After Making Sacrifices, Bethel Student Pursues His Calling to Serve Schools and Students

While seeking opportunities for his children, Asif Mehmood GS’22 has faced several challenges as he left his job, moved across the world, and furthered his education. Despite having fears as he started the program, Mehmood was embraced by Bethel’s community and is now looking to give back in the next steps in his journey.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

August 04, 2022 | 12:45 p.m.

Asif Mehmood GS’22

After teaching in the United Arab Emirates and completing much of Bethel’s Ed.D. in K-12 Administration program, Asif Mehmood GS’22 sees many differences in the education systems in the United States and the UAE. He describes the U.S. education system as more flexible for students, though he notes there’s no compromise in quality. Mehmood has experienced a supportive community at Bethel. He faced a heavy workload with his online courses while working in the UAE, and it was challenging to find time to study. But support from faculty kept him going. “They helped me each time by granting me extensions and giving me that flexible sort of options,” he says.

After traveling 7,000 miles from the United Arab Emirates, Asif Mehmood GS’22 felt nervous and uncertain as he entered Bethel’s Anderson Center for his first in-person intensives in 2019. As a Muslim born in Pakistan, Mehmood wondered how he would be greeted by faculty and classmates in a post-9/11 world. But an introductory exercise quickly changed his perception. After Mehmood shared his story and fears, he was welcomed by his classmates, with many inviting him to join them on breaks or to sit next to them in classes. “All those gestures and all those comments from them sent me back home that first day with a lot of assurance that this is the place—God has brought you to the right place,” he says.

As Mehmood prepares to graduate in December with an Ed.D. in K-12 Administration and a principal’s license, he is grateful for the support he’s received at Bethel as he seeks opportunities for himself and his children. And Program Director Tracy Reimer says Mehmood represents the best of the Ed.D. program, adding that his skills and the type of person he is will quickly be recognized by districts. “The state of Minnesota is fortunate to have him join the field of education,” Reimer says. Though now a dedicated and experienced educator, Mehmood has had to overcome many hardships to pursue his own education.

Born in Pakistan, Mehmood was forced to leave school after 10th grade to work in a foundry, but the extreme heat led to an extended illness. While recovering, he started drawing and learning English. A teacher encouraged him to pursue a spot in the national arts council, but he wasn’t able to get into the highly competitive program. Eventually, he was allowed to attend and learn—but only if he brought a chair or sat on the stairs. While his skills improved and he became a caretaker of sorts for the program, he wasn’t able to secure an official seat.

He doubted he could afford a private university until a friend told him about an opportunity at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, where he was able to secure a loan that allowed students to pay back what they could afford after beginning their careers. At Indus Valley, he earned a reputation as an extremely hard worker for his dedication to his studies and freelance projects. His work paid off. He met his wife, Maria, and he repeatedly made the university’s honors list, becoming the first student from the fine arts to top his class.
Asif Mehmood GS’22

Though now an experienced educator, Asif Mehmood GS’22 found his first passion in art. He earned a sculpture degree and gained notoriety as an emerging artist, designing the trophy given at the Lux Style Awards, which honors excellence in Pakistani cinema, television, fashion, and music.

Though he gained notoriety as an emerging artist, his career trended toward education. After a few early teaching jobs, a close colleague and mentor invited Mehmood to teach at Wesgreen International School in Sharjah in the UAE in 2004. Though he recalls initially writing to his wife and telling her it was the biggest mistake of his life, the school quickly improved as his mentor enacted a new vision and transformed the culture. And Mehmood moved from teaching art and design to leadership roles, eventually becoming vice principal.

But Mehmood encountered hardships in the UAE’s equalization process for educational degrees, which he found especially challenging for people from India and Pakistan. He completed a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCEi) and an M.A. in Education online through a university in the United Kingdom. But the ministry of education repeatedly denied his efforts to equalize his certificate and degree—and then equalized the same degree for one of his mentees, who is from the UK. Around the same time, GEMS Education, a large education company, took over Wesgreen International. When Mehmood’s mentor left the school, many families and teachers followed, but GEMS asked Mehmood to stay and help with the transition.

These experiences, along with the difficulty of obtaining permanent status to remain in the UAE, led Mehmood and Maria to explore opportunities for their family. Not wanting to return to Pakistan, they explored a move to Canada, but it didn’t work out. With their children’s futures in mind, they shifted focus to America, and Maria was able to pursue a degree in counseling and psychotherapy. After his family first moved to the U.S. about four years ago, Mehmood continued working in the UAE and visited multiple times a year until COVID-19 slowed travel. Looking to obtain a principal’s license in the U.S., Mehmood met with Erica Hering, an enrollment counselor and teacher for Bethel’s Ed.D. program. Hering remembers being struck by his commitment and love for his family. “I wanted to do whatever we could to get him into our program so that he could get a license and a job and so that his family could be reunited,” she says.

Since he joined the program, Hering and Reimer have been pleased to witness his success. Reimer, who describes Mehmood as an authentic, humble, and kind person, remembers having coffee with Mehmood at Bethel’s Royal grounds after his first residency. “It was clear that he was thriving,” she says. Mehmood is grateful for all the support he’s received from Hering, Reimer, and Adjunct Professor Krista Soria—his dissertation advisor—but he also built a strong support network of fellow students who have supported one another through their courses and the challenges of COVID-19. “My friends at Bethel made a significant difference in my development and continuity as they kept me motivated throughout the program,” he says. Mehmood invited classmates to visit him in the UAE. One even booked a trip, but it was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Asif Mehmood GS’22

Asif Mehmood GS’22 and his family are adapting to life in Minnesota—going from the extreme heat of the United Arab Emirates to the extreme cold of Minnesota winters. But Mehmood and his wife, Maria, hope to find opportunities and stability for their family in Minnesota. Though he described the UAE as luxurious, beautiful, and safe, he feared he would be forced to leave. The UAE immigration system makes it difficult to secure permanent status, and the Mehmoods saw others have to leave after living and working in the UAE for years.

Mehmood says he’s been impressed by how everyone at Bethel is driven by their Christian faith. Their compassion and support helped him excel and thrive. “This whole experience of mine, how I was invited into the Christian community has inspired me so much,” he says. In his courses, Mehmood shared about his own faith and values. Such interfaith dialogue isn’t new for him, as he’s held discussions with many Christian colleagues through the years. Bethel’s Ed.D. program, which is largely completed online with in-person intensives, often attracts international students like Mehmood and others from China, Japan, and the Netherlands. Reimer says these students provide diverse perspectives and experiences that help bolster the quality of all students' learning and growth.

Mehmood recently left his role at Wesgreen International and joined his family in Little Canada, Minnesota, where Maria works as a counselor. Though nearing graduation, Mehmood recently learned he won’t be able to work for up to 14 months due to his immigration standing. For a hard worker like Mehmood, it’s an adjustment. He feels his skills could serve districts in a role or as an outside reviewer, and he fears potential future employers may fear his tools are not sharp by the time he can pursue opportunities.

“This whole experience of mine, how I was invited into the Christian community has inspired me so much.”

— Asif Mehmood GS’22

In the meantime, he’s looking to give back to the region where he spent the last 19 years. Mehmood is writing his dissertation on the relationship between staff burnout and morale at international schools in Sharjah. With little homemade talent, schools in the UAE bring in leaders and teachers with ideas for educational improvement. But that’s led to frequent burnout at schools—which Mehmood himself experienced. He plans to send his findings to Wesgreen International and other nearby schools to serve as a resource. “That school is my second home and that family is my extended family,” he says. “I need to give something back to the community.”

To Reimer, that spirit shows how Mehmood will benefit schools and districts. “Asif has made significant sacrifices for his family's future and his education,” Reimer says. “He has incredible talents and will make a positive difference in the lives of the students, families, and communities he serves.”

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