This story is a part of our “A Day in the Life” series that highlights the career journeys of 2U employees across the world. Throughout May, we’re celebrating Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and featuring members of the Asian Pacific Islander Network (APIN), one of the company’s five Business Resource Networks.
Join practically any Business Resource Network (BRN) at 2U and you’re likely to cross paths with Executive Admissions Counselor Brent Bray—a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) powerhouse and 2U veteran who just last month celebrated his 10-year work anniversary. Not only is he an active member of APIN, but also he’s one of the original founders of 2Q, the BRN for LGBTQ staff and their allies; he’s a member of Mosaic, 2U’s overarching DEI-focused group; and he’s currently the communications chair for the Womxn’s Alliance Network (W.A.N.).
“In each of these roles, I hope I have made big and small changes to help strengthen the culture at 2U and the experiences of my fellow 2Utes,” Brent says.
Before coming to 2U, Brent was working at a progressive investment/impact fund, helping donors fund and build non-profits across the U.S. “Joining 2U was a bit of a career change for me,” he says, “but not a mission change. I’ve always viewed 2U as the democratization of education—it’s a vehicle to help lower the opportunity costs of education and make it more achievable to more people.”
Brent knows this first-hand, as he earned his MBA from American University’s Kogod School of Business, one of 2U’s university partners. “Education drives opportunity. It’s a key that opens a lot of doors. My husband also got his master’s through a 2U partner—a Master of Science in Communications from Syracuse University—and I have watched it change his life. He was recently promoted to deputy director of external affairs for a government agency. That’s the power of education!”
Read on to learn more about Brent’s role at 2U, his involvement with APIN, and what his Guam heritage means to him.
Brent with his husband Benjamin Williams and their dog Brew
Why did you join 2U? What is it about the company that sparked your interest?
I joined 2U because, at the time, it was a scrappy startup that had a mission to change education. The company also had smart people who were able to achieve that goal. 2U has always had the “sauce” of connecting hardworking, passionate people who are laser-focused on the transformational education that drives 2U. I am frequently in awe of what has been achieved in such a short time.
How would you describe your role as an executive admissions counselor?
My role in Admissions is built around helping people achieve their goals. In Admissions, we wear three different hats at any one time. Sometimes we are a project manager, helping people through the application process and keeping them focused on the task at hand. Sometimes we are a cheerleader, helping to build up applicants’ confidence and enthusiasm. And the other times we are a counselor. I think we are all afraid of being rejected in life. When you apply to a 2U-powered program, you are literally signing up to be judged by a group of people. We help talk people through that stress and hopefully get them over the hump.
My role in Admissions is built around helping people achieve their goals. We wear three different hats at any one time. Sometimes we’re a project manager. Sometimes we’re a cheerleader. The other times we're a counselor.— Brent Bray, Executive Admissions Counselor, 2U
What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your job?
The best part of my job is helping applicants become students—helping people achieve that next step in education and their next goal in life. It’s extremely rewarding when someone is initially plagued with doubt, but then I help them through the process and they take that leap of faith, apply, and are admitted. Sometimes those “admit calls” are met with tears. It’s really powerful to know you have had an impact.
Even though we do everything we can to help applicants through the process and be prepared, the most challenging aspect of my job is when a student is too scared of rejection to apply. We know the power of our university partners’ programs and the transformative nature of education. All too often, students tell themselves “I will not get in” or they talk themselves out of applying, and yet they are great candidates for a program. We really are here to help and are invested in our applicants.
Why did you join APIN?
I joined APIN because it is a celebration of who I am. My family is from Guam, and I’ve always been proud of our small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. APIN gives me an avenue to celebrate that and connect with other Chomorros at work. I grew up away from Guam, and sometimes that created a feeling like my roots hovered at the surface. APIN offers me ways to delve into my heritage through a professional lens. It has been fantastic to get the additional exposure. I’m looking forward to helping 2U celebrate every aspect of API Heritage Month and watching the group grow.
Brent donning a traditional lei from Guam for his American University MBA graduation
What does Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you? How do you plan on celebrating it this year?
API Heritage Month gives everyone time and focus to celebrate our history and our heritage. Far too often, the story of Guam is told through its legacy of colonization and occupation. Growing up, I knew who took over Guam at certain points, and that it was a strategic location for this-or-that battle. But I knew nothing of the Chomorro people who lived on the land during those periods in history. API Heritage Month is the ability to stop and reflect on the people of and from the island who call it home.
Specifically for my own heritage, API history is the story of my great grandmother’s acts of resistance to unlawful imprisonment at the hands of the U.S. It is her heroism and bravery that I celebrate. The book Sacred Men: Law, Torture, and Retribution in Guam tells a few stories of my great grandmother, but one in particular speaks to her tenacity. Chammoros who had affiliation with Japanese people were imprisoned. She demanded to be charged with a crime or be set free, but when the government refused on both accounts, she told the guards they’d have to shoot her as she grabbed my grandmother’s hand and began climbing a barbed-wire fence. They stopped her from escaping, but she eventually won freedom for her family. And eventually the people of Guam were released from the prisons.
Reading this story gave me a new lens through which to view my own legacy and history and celebrate my ancestors.
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