Donor Spotlight: Shaun D. Levine, '04, M.A. '06
By Tony Scott

shaun levine
Shaun D. Levine, '04, M.A. '06

Shaun D. Levine, ’04, M.A. ’06, has had an incredible career in government relations, working throughout the world but mostly in Southeast Asia. He currently serves as the assistant vice president of international government relations for MetLife in Washington, D.C.

He discovered his interest in Southeast Asia while a student at NIU, and he has decided to give back to his alma mater in the form of the Shaun D. Levine Scholarship for Southeast Asian Studies, which supports students in the Southeast Asian Studies program.

“Ultimately, I am hoping students who are able to take advantage of my small gift back to NIU will not only return the favor to future students but will go on to have careers that strengthen the bonds between Southeast Asia and the United States,” Levine said. “This would either be through a career in business, government service, non-profit work or teaching.”

Levine, who was born in Oak Lawn, Illinois, and raised in Joliet, the youngest of three sons, had a variety of interests as a child but became interested in all things international when his uncle served in the first Gulf War.

He credits his parents with instilling a strong work ethic and encouraging him in his pursuits.

“My mom, Nancy Parker, is my greatest inspiration, one of my best friends and someone who has always supported me in my life. My dad, Richard Parker Sr., is also one of the people who I credit with instilling values of hard work, dedication, determination and risk-taking,” he said. “They are the reason I am who I am today.”

Prior to enrolling at NIU, Levine served in the U.S. Army, specializing in roles dealing with conventional, chemical, biological, and nuclear ordnance. Because of his military service, he received an Illinois Veterans' Grant, which provided tuition and fees for any Illinois state school. He also received Foreign Language and Area Studies (Indonesian) fellowships for his undergraduate and graduate studies.

At NIU, Levine was inspired to change his career focus to Southeast Asia.

“I initially intended to study Spanish with a focus on Europe, as I wanted to work at NATO,” he said. “However, a chance meeting with my advisor Mazen Nagi, who offered me Indonesian as an alternative language to Spanish, altered my college career and started my interest and deep admiration for Southeast Asia.”

Levine recalled with fondness the bonding he had with his fellow Huskies and the friendships he made.

“Some of my favorite memories at NIU include attending the brown bag lunches hosted by the Center for Southeast Asia Studies,” he said. These were held on Fridays and opened my eyes to the importance, diversity, and role of Southeast Asia. I am also fond of the memories I have making friends from all over Southeast Asia, the fact that so many students from the region attended NIU and were so friendly and open about their countries, and their willingness to help me learn, meant the world to me.”

Levine named numerous professors who made an impact on him: Christopher Jones in the Department of Political Science, Eric Jones in the Department of History, Indonesian language instructor Patricia Henry, Center for Southeast Asian Studies founder Ladd Thomas, Danny Unger, Nagi, his undergraduate advisor, and Deb Pierce who he referred to as his amazing mentor and friend. 

“Perhaps the most exciting memory of NIU was the sheer passion all of the professors I studied under had for the region,” he said. “It was not a well-known part of the world, in my life at least, and to hear about their amazing adventures and experiences provided a spark for me to want to learn more. Although I eventually focused on Indonesia, the exposure to the entire region, through classes, professors, and other students, really helped ignite my interest in the region.”

He added, “I was also inspired by the teaching assistants in the Indonesian Language course – these were young people from Indonesia who studied at NIU but also spent a good deal of their time assisting professor Henry to teach the language. These teaching assistants were invaluable, and I still remain close to a few and their families.”

Levine said NIU made an extra effort to help him learn unique skills, including foreign languages.

“One area of special thanks to NIU was when I decided I wanted to study Javanese, the language of the main island in Indonesia,” he said. “NIU worked with me and another graduate student, Nico Harjanto, to set up a course that would allow Nico to guide me towards learning Javanese. Even though I have to admit most of that is now lost - use it or lose it - the fact NIU went through that effort really sticks with me to this day.”

Prior to his current role at MetLife, Levine was based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, leading MetLife’s government advocacy in Southeast Asia. He joined MetLife in October 2014.

Levine currently serves as the chair of American Council of Life Insurers’ (ACLI) Bangladesh, Nepal, and South Korea Taskforces, and as the co-chair of ACLI’s India Taskforce. He previously served as MetLife’s representative on the U.S. ASEAN Business Council’s (USABC) President’s Committee, the chair of USABC’s Malaysia Committee, and as co-chair of the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce’s (AMCHAM) Government Relations Committee.

Levine said he is specifically giving to students in Southeast Asian Studies not only because he wants U.S. students to know more about the region, but so Southeast Asian students can experience the U.S.

“Despite the enormous potential of the region, the large population and economy and importance to the world, there is still so little expertise and understanding of the vastly diverse region,” he said. “It is unfortunate, in my opinion, and I want to do whatever I can to help young students understand and become interested not only in the amazing countries of Southeast Asia, but to realize there is a world of opportunity available for those of us who do know the region. It is one of the least known areas in the world for American students and that is unacceptable to me.” 

He added, “I also hope that the scholarship I’m setting up can help students from Southeast Asia study in the United States. This is really important to me because I want young Southeast Asian students to experience the United States firsthand, not just from the news or social media. And importantly, I want that experience to be at NIU, a place where they will have an opportunity to see how truly amazing America is as well.”

Levine encourages other alumni to give back to areas at NIU that inspired them and to help students to have a bright future.

“Remember the opportunities we have in front of us and be truly grateful for them,” he said. “Not everyone has the chance to study, learn and grow, for a lot of factors such as limited finances, family responsibilities and life in general. Even a small gift can mean the difference to that person, the cost of books, help with fees, any way to help lift the burdens that create barriers for people to learn is so important, no matter big or small. Most importantly, NIU is a community. When a person has the ability to help that community grow, feel more secure and succeed, we all prosper.”