Amber N. Long
Director of College Counseling
THINK Global School (NY)
How did you become a director of college counseling at THINK Global School?
I learned of the position at TGS while I was searching for a new challenge and adventure. I wanted to try international college counseling, but I was reluctant to take the big leap of packing up everything and moving to a new country. I had already shocked my family with my move to New York 10 years ago. TGS stood out to me because the position would allow me to maintain my relationships with colleagues and friends in admission and college counseling in the US, build stronger networks outside of the States, and support an incredible group of globally-minded students—all while working from home! It was the best of all worlds—my beloved NYC, more flexibility, challenge, and responsibility, and a young, innovative and unique international school that is truly revolutionizing what secondary education looks like.
Your students are located all over the world. How do you handle the extra counseling challenges that come along with a global campus?
We have 43 students from more than 25 countries traveling, living, and learning together with their educators and support staff. Our new self-designed “Changemaker Curriculum” and year-round school calendar means that TGS students and staff are almost always engaged in school-related activities. Nevertheless, this new and rigorous format poses the new challenge of having to figure out how, and when, to make time for relaxation and rejuvenation between our four academic terms.
Working with students (and colleagues) whom I only get to physically see on occasion has been an interesting challenge. However, technology makes almost anything possible. In addition to constantly utilizing a number of new platforms and tools, TGS has presented many opportunities for me to develop more personal flexibility and adaptability in my role—an area that I’ve wanted to cultivate further. I adjust my schedule to accommodate meetings in other time zones and hope for strong Internet connections. Skype, Hangouts, and FaceTime are essential tools for communication when I am not at school. I also work very closely with our school counselor, who is onsite. We make a great team and work together to support our students as they plan the next phase of their educational journeys. The week or two I spend at school during our terms is filled with class visits and meetings with students and colleagues. When schedules or other plans change, as they often do, I just have to roll with it and find another way to accomplish my goals. As we transition to our new curriculum, I am also embracing non-traditional teaching methods and learning from our educators who are encouraging and empowering our students to take charge of their own learning. This is year two for me at TGS and it’s been a thrilling and fulfilling work-in-progress.
What made you decide to get into this field?
As an undergrad, I loved being a resident advisor and I also volunteered in the admission office. My original plan was to pursue TV news reporting. When my hall director put the bug in my ear to think about student affairs, I was flattered that he noticed my work ethic and enthusiasm for my role in residence education. I was happy to consider the field broadly, but as plan B. I then had a couple internship and shadow experiences that deeply affected my motivation and desire to pursue my dreams of becoming the “Black Barbara Walters.” At around graduation time from the University of Michigan, I also realized that I was not willing to make the necessary sacrifices to jumpstart my career and slowly climb my way to the top of the broadcast news world. After failing gracefully at my first job out of college, plan B quickly became plan A. I worked as a substitute teacher for six months while I investigated the possibilities in student affairs. I searched for residence education, advising, and admission opportunities, but after reflecting on my own experiences, I knew admission was where I wanted to start. I was very fortunate to land a position in the office of undergraduate admission at my alma mater and that started me on my path to a fulfilling career.
It was so awesome to be back on campus and working for -- and with -- mentors I had known since I was a freshman. The admission work was fun and sufficiently challenging and my passion for getting students to college blossomed. For a short time, I thought I would remain in higher ed and aspire to top admission or other administrative positions. Thinking about my own university search process, which was nonexistent, and the students I’d encountered along the way who—like myself—had ambition, but little guidance, I enrolled in graduate courses in school counseling at Eastern Michigan University after my first year. I knew that I would eventually want to make the transition to the high school side of the desk. Everything turned out just right for me and I would not trade my experiences, but I got into the field and I stay in it to help students find and understand all of their options and opportunities after high school. Deciding whether to attend university and where to go are major decisions, and I believe in students making thoughtful and informed choices.
What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of my role at TGS is being onsite and seeing the students make a new place home every few months. It is wonderful to see them in their element at each location. They adapt to new living conditions and classroom spaces. They find new favorite restaurants and places to study. Many of them find a topic that is relevant to the host country and choose to dive into projects to present at our showcase at the end of each term. TGS is such an exciting way to attend school and it is incredibly fun to see our students shine.
At our most recent showcase one of our students gave a talk about her personal path that reminded me why I love this work so much. Her message about embracing the unconventional and being empowered to do more with less was important and deeply resonated with me. The delivery was just as impressive. But it was the moment itself that gave me goose bumps. That moment when you’re listening to a student speak and you realize just how powerful their authentic voice is and imagine all they can become. Chills! You can’t coach true authenticity and I get so excited when I see it in our students.
How has NACAC played a role in your career?
I can give at least some credit to NACAC and its members for almost every key moment in my career thus far. It was at Counselors of Color (now Guiding the Way to Inclusion) in 2004 when Malika Johnson and Jodi Hester gave me the license and confidence to broaden my horizons and consider making a career in independent schools. I attended my first annual conference in 2006 and experienced, for the time, the power in numbers that NACAC signifies. I have only missed one conference since that first time and, every year, I leave with new connections on both sides of the desk that I know I can call for advice, answers to questions (I’ve had many lately), or a lead on an important resource for myself or for my students. Co-facilitating a session at Critical Components in 2013 offered the first opportunity to sharpen my speaking and presentation skills on a more public stage since I left admission. (Not to mention, I got to share the floor with the incomparable Brandi Smith.)
My involvement with Michigan ACAC started early during my time in admission through Camp College, where I eventually served as co-chair for the program. My love for and commitment to Camp College was also my entrée into east coast affiliates. I have volunteered at both NJACAC and NYSACAC Camp sessions. I also attended my first International ACAC this past summer. Since 2015, it has been my honor to serve as co-director for NYSACAC Camp College (which benefits regularly from the Imagine Fund), and also as a NACAC Assembly Delegate.
Assembly has been one of the joys of my NACAC and professional life. I never imagined a meeting that started so early in the morning and lasted as long as it does could be so interesting and exciting. I am not a morning person and sitting for extended periods is very difficult for me. Our profession and this association are special. Assembly exemplifies some of the points that make it so. We are a dedicated and passionate group of people who care deeply for students and feel strongly about the value of education. We don’t always agree on every point, but we respect each other. To participate in a process that is organized, where everyone gets to be heard, and where dialogue is civil and productive is a treat.
I am so grateful for the opportunities NACAC and my affiliates have provided for my continued professional growth and the expansion of my networks, both professional and personal.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
Many of my relationships are so intertwined, it seems like I am always working! However, they say when you love what you do, it’s not work. Therefore, it is often hard for me to distinguish where the work ends and the fun begins. But when I am not talking about post-graduation options and opportunities with my students or talking about my students or admission and access topics with my “friendleagues,” I am usually exercising (CrossFit is my workout of choice), taking advantage of educator access to theatre tickets in NYC, dining at one of the 200-plus locations of my favorite restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory, traveling back and forth to family and friends in my home state of Michigan, or planning my next vacation. Travel has become a significant part of my professional life, but I still try to take at least one trip a year that is just for me.
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
This is a tough one! I think I would have to say Rainbow Johnson from Black-ish. Rainbow is smart, stylish, and funny. She just seems to have it all—career, family, and self—together. She’s one of the best fictional representations of Black Girl Magic for me right now. If I had to choose a life that wasn’t my own, I think I could be quite content with hers.
Describe yourself in five words.
Passionate, particular, unapologetic, honest, and loyal.
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