New faculty profile: Bridgette O’Brien


Lauren Cook

Dr. Bridgette O’Brien, USG History Teacher and Model UN/Global Action (s)Elective leader, is not necessarily new to Annie Wright. She joined the AWS community in 1998, but is returning a third time after teaching at the college level at Pacific Lutheran University. She has traveled all over the world including living with Nepali monks for eight months.

Inkwell: What made you choose Annie Wright in the first place?

Dr. O’Brien: I think Annie Wright in the first place was just an exciting opportunity. I was a young teacher and was offered a job, and it was the perfect job. That was in 1998, and the school has changed a lot in terms of focus, but the students have always been the most exciting part of teaching here to me, and that level of engagement from those students has never changed. 

Inkwell: Why did you decide to become a teacher?

Dr. O’Brien: I think it was an accident. I always wanted to do something to change the world, and I didn’t know what that was going to be. I was teaching in a daycare center and decided, “hey, I kind of like this!”. And then when I graduated from Columbia I moved to Seattle and I got a job at Charles Wright and was part-time – the Outdoor Ed Coordinator – and that’s when I decided I really liked being in independent schools and started looking for real jobs. 

Inkwell: Now this is your third time coming back, or joining the AWS community. What happened in between those times?

Dr. O’Brien: So in between the first time, I taught at Humboldt State down in California. Then I decided I wanted to go back and get my PhD, so I moved to Florida and got my PhD. So then I came back because Ms. Bauska said there was a job for me here, and the state had cut the budget funding for adjunct professors at the University of Florida, and my funding was drying up for my research. And I wanted to get back to the Northwest! So I came back, and was here for six years. And then the visiting professor job at PLU (Pacific Lutheran University), and I’m always about exploring opportunities and I thought it would be fun to try teaching college again, and it was just a wonderful opportunity to go and engage at a different institution in our community. 

Inkwell: Not everyone has heard about your experience in Nepal; could you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. O’Brien: Sure! I have always wanted to go to the Himalayas, and so when I graduated from college I took my graduation money and went! I was learning Nepali, and a British anthropologist I met in a tea shop said, “Would you do some research for me?” He said, “You can’t have any credit for the research, because I need it for my book,” but I was young and I didn’t care, so he got me on his research permits and I went and lived for eight months up in the Himalayas with the Bön monks, and that was pretty transformative. 

Inkwell: What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to and why?

Dr. O’Brien: That’s hard to choose, they’re all so different. Nepal would be up there, just because of the mountains, and the culture. And I think, just the ethic of living mindfully and intentionally just spoke to me there. I also loved being in South Africa, because of the diversity and people and history of South Africa makes it a really rich and dynamic place that’s undergoing change and significant reforms around social justice and education issues which really inspire me.

Inkwell: How would you characterize your teaching style?

Dr. O’Brien: I would say relational. I like to be connected to my students. I like to figure out what language they speak in terms of their personal passions and interests, and I like to find ways to make what I teach them a “want to do” not a “have to do.” 

Inkwell: What is something your students don’t know about you?

Dr. O’Brien: I played underwater hockey for a Division 1, University of Florida. It’s a real sport, it’s a very competitive sport, and it is exciting and that chapter of my life was just something that I think when you tell people you played underwater hockey, they think, “oh, she’s just making that up,” but no, it’s a real thing, and you should totally look into it!

Inkwell: Why do you teach the subject that you teach?

Dr. O’Brien: Because I love the world. I love the multiplicity of perspectives that make the world so complicated, and I love navigating that complexity in mindful ways, because I believe that education is the way forward in making a positive difference. And that’s with deep conviction in my heart. I believe that what we do in the classroom has to eventually count.