Drury graduate travels the world and returns to her alma mater

It’s a widely held notion that the days of staying in one job or even one career throughout a lifetime are long gone, and for Drury’s director of international admissions, the shifts in her career have taken her around the world and back to where she started.

Beth Nichols graduated from Glendale in the late nineties and initially planned to attend the University of Missouri, but even before classes began, she knew a large a state school wasn’t for her. “The day before classes began at Drury, I applied, got accepted and started school,” Nichols said, continuing a three-generation tradition for her family. Nichols’ grandparents, Louise and Dick Aton, attended Drury and it was her grandfather who encouraged and convinced her to become a Panther.

Beth Nichols with her mother, and fellow Drury graduate, Carolyn Naegler in Shanghai, China

Nichols began as a pre-med student, but after taking a handful of design classes, she switched to architecture mid-way through her college career and graduated in 2003. Upon graduation, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked for internationally known architect Eric Owen Moss. From there, she worked at a private firm in Springfield and in planning for the City of Springfield. Then, she was off to graduate school at the Architectural Association in London, England.

“At Drury the professors and my fellow Architecture classmates were so helpful and friendly. The Drury way is centered on community and inclusion so the transition to an extremely competitive academic environment in London, where other students would destroy your work or sabotage your computer, was interesting. The rigorous nature of the program was easy to handle, but the lack of community proved to be more difficult.” Nichols said. But she made it through and graduated with a Master of Architecture and Urbanism.

She wanted to stay in London to work, but wound up in Beijing, China working for a small British firm, “The enormous scale of the projects in China is quite mesmerizing. There are currently limitless architectural possibilities in Asia and the speed of construction is unbelievable,” Nichols said. “In Springfield, you might plan and design a strip center. In Asia, I was designing enormous planned communities and 120-meter tall skyscrapers. A project that would take two years in the states would take three months in China. The pace was amazing.”

From there, Nichols went to a firm in Hong Kong where she worked on similarly enormous projects, but the workload was enormous, as well, “I was working at least 12 hours a day. The first three months I was there, I didn’t have a day off,” Nichols said. “It was typical to be in the office until 2 a.m.”

Missing her hometown and a normal life, Nichols sought a job in higher education with the intention of becoming a professor, but when the position for director of international admission came open, it was a good fit combining her desire to work with students and her experience living abroad. Now, she visits about 20 countries a year, attending college fairs where she introduces international students to Drury where she hopes they’ll attend college and increase campus diversity.

“While doing business with someone in China or the Middle East feels normal to me, most of our students have not been exposed to people of other cultures–that’s why it is so important to have international students in your university,” Nichols said. “If a student in Springfield gets to know a student from Kuwait or Korea, learns about their culture and their country, it makes the typical Drury student more well rounded and more prepared to work in the global economy.”

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Story by Mark Miller, associate director of marketing and communications.