tenure as RD, Jacob impressed me because of his ability to assess program strengths and weaknesses, work with senior management to effectively re-create an international study center, build partnerships, and transform the curriculum around student-centered learning models.
From my perspective as Executive Director overseeing all study abroad programs for U.S. university students in CIEE’s 43 countries and over 60 cities, Jacob assumed a challenging role. His successes speak volumes about his ability maintain and expand institutional relationships, manage staff, and solve problems proactively across languages and cultures.
Working across units and at times very closely with me, Jacob essentially took apart, rebuilt, and directed the organization’s entire study abroad operation in Salvador, Brazil, one of CIEE’s most challenging operational climates. This was not a small undertaking, by any means, and Jacob was at the helm of major changes with groups of students on-site in a particularly complex moment for Salvador with staffing issues, a major strike that paralyzed the host-university, and increasing safety concerns for students.
Within a short period of time, however, Jacob used his diplomatic abilities to build strong relationships with local partners. With advanced proficiency in Portuguese and in-depth knowledge of Brazilian culture, he led the re-writing of an agreement with a leading host-university, opened ties with community centers for volunteer opportunities, and upgraded student safety by creating new policies and holding regular workshops with staff and students. He worked with local lawyers to ensure compliance with complex Brazilian labor law and managed the business legalization process.
In addition, Jacob designed multiple new CIEE courses, carefully considering the profile of students, industry trends and local resources. He hired and trained new professors, led teacher workshops at the language institute. When it was determined that the best path would be for CIEE to have its own language and culture program in Salvador, he developed it, found the best teachers in the city, and put language learning at the center of all excursions and activities.
During this major period of transition in Brazil, Jacob designed and managed the renovation of the new center facility located in the most sought after section of the capital city. This move enhanced the profile of CIEE programs in Salvador and opened the way for Salvador to receive many Custom and Faculty-led programs as well as Faculty Development Seminars for US-based professors and international education administrators. With a long history in Cuba, Jacob also co-led a faculty development program on the island.
Jacob is a team player and a participatory leader who thrives in cross-cultural and inter-linguistic contexts, empowering staff that works alongside him.”
Building from this work with CIEE, I developed the Princeton Gap Year program in the state of Bahia, and then moved on to Harvard University’s Laspau Scholarship Programs office. Within a month at Harvard, I was working with the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Ministry of Science and Technology in the Science Without Borders program, now bringing some of Brazil’s most talented scholars to Ph.D. programs at U.S. universities. The Brazil-U.S. circle had been completed!