John Brooks: Focused on Relationships

October 26, 2009

John Brooks is focused on a specific goal. Looking through the lens of the next generation, his ambition is to invest in college students and the influence they will have in the world around them. The 1973 Oklahoma Baptist University graduate has helped thousands of American college students create relationships with students in 32 other countries. He is building on a concept he appreciated while on Bison Hill.

As a non-traditional student, his undergraduate experience was different than most students'. However, he said OBU helped make a place for him within the campus culture and encouraged him in his plans for the future.

"Small classes and personal attention from professors is still a reminder to me today of the importance of being willing to consider that students are all in different situations," he said.

It was not until graduate school that Brooks truly recognized his growing desire to work with students. He sharpened his focus on the influence students have in their decisions and relationships. Challenged by a mentor to start working with students, Brooks began to realize the benefits of the investment.

"He told me of the importance and relative ease of investing into the lives of university students," Brooks said. "They are future world leaders and are open and teachable, as they are already in a learning environment. They are making the decisions in their lives that will change the direction of theirs and their families' lives. If right decisions are made, they will change the direction for good in education, business, medicine, and politics."

His investment instantly reaped dividends. After completing his master's and doctoral degrees he worked with students at Wichita State University through an organization which aimed to make a difference nationally and internationally through the influence of students. Brooks shared the ambition. He capitalized on an opportunity to lead a group to Central Asia, prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.

"I was able to interact with Russian and Kazakh students in a meaningful way and saw their desire for truth," he said. "I wanted to provide the U.S. students an opportunity to make friends from other cultures and talk about truth with them."

Brooks increasingly received requests to send students overseas to interact with college students. He said the stateside students' willingness to invest themselves in others triggered the growth of travel opportunities. Their availability also led to creation of a new vehicle for fostering international friendships.

Though he never intended to create an organization, the more Brooks traveled and met international students, he kept thinking of ways to facilitate cross cultural experiences for U.S. students. In 1995 he established Friends of College and University Students (FOCUS) International to help recruit, train and send students overseas for short-term projects.

"Most students that our students have gotten to know love their country and are eager to be gracious hosts to American students," he said. "Most of these same students are also fascinated with American culture as seen through the eyes of their peers and are eager to make American friends."

His desire to create opportunities for students to make a difference internationally became infectious. The FOCUS students developed an appreciation for the cultures they were experiencing worldwide and began to better understand what international students encounter in America. That made them more willing to invest time with the organization.

"Most of these students now have deep friendships with people from their host country and a greater heart for international students in the States," he said.

Brooks and his wife, Peggy, are driven by the cultural opportunities they can create for students. They now work with six FOCUS staff members to facilitate new global experiences. The effort also is a Brooks family enterprise, as their children, David and Candace, ex '94, have volunteered with FOCUS since its inception.

"My heart's desire is that we would be able to help facilitate these same kinds of relationships between students from all nations of the world," Brooks said.

FOCUS has placed more than 2,200 American students worldwide for short-term projects. The organization works with hundreds of volunteers and more than 25 colleges and universities nationwide. Brooks has fine-tuned his focus, while he continues to broaden his field of view.

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