I-House Executive Director Spotlight: Martin Brennan

Former I-House Berkeley Executive Director Martin Brennan (IH 2007-2012) is featured in the latest oral history “spotlight” interview, where he shares memories from his time at the intercultural residence and lessons he learned during his leadership. As a former United States Ambassador to Zambia and Uganda, Brennan spent three decades working in foreign affairs and diplomacy that would ultimately translate into his leadership at International House.

An alumnus of UC Berkeley, Brennan attended the university in the 1970s and applied to live at I-House when looking for student housing but was too late and ended up on the waitlist. Little did he know that the opportunity would arise decades later for him to take a leadership position over the residence.

From 2007 to 2012, Brennan helped implement major changes at I-House to improve the residential experience for students. From improved technological resources to remodeling throughout the House, Brennan strove to bring the House into the 21st century while maintaining its historic architectural qualities. Another goal of his was to bridge the gap between I-House and the university.

In 2008, he initiated teaching a UC Berkeley course at I-House on crisis diplomacy which was open to both resident and nonresident students. The following year he, along with Executive Director Emeritus Joe Lurie and Program Office Director Liliane Koziol, launched I-House’s popular series of cross-cultural communication courses.

Brennan Diplomacy Course 2008 Brennan teaching a class on crisis diplomacy in 2008

“I was happy that I-House finally had a UC Berkeley course because I felt that we should be part of the university as well as being a property on university property,” he said, adding that crisis diplomacy “was a very popular class.” Brennan believes that these academic endeavors put into relief the unique contribution of I-House to residents, the university, and the community.

When discussing the closing of I-House for the school year, Brennan said he agreed with the Board Committee’s decision, and encouraged the House to stay connected during the pandemic. “I think it’d be wise for the House to keep in touch as much as it can through Zoom, through messages on the Internet, [and] through Facebook,” he said, and also to “keep that link alive with former residents, aspiring residents, past alumni.”

Despite its temporary closure, Brennan hopes the residential experience of I-House continues to live on.

“The I-House variety is just so all-encompassing, and there’s so much to learn . . . so many friendships to be made, so many things you learn about yourself,” he said. “Everybody is touched in some way by I-House and I certainly was.”

Listen to the audio podcast (Total Running Time: 1:02)

Watch the video on the I-House YouTube channel

*This interview was filmed in August of 2020.


Martin Brennan recently joined I-House Berkeley Connect, the official online global community. He writes, “I enrolled into I-House Berkeley Connect and am impressed that I-House offers former residents such a useful feature. With the Covid-19 vaccines rolling out worldwide earlier than most people thought possible, I am optimistic that I-House will be operational next Fall.  In the meantime, I wish you good health and a good 2021.”

I-House Berkeley alumni are encouraged to join at ihberkeleyconnect.org and visit regularly to network with alumni and read weekly posts from Executive Director Shaun Carver.

Editor’s note: The interview is part of a series of “spotlights” where alumni and former executive directors are featured for an oral history discussion about their time at I-House. While I-House is temporarily closed for the 2020-2021 academic year, the oral history discussions are a way to help keep the alumni community connected virtually. If you would like to provide an interview or volunteer to help, please contact Laurie Ferris at lferris@berkeley.edu.

Martin Brennan and Chan'Cellore Makanjuola

About Chan'Cellore Makanjuola

Chan'Cellore Makanjuola is a second-year graduate student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, with her concentration in documentary filmmaking. She served as the I-House Social Media Ambassador from Fall 2019-Fall 2020 with the goal of capturing the magic that continues to make International House a prime residential experience for UC Berkeley students.
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