After ending a phone call with Pepperdine’s International Program Dean Charles Hall, Brian Swarts was left with a difficult decision to make.
Swarts was conflicted with choosing between his previous employer, family ties to Japan and his alma mater. He had to decide to either work as the Program Director for The Salvation Army in Japan — where his wife is from — or as the Program Director for Pepperdine’s Washington D.C. International Program.
“I was strongly drawn to the opportunity to work with Pepperdine students,” Swarts said. “I truly believe they have the ability to be the leaders of the next generation and the capacity to change the world.”
When Swarts first learned the Washington D.C. program was looking for a new director, he found it as an answer to his prayer.
“I thought this was the perfect opportunity to combine my past work in D.C. and global affairs, with my love for Pepperdine and a long-standing desire to help young people make a difference in the world,” Swarts said.
As the Director, Swarts said he is responsible for the academic and professional integrity of the program, making sure Pepperdine students receive the best education and professional development and to enhance students’ global awareness.
“My mission is that you will leave Washington D.C. with a better sense of what you want to do with your life and what it will take to accomplish your professional goals,” Swarts wrote in an email.
Swarts is a Seaver College alumnus from the Class of 2001. He studied Religion and graduated summa cum laude. He attended Pepperdine’s Florence International Program in 1998. In addition, he said he was involved with the Pepperdine Ambassadors Council, Housing and Residence Life, Campus Ministry and the Pepperdine Volunteer Center.
Swarts said he moved to Washington, D.C. 10 years ago to become a part of the global movement to end extreme poverty. He came to D.C. to work with advocacy organizations focused on increasing U.S. aid and support for highly impoverished countries such as Haiti, Zambia and Congo. This is part of a large effort shared by advocacy groups, humanitarian organizations, and international institutions which together are focused on the collective goal to end extreme poverty.
Since 2012, Swarts worked for the national headquarters of The Salvation Army in overseeing global strategy and partnership.
“I have loved living in D.C. because I’ve not only been able to work for great causes, but I’ve been able to do my work all over the world,” Swarts said.
Swarts has served around the world. His expertise is in the area of international affairs and global development — specifically international finance, small business initiatives in South Asia and Africa and disaster recovery programs in Haiti, Japan and the Philippines.
“Through our program, I want students to understand that Washington, D.C. is one of the most globally-connected cities in the world, as well as a center of national influence,” Swarts said. “D.C. is an ideal launching pad for the future.”
Swarts has been fortunate to work with people across the D.C. spectrum, from young professionals to policy experts and senior leaders in local agencies and organizations.
“This has given me a familiarity with many aspects of the D.C. experience, as well as the grounding to help Pepperdine students engage globally through international careers or leadership opportunities,” he said. “I want to get them connected to the issues, people and internships that will lead them to future success.”
Swarts has been a crucial influence in helping students find internships and professional mentors. He helped many Washington D.C. students, including sophomore Caroline White, find their Fall 2015 internships.
“Brian couldn’t have been more helpful to me when I was looking for an internship,” White said. “He called me and emailed me constantly with different opportunities and was willing to help me with any questions I had. He was always available to help me and I couldn’t be more appreciative of him and the work he is doing.”
Ivy Brewer, the Washington D.C. Program Coordinator, said Swarts has brought a new vision to make the program. While Swarts acknowledges the program’s solid foundation, he said he is willing to make changes for the better on behalf of the students and the University.
Brewer said since Swarts is young, he more accurately reflects the current professional in D.C.
With a strong professional background, Swarts has an impressive educational background as well. He is certified in Strategy and Performance Management by Georgetown University and has earned his M.A. and M.P.A. in International Development and Nonprofit Management from the University of Oregon.
Dr. Richard Gathro, the previous program director, encouraged Swarts to push the students to grow and reflect on how they embody Pepperdine’s mission of purpose, service and leadership, but also enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of the students.
Swarts has not only invested his professional life into the program, but his personal life as well. His family is the heart of the D.C. program. He and his wife Izumi have two sons: Shosuke, 4, and Hiro, 1.
“They know how much I love Pepperdine,” Swarts said. “And my two boys were especially excited that they would have the chance to hang out with all of our students.”
The Swarts family has joined the students on multiple excursions, such as the Washington Monument, Smithsonian National Zoo and a Nationals baseball game. Many students, including sophomore Jared Baly, think of the Swarts as their own Washington D.C. family.
“Whenever Brian brings his kids on group outings, I always enjoy having fun with them,” sophomore Jared Bailey said. “At the National Zoo, I held Sho on my shoulders the entire time so he could see all the animals. He even used my hair as a steering wheel, pulling me wherever he desired to go next.”
Swarts has also arranged for students to have a family dinner at his house every week. Sarah Neiman, the Washington D.C. Resident Advisor, was one of the first students to join Swart’s family for dinner.
“Brian invited us to have dinner with his family and his wife cooked the best curry I ever had,” sophomore Sarah Neiman said. “It was nice to spend time with his kids and get away from homework and school for a night.”
Brewer said the most important thing Swarts has done is bring his own personality to the program.
“I say this because…when students look back on their time in D.C., Brian and I will always be linked to their experience,” Brewer said. “We want to make sure everyone has a rewarding time while they are in D.C.”
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