Director of Alumni & Diversity Initiatives
American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS Study Abroad)
Level of Experience: 10+ years
What does diversity & inclusive excellence mean to you in the context of your work?
For me, diversity and inclusive excellence means ensuring that I, and my organization, are doing everything possible to facilitate successful study abroad opportunities for students that, historically, have been underrepresented in education abroad. I serve as an advocate for inclusive practices for underrepresented students and encourage others to do the same. I also provide resources and connect individuals with others who have gone abroad from the same identity groups, so they can recognize that study abroad is an accessible and necessary opportunity for them.
Please describe the factors that led you to pursue your current career track?
I studied abroad during my junior year of college through a faculty-led program in London. I struggled with the returnee experience and felt all my peers were happy to be back on campus, while I felt unresolved and anxious to return overseas. I stayed on at my university for a Master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education and during this time returned to London as the Graduate Assistant for the same program I did as an undergrad. I took what should have been a one-year Master’s and turned it into a 2.5-year program – spending 1.5 years of it abroad in the GA role. It was a tremendous learning experience and solidified my interest in working in international education.
For the first six years I worked at AIFS, I was a Regional Director, so I visited a lot of different campuses and saw firsthand how students received the idea of going abroad. Some wanted to, but felt there were barriers that prohibited their participation. I worked with the schools in my regions to break down these perceived barriers and connected with different student organizations to ensure they knew about opportunities and funding available to them for studying abroad.
In addition to my role at AIFS, I am also the Vice President and New Conference Liaison for Lessons From Abroad, a non-profit organization that hosts regional returnee conferences for students who have recently come back from an international experience. My experiences working with returnees ultimately allowed me to transition into my current role at AIFS, where I work with our alumni and was recently asked to lead our diversity and inclusion initiatives. I feel incredibly lucky that I can combine so many of my interests into my position and am excited to continue focusing on inclusion for underrepresented students and the returnee continuum.
What aspects of your work are you most excited about?
I love that through my work I can try to make the study abroad experience better for students who are underrepresented in study abroad. Being able to develop policies that didn’t exist before and connect students with resources is incredibly rewarding. As well, my work with our Alumni Ambassadors allows me to help make the learning curve - from being a student to going into the professional world - more manageable. The program has monthly meetings, which focus on different areas of professional development, including how to craft resumes and cover letters, how to ace the interview and what to do once you get the job to be successful long-term in your career. It is an amazing feeling when former Ambassadors reach out and tell me that participating in the program helped them land a job or pursue opportunities abroad after graduating.
Please describe any challenges you've encountered in relationship to your current role? What strategies have you employed to overcome them?
I think the biggest challenge is one that a lot of people in the field have, which is having more ideas than I have time to implement. Because my work encompasses both alumni programming and diversity initiatives, I am looking at study abroad as a continuum and working with my colleagues to decide how we can positively impact the student experience from the point of initial interest through while they are in-country and when they return to the US. To manage this, I’ve created a giant Excel sheet with all the ideas we have generated for making our programs more inclusive and have divided them into different phases. Some of the ideas we can implement immediately or soon and others are a part of our long-term strategic plan. This also helps me to measure progress and think about ways that I can weave the work I do with our alumni programs into the work I am doing with diversity and inclusion.
As you reflect on different aspects of your career, what are you most proud of?
I am incredibly proud that NAFSA asked me to serve as a co-author on their publication for returnees, "Making Meaning of Education Abroad: A Journal for the Returnee Experience," which will be coming out in April 2018. As someone whose path into international education started with having a rough time on my own return, it’s exciting to see how far I’ve come and to think that I can help make the return a bit easier for others. Although my formal work with diversity and inclusion started more recently, I am proud of the changes I’ve facilitated at my organization and am hopeful that I will make additional positive changes, which will contribute to even better study abroad experiences for students of diverse backgrounds.
What do you work toward in your free time?
My work with Lessons From Abroad has afforded me the opportunity to emcee and keynote 30 regional returnee conferences around the country, which has been an incredible experience. Based off those presentations, I am working towards giving a TED Talk someday.
Recent Engagement with Diversity Abroad
Planning Committee Member: 3rd Annual Global Student Leadership Summit (2017)
Presenter: 4th Annual Global Student Leadership Summit (2018)
Other: I am the liaison to Diversity Abroad at AIFS and during fall 2017 helped complete a beta test of the DA AIDE Roadmap for providers.