All staff are members of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. This is an international organization consisting of thousands of international education professionals from the U.S. as well as other countries. The largest membership area is made up of those in international student advising. Other areas include study abroad, international education leadership, and teaching, learning, and scholarship. The association hosts a very large national conference each May, with smaller regional conferences held in October or November each year. Iowa is part of Region IV, which consists of our state along with Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. We were fortunate that the conference site this year was Des Moines, Iowa, about a two hour drive away from Iowa City. This permitted more staff than usual to attend and participate in a variety of ways.
Our Support and Retention Coordinator, Shuhui Lin, attended one of the pre-conference workshops on F-1 immigration regulations. While she does not work with immigration issues, it is still helpful for her to be aware of the requirements an F-1 student must follow. Our International Services Assistant, Taivna Mills, also attended a pre-conference workshop focusing on J-1 regulations, since she works with our J-1 scholar population.
ISSS Assistant Director Michael Bortscheller and advisors Rudia Kihura, Kevin Roiseland, Brandon Paulson, and I drove to Des Moines the next day to participate in the conference. Inaddition to attending information sessions, Brandon and Lin presented their own session on our Global@Iowa class so that other schools might use it as a template to create similar courses on their campuses. Michael and ESL programs Assistant Director Jeffrey Knowling gave a presentation on a new provision to the J rules put out by the U.S. Department of State last year regarding visiting scholar English proficiency requirements. Visiting scholars are those who come not to be students, but for research or teaching purposes. This new requirement had caused confusion for some schools, who were also at a loss on how to implement it. Our campus English as a Second Language program helped us create a system where departments interested in hosting a visiting scholar could record an online "interview" using specific questions that would then be rated based on a rubric established by ESL programs, and we were very happy to share this with other schools in our region. This helps ensure that all of our incoming scholars are able to meet Department of State English fluency requirements.
I was able to attend several sessions that featured visits from representatives of different federal offices, including U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State, and Customs and Border Protection. I have to admit, however, that my favorite sessions focused on team building and improving the skills of international student advisors. I came away with a number of ideas to use during our next summer ISSS staff retreat, which is a time when we close the office for a day and focus on team building and "big picture" issues for the office.A highlight was the opening reception, held at what is called the World Food Prize center in Des Moines. Dr. Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work to improve agricultural conditions and practices around the world, increasing the yield of wheat and other crops that helped significantly reduce hunger. Dr. Borlaug grew up in a small farming community in northeast Iowa (the same part of the state I am from!), and Iowa is very proud of his accomplishments and contributions. During the reception in this building dedicated to his work, we were able to learn more about his life and impact on the world.
It was also nice for me to connect with colleagues I had not seen in many years. I used to be very active in NAFSA, being part of their Trainer's Corps leading training sessions on student regulations for people new to the field, giving presentations at conferences, serving on our Region IV team and as Regulatory Ombudsperson for our region (a role that helps clarify regulations and serve as a liaison between schools and the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State). But it had been several years since I was last able to attend a NAFSA meeting. One thing I learned over the years is that people in this field can be very passionate about international education, and you will often find staff who have been in it for decades, so it was good to see many people who were still involved after all these years.
I was also quite pleased to win a raffle at the end of the conference, containing a nice Des Moines t-shirt, some magnets of different U.S. states, and possibly my favorite item: a coffee mug stating "I Love Bacon." I am a vegetarian, so I do not eat bacon, but it amuses me to no end to have won that mug, so I'll keep it to put pens in on my desk! (A LOT of people from Iowa really do love bacon, I just happen to not be one of them.)
Ultimately conferences like these give ISSS staff a chance to hear fresh ideas and revitalize their commitment to international education. I also try to ensure that staff take advantage of other opportunities throughout the year, many of which are offered on our own campus. Our Chief Diversity Office recently started a diversity awareness certificate program, and all ISSS staff are required to earn this certificate. We at ISSS have offered our own certificate program for campus staff and faculty called the Building Our Global Community, or BGC, program, which just started its 11th year. ISSS staff also receive training through the Mental Health First Aid program, which is excellent for helping staff identify potential mental health issues and know how to respond. In January we will undergo training on how to support people who experience domestic (relationship) violence, assault, and stalking.
In fact, attending this conference may have inspired me to become more involved in NAFSA again. We shall see!
Senior Associate Director