We answer to a wide audience: international students and scholars, their family members, university staff and faculty, domestic students, the U.S. government, community members, international parents, and all Iowans. Sometimes the interests and desires of those groups align, and sometimes they can be quite far apart.
ISSS staff consists of six advising staff (an assistant director, two senior advisors, and three advisors) plus a senior associate director. All advisors have graduate degrees in higher education, counseling-related programs, or cultural/linguistics studies, as does our international services assistant, who provides support to our scholar program and several student programs. We also have an international student support and retention coordinator.
We had over 9,000 visits to our office in 2013, not including thousands more phone calls and emails.
Ann Drop assists international students at the ISSS front desk
Our most well-known role is to oversee immigration reporting and advising for all of the university's F-1 and J-1 students, scholars, and their dependent family members. That can involve anything from making reports to the U.S. federal government program (SEVIS) on who is registered for classes each semester, who has authorization to drop below full-time, or providing special internship/practical training employment authorization for students to gain real-world experience in their areas of study.
We are legally obligated to monitor and report certain information (such as full-time enrollment, local addresses, and majors) each semester, as is every other school in the U.S. who hosts those who come here on student or scholar visas. It is also our mission to help students and scholars ensure they are properly educated and constantly aware of their immigration situations in order to protect legal status while they are here. It can be challenging: there are more than a few occasions when we must tell someone “no” because federal law will not permit them to follow a certain course of action. But there are also far more occasions when we can provide assistance.
Few people realize that those of us who advise international students and create their immigration documents are authorized by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to do this on behalf of the university - there are only 10 of us on campus in ISSS and the Office of Admissions. It means we are literally the only individuals who have the legal clearance to advise and assist F and J students and scholars with immigration issues that pertain to those statuses.
International student and scholar advising is a professional field in the U.S.; advisors must master the multitude of federal regulations and guidance regarding F and J status, which is often extremely complicated, convoluted, and not for the faint of heart or analytically-challenged! Over the years many of our staff have served as nationally recognized leaders in the field.
We provide a great deal of programming for international students and scholars. A few to mention include the Life in Iowa series, the Global Buddies program for our exchange students, the new Friends Without Borders student friendship matching program, our orientation program at the start of each semester, and the International@Iowa course.
The Friends Without Borders kickoff event paired domestic and international students
We are here to assist international students and scholars in virtually any capacity except academic advising. It is not unusual for students to come to us with financial difficulties or if they are experiencing conflict with roommates and don’t know how to approach the situation. We are often an early point of contact for students experiencing mental health issues. We see many homesick students. We are fortunate to collaborate with many students who have become leaders on and off campus. We conduct outreach to students who are struggling academically, socially, or personally, and we work closely with a number of campus, community, state, and federal groups and agencies.
Intercultural awareness and competency is a central focus for our office. Assisting the university to be a welcoming place for internationals is one of our top priorities. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Building Our Global Community certificate program, a series of workshops focusing on intercultural awareness and communication, diversity, and cultural topics for staff and faculty. Our International Advocate certificate recognizes campus staff and faculty each year who have gone “above and beyond” to support international students and scholars. We also run the Bridging Domestic and Global Diversity program, a special leadership series for select international and domestic students to help them develop their own intercultural leadership skills.
Offices and departments may turn to us for assistance and support for many situations, including instances of intercultural conflict, misconduct, or interpreting the warren of immigration regulations. We provide input on campus-wide policies and practices regarding international issues.
Every day brings new and unique situations to our office, and those in our field quickly learn you never reach the point where you have “seen it all” and never stop learning.
Those who wish to learn more about ISSS are invited to attend an open house on Sept. 24, 2014.