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Seth Tucker: Preparation Is Key to Safe and Transformative Travel Experiences
Seth Tucker says the time he spent abroad during college was transformative. He studied in Paris even though he wasn’t proficient in French. “I had to rewire my brain…learn to swim in a different pond,” says the New York native with Georgia roots. “I think every Syracuse student should have that kind of experience. My job is to make sure they are as safe as they can be when they are adapting to life abroad.”
Tucker’s job as director of global safety and support for Campus Safety and Emergency Services is focused on making the global student experience a transformative one, like his, not traumatic, like some might fear (stoked by media reports of international terrorism). “Global terrorism is certainly worrisome in some locations, but accidental injury remains the single greatest threat to student safety while traveling abroad,” he says. “Most places are not any more dangerous than parts of any major U.S. city. Safety is about being knowledgeable of your local environment, maintaining awareness and employing good safety practices.”
With thousands of students studying abroad, and a commitment that every student has a global experience of some kind, Syracuse University has placed tremendous responsibility on Tucker’s shoulders. “Seth has a fascinating role. His combination of crisis management experience, student affairs leadership, public safety oversight and international travel, as well as a master’s degree in international relations, serves our University travelers well,” says Senior Vice President and Chief Law Enforcement Officer Tony Callisto, who appointed Tucker to his current role in January 2017.
Tucker is also responsible for student, faculty and staff safety at the University’s domestic centers (New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.). He is often on a plane, traveling around the country and overseas, meeting with international partners and security and law enforcement agencies. He is responsible for reducing risks associated with international travel and global experiences.
A self-described “liberal arts guy,” Tucker could not have imagined the expansiveness of his job when he was a political science major at Presbyterian College in South Carolina. But pursuing a master’s degree in international relations at Syracuse University broadened his horizons. And he discovered his true passion in campus employment: helping incoming undergraduates discover their own passions and strengths, while helping to provide administrative leadership for the Summer Start program.
“It was like running a mini-university, from registration to supporting curriculum development to housing arrangements, as well as student health and conduct. I learned so much from that experience and had some really great mentors, particularly JoAnn May and Dr. Horace Smith. I loved working with students, helping them adjust to University life,” Tucker says. He comments that he learned to deal with all things that “could go bump in the night” and the diverse needs of students for whom attendance at Syracuse University was the realization of a dream.
His later experience in student affairs—including becoming the first director of student assistance and director of crisis management, with responsibility for handling crises involving students—prepared him to think proactively about situational awareness and risk management. From 2012 to 2017, was working away from Syracuse University, at Onondaga Community College, where he was vice president of campus life and safety. Ultimately, Callisto lured him back with a promise to make good use of his background in international relations in launching the University’s global safety program.
“I love Syracuse University. I always have,” Tucker says. “Leadership has put a structure in place that truly respects process and policy and procedures. It’s the kind of thinking that is necessary for crisis preparation and risk mitigation. That’s why I came back, knowing that I would have the support needed to establish a comprehensive global safety and support structure.”
Callisto and Vice Chancellor and Provost Michele Wheatly appointed Tucker co-chair of the Task Force on Travel Safety in September 2017. The group was charged with examining and making recommendations to enhance Syracuse University’s policies and processes that support the safety of institutional travelers. It was estimated that in 2017 alone, there were 2,216 distinct students traveling internationally for a combined 193,557 travel days. And in any given year, several hundred faculty and staff members log thousands of additional travel days.
With recommendations from the task force and his team’s exploration of best practices, Tucker is looking forward to implementing software solutions that enable anyone’s mobile device to alert them if there is an issue at a specific location and more robust education practices prior to travel, including pre-departure safety orientation for travelers with guidelines for responding in the event of a crisis.
He also likes the idea of a travel registry so that the University is in the best position to help those who may be in need while they travel. “I think the biggest misconception I’ve encountered is the occasional misperception that my office is seeking to limit travel in some way,” Tucker says. “Nothing could be further from the truth. I want everyone to have the kind of experiences I’ve had abroad. Honestly, it’s all about reducing the possibility that something bad is going to happen and making sure if something bad does happen we are in the best possible position to help. It’s not about being heavy handed or nixing travel. We just want to make sure there’s always an emergency plan in place, just in case.”
Tucker also conducts site safety assessments overseas for both Syracuse programs and those partner institutions that serve students. As more students travel and the expectation for student support continues to expand, the University has made an investment in student safety while traveling. “We have such excellent programs abroad, and we work with really quality partners,” he says. “It’s really a privilege to consult with talented professionals who are absolutely committed to providing a safe international experience often amidst political uncertainty and changing conditions. I bring a focus on travel safety issues and help everyone stay current with emerging events and best practices in the field.”
Site safety assessments include places where Syracuse students, staff or faculty are living and working, ensuring basic safety measures like emergency exits are readily available.
The University’s commitment to globalization makes it the perfect time for the kind of thinking and planning that defines Tucker’s approach to safety and security. “Tony Callisto and I share a vision wherein our dispatch center becomes a global operations center, with dispatchers monitoring what’s happening in cities around the world where members of our Syracuse University family are living or working,” Tucker says. “Essentially, it would combine intelligence work with global dispatch, so we would be aware of security risks and, perhaps, be able to respond before anything bad happens.”
The man who started his Syracuse career more than two decades ago worrying about “what could go bump in the night” for summer students in residence halls is now ensuring that the University moves to the forefront of anticipation, planning and prevention on a global scale.