Dr Sherrie Lee
Senior Policy Advisor at Tertiary Education Commission - Wellington
Dr Sherrie Lee has never been one to play it safe in her career. If she feels an urge to try something new, she’ll get the necessary qualifications and give it a go.
This means she’s worked in writing and communications after studying English literature and sociolinguistics, she’s been a lecturer in business communications in Singapore, and before coming to the University of Waikato to complete a doctorate, she completed a Master of Arts in Teaching specialising in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
Now she is a senior policy advisor at the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) based in Wellington.
“Singapore is a multicultural society and while we use English as our first language and lingua franca we are deeply influenced by our heritage languages,” she says. “And when I started to lecture, I found I wanted to better understand the learning environments of my students who came from limited English-speaking backgrounds. Then I felt myself thinking about a career in international education.”
And that’s what brought her to Waikato’s Faculty of Education (now called Te Kura Toi Tangata - School of Education), to study aspects of international education. When she arrived at Waikato, Sherrie never imagined she’d be working for TEC. She had her mind set on a career in academia, but she’s found her doctoral study to be hugely beneficial even though her career has taken a different turn. “A PhD makes you focus and become dedicated to thinking and writing for a sustained period. It helps you develop the skill of expressing something multifaceted and complex in a clear and compelling way.”
While she was studying, Sherrie made a point of volunteering, which again was useful. It was an immediate way to meet new people and get to know the community, and she was also able to support others in the same way she’d been supported during her own sometimes difficult situations. She was president of the Postgraduate Students’ Association, a role that included providing advocacy support for postgraduate students, particularly international postgraduate students.
“Once I realised being an academic was not a deal breaker, I made the decision to take my skills and passion elsewhere,” Sherrie says. “I enjoy working with the intricacies of policy and implementation and PhD study was a good way to help prepare me for dealing with ambiguity, doing peer review, and managing projects with tight deadlines.”
She got a job with TEC in Hamilton before getting appointed to her current position. She works closely with other teams within the TEC and the Ministry of Education. Her work revolves around translating policy into operational guidance, rules, processes and products, and ultimately ensuring that policy intent is fulfilled in practice.
“I believe we can improve how we meet the needs of international students. Their needs are multifaced and differ depending on age and stage of life. There’s a Code of Practice for the pastoral care of international students but based on my experience as an international student and observations of fellow ‘internationals’, how it’s expressed and received in practice can vary within and between institutions. I also think we need to take a wider view of our international students and consider how they may contribute long term to the communities they’re received in.
“It’s hard to put up dollar figures as a rationale for any proposal to invest in cross-cultural work with international students, but I would argue that the longer-term potential for business partnerships and enhanced international reputation for the country are important enough reasons.”
And if there’s any other advice Sherrie has, it would be this: When you think your dreams have been crushed, consider how they are being remolded for an alternative and better future.
Click here to read more about Sherrie’s research.