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Outstanding Alumni – Charles Mathies (PhD 2010)

Betz Kerley

Charles Mathies had wanderlust in his blood. He wanted to live and work in another country so after completing his PhD, he was excited to secure a position with the University of Jyväskylä in Jyväskylä, Finland.

“My official title is ‘Erityisasiantuntija’ or ‘Senior Expert’, and I am developing the concept of institutional research at the university,” explains Mathies. “Specifically, I am tasked to work with the university’s IT Department and Data Systems to develop analysis of students, staff, and resources for the university’s institutional management to use in its decision-making and planning activities.”

Although Mathies liked the idea of living and working abroad, he was unsure how to go about it. Dr. Sheila Slaughter of the IHE encouraged him to participate in various conferences and seminars to meet international scholars and to expand his own personal network. After familiarizing himself with the issues of higher education around the world, he noticed in Europe there were movements towards Neo- Liberalism policies and with it, changes in public policy were being enacted. These changes meant a shortage of trained professionals in data analysis and institutional research (IR) skills. At an ASHE conference, Mathies met a professor from the University of Jyväskylä and began a two-year dialogue with him about Finnish higher education. This connection eventually resulted in an offer of employment in Finland.

“For me, it was a combination of developing my own professional skills, ability, and knowledge, developing my own network, and having support from my advisor and using her network to get to where I am now,” says Mathies.

Working in another country is not without adjustments. “My biggest challenge has been to understand the culture of Finnish universities. In Finland, students are granted ‘study rights’ (the right to study) a particular subject, but they are given the right to study not only at the bachelors level, but also at the masters degree level. So this creates interesting situations of where does one degree program (bachelors) end and the other (masters) start? In developing retention and completion analysis, the ‘study rights’ issue was a source of many conversations on capturing the correct degree a student was pursuing at a particular time.”

After two years in Finland, Mathies is enjoying his work at the university. “I am being asked to give my opinion and thoughts on various projects, not just the ones related to data analysis but to overall university planning processes,” says Mathies, “so I feel I have made a positive impact.”

His advice to students with wanderlust in their hearts? “There are a number of great opportunities available at the IHE, and all it takes is the initiative to get started. I wanted an experience in Europe and I talked with a number of faculty members and IHE visitors (lots of EPS [Education Policy Seminar] speakers) to ask how to do it. It was through these connections that opportunities were presented to me – but I had to do the work to lay the groundwork to make the opportunities into reality.”

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