Study Abroad Adviser Has Impressive Run on Jeopardy!

Photo credit: Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

In January 2014, NAFSA member Sarah McNitt, a study abroad adviser at the University of Iowa, had a memorable six-day run on the television quiz show Jeopardy!. McNitt's earnings totaled $89,398, placing her in good position to return for the show's Tournament of Champions.

For six days, people around the country heard the words "study abroad adviser" because of your appearance. Have you ever seen your profession get such publicity?
Unfortunately, I'm not sure that the average Jeopardy! viewer could tell you what my career is. But I do think that there's something to be said for aspiration and seeing people like you out in the world accomplishing things. So maybe I encouraged a Jeopardy! fan to think about study abroad, or maybe I encouraged a study abroad adviser to follow their dream to be on Jeopardy!.

How different was your playing style on the show compared to your playing style at home?
Not significantly different! I have trained my family not to answer questions until Alex [Trebek] is done asking them, the way that contestants have to do on the show. I sometimes practice "ringing in" before answering questions at home, too. Some champions talk about watching the show standing up or even changing the temperature of the room to match the studio setting, but I didn't go that far.

The maximum possible score for the first round of Jeopardy! is $35,600. What dream categories would let you run the table?
I think my best categories on the show were Flowers Around the World, The Really Old College Try, 1970s No. 1 Hits, and Brit Food. I wouldn't mind more questions about countries I've been to or foreign universities I've researched or the music I grew up listening to. And if there has to be a sports category, it would be really handy if it were about University of Michigan sports in particular!

You studied abroad in France, and ever since, international education has been a central theme. What encouraged you to pursue study abroad? What surprising things did you learn about yourself while abroad?
My high school French teacher took a group of students to France for three weeks every other summer. After visiting France for the first time and actually using the French I'd been learning for years, I decided that I wanted to study abroad in France in college.

While abroad I gained a lot of confidence in myself, and I was no longer as shy as I had been. And after I returned, I felt even more confident because things that would have been challenging in French were now so much easier in English.

Was there a pivotal moment that made you decide to become a study abroad adviser?
When I was pursuing my graduate degree in human-computer interaction at the University of Michigan, I took a work-study job in U-M's Overseas Opportunities Office. Over the course of two years, I became more interested in the work I was doing part time than the subject I was studying and decided that I wanted my career to be in international education. Bill Nolting [long-time NAFSA member] helped to teach me about the field and guided me as I applied for my first full-time job.

You have attended and presented at several NAFSA conferences. Do you have a favorite memory or session from any of them?
My favorite part of a NAFSA conference is usually the tweetups–meeting all the other participants who have been informing us on the NAFSA back-channel about what's going on at the conference.

NAFSA's website has linked to your page about famous study abroad alumni for several years now. Freddie Mercury is study abroad alumnus #1. Did Freddie inspire you to start keeping the list?
I had been compiling an informal list in my head for a while, and I think it was around the time I read about Freddie Mercury that it occurred to me to make an actual list and then to make that list into a blog.

Currently, there are more than 700 real and fictional study abroad alumni on your page. Who are your personal favorites?
I really like having a combination of famous people whose names jump out at you (Bill Clinton , Guy Fieri , Bill Murray , Wolf Blitzer , Agatha Christie ) and people who I would like my readers to know more about (the Klumpke Sisters , Bessie Coleman , Alice Paul , Albie Sachs , Joe Dassin ). [Editor’s note: Albie Sachs will be a plenary speaker at the 2014 NAFSA Annual Conference.]

You used your Jeopardy appearance to show off your trivia muscles and promote study abroad, but you were also able to bring attention to the work you are doing to honor your mother, who passed away from Leukemia two weeks before you taped Jeopardy!. Can you explain a bit about what you are doing and what action others can take to help?
My mother received 113 transfusions of blood products over the course of her treatment, and a friend in California has organized several blood and bone marrow registry drives in her honor to symbolically replace the blood that she received. I would like to do the same in Iowa.

My mother's medical team also identified a donor for a bone marrow transplant, but she never regained enough strength to receive the transplant. The best donors are healthy people aged 18-44, so college campuses are great places for registry drives.

The blood transfusions gave us more time with my mom, and the bone marrow donor gave us hope. Both of those were very important to us.

Be on the lookout for updates if McNitt does qualify for the Tournament of Champions and check out additional resources on notable study abroad alumni.