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Meet Kristin Labs: Diversity Abroad Community Highlight

Posted By Administration, Thursday, September 21, 2017

Kristin Labs photoKristin Labs
Field Director, South/Southwest U.S.
Institute for Study Abroad, Butler University

Level of Experience: 10+ years

What does diversity & inclusive excellence mean to you in the context of your work?

To me, it means giving a voice to every perspective, every identity, every opinion. It means challenging ourselves to acknowledge our own prejudices, to recognize and challenge social constructs that negatively impact others, to actively listen to others, and to seek understanding.     

Please describe the factors that led you to pursue your current career track?

I studied International Relations as an undergraduate, and always imagined that I would end up working in International Development with an NGO, maybe in Sub Saharan Africa. But after college, and after living and working abroad for a year, I came back to the states and fell into an opportunity to live in rural Appalachia in southeastern Kentucky to start a non-profit and do community development work. I did that for three years. And through that experience, which included some college counseling with the local high school students, I realized I wanted to mix my two interests of education and international relations. Little did I know, until I did some research, that there were actually graduate programs in International Education, which is when I found the SIT Graduate Institute and thus began my pursuit of a career in IE.

What aspects of your work are you most excited about?

I love advising students. I also love seeing them through the entire process of pursuing an international experience, and discovering how they've transformed from the experience upon returning. I also love working on issues of access, whether it be first generation college students, high school students from rural or high poverty areas, or high financial need students. 

Please describe any challenges you've encountered in relationship to your current role? What strategies have you employed to overcome them?

I've faced challenges with micromanagement from leadership in the past. I find that focusing on the small accomplishments can really help my morale and finding allies across campus or within an organization can also be extremely motivating and helpful in pushing initiatives forward.   

As you reflect on different aspects of your career, what are you most proud of?

I'm actually most proud of the individual students I've advised over the years, and the paths that many of them have taken since then. Now and then I will cross paths with former students and it warms my heart to hear them remember the many advising sessions we had or the support they received that helped them get a scholarship, and to thank me for that years later. I was recently in touch with a former student who is now in the Foreign Service (never would have imagined that path for him 10 years ago!) and his next assignment will place him in Chengdu, China - the location of a study abroad program he helped me advise students on as a peer advisor. A full circle of sorts for him!   

Do you have any heroes? Who are they and why?

I would say that one of my heroes near the top of the list is Desmond Tutu, primarily for his work with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

What do you work toward in your free time?

Having as many adventures with my kids and my partner as possible, and sharing them with friends and family. Sometimes that's visits to national parks like a recent trip to Carlsbad Caverns and sometimes it's dance parties on Wii in the living room (pretty regular occurrence).

Recent Engagement with Diversity Abroad

Co-Chair: 2017-2018 High School Task Force
Member: 2016-2017 High School Task Force
Presenter: 5th Annual Diversity Abroad Conference

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Meet Ahmad Refky: Diversity Abroad Community Highlight

Posted By Administration, Friday, September 8, 2017

Ahmad Refky
Director of Custom & Faculty-Led Programs
CEA Study Abroad

Level of Experience: 10+ years

What does diversity & inclusive excellence mean to you in the context of your work?

For me, and I know this to be true for CEA as an organization, diversity and inclusive excellence means creating feasible opportunities for students from all walks of life and backgrounds to expand their horizons, and explore life and culture abroad. This includes not just developing a wide array of academically rich programs, but also having a strong network that support these students on their journey, and provides them with the tools they need to achieve their goals.   

Please describe the factors that led you to pursue your current career track?

 My career in study abroad is a cumulative product of my life experiences to date. My first experience living abroad was when I came to the United States as a high school exchange student for my senior year. It was the first time away from my family and support network, which challenged and propelled me on a journey of self-discovery. 

When I returned to Egypt I chose to pursue an education at a liberal arts American university specifically so I can have an environment that not just supports, but also challenges students. I came out during college, and when Egypt proved to be an unsafe place to live, my family from my high school exchange year opened their home and hosted me again in the US. I applied and was granted political asylum as a gay man, and my experience in exile shaped my views about the importance of cross cultural understanding and communication in shaping a more inclusive world. My short-term study abroad experience in The Netherlands with students from across Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia during grad school also cemented my views about the importance of studying abroad and being exposed to other ideas and cultures. 

So with all these experiences, working in higher education in general, and in study abroad in particular seemed like a natural progression of my life’s journey. I started my career at The Rotary Foundation working to send groups of professionals abroad to experience how their vocations are practiced in other countries. I then worked with a Chicago-based non-profit bringing high school exchange students to study in the United States, and from there made the jump to higher education focusing on faculty-led programs, first at IES Abroad, and then at CEA Study Abroad. Looking back at my life over the past 20 years, this career—which sort of chose me, makes perfect sense, and allows me to apply my personal and professional experience to benefit a greater cause.

 What aspects of your work are you most excited about?

 Every day I use the experience I gained on my personal and professional journey to create new opportunities for students to explore life outside their local bubble, push their boundaries, and hopefully become more globally engaged citizens. 

In addition, at CEA I have the wonderful opportunity to put together a diverse team of talented, creative, and strong women that not only push and challenge boundaries and the status-quo, but also make me a better person and stronger team leader. 

Please describe any challenges you've encountered in relationship to your current role? What strategies have you employed to overcome them?

 I think the most challenging aspect of my current role is channeling the creativity and energy of my colleagues. I work with a very motivated group of strong individuals, and unfortunately the reality of any organization is that not all great ideas make the cut or come to fruition. This can be frustrating, especially for team members who are just starting their careers in study abroad or higher education. 

I have found that the most effective strategy is to not lead from the top down. I strive to create opportunities for my team members to impact strategy, set high level goals, hold themselves accountable, and become invested in the success of the initiatives they helped shape. By helping set goals and shape strategy, everyone is invested and the entire team works in unison to achieve outcomes, meet targets and milestones, and celebrate individual and collective successes along the way.  

As you reflect on different aspects of your career, what are you most proud of?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. Seventeen years ago I immigrated to the United States with no real plan or direction. I had a degree from the top private universities in Egypt, and my first job was as a nigh clerk in a 7-11 mopping floors and stocking fridges. So I am proud of my journey and accomplishments to date, and “pulling myself up by my bootstraps” to make it to where I am today. 

That said, a simpler answer would be that every day I am incredibly proud of the Custom Programs team at CEA. I could not be more proud to work with such a diverse, creative, and strong team of women who bring their a-game to work every day. They put me through my paces, challenge me to be a better colleague and leader, and as a team we help bring to fruition wonderful opportunities for students to study abroad every day.

What do you work toward in your free time?

I recently bought a house, so I spend most of my free time making it into a home with my husband and our ever growing pack of dogs (we're currently up to 4 rescue dogs ranging from Chihuahuas to Pit-Bulls)

You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?

Pink! Almost every other color goes well with pink, which makes it a nice addition to any palette. Pink adds vibrancy and energy to any drawing, but can also be toned down if needed. I am not a wall flower, but I don't crave attention either. I like to let me work speak for itself, so pink seems like the best fit.

Recent Engagement with Diversity Abroad

Co-Chair: 2017-2018 LGBTQI+ Task Force
Member: 2016-2017 LGBTQI+ Task Force
Presenter: 5th Annual Diversity Abroad Conference


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Diversity Abroad Welcomes New Team Members

Posted By Erica Ledesma, Friday, July 21, 2017

Diversity Abroad is growing! We are excited to introduce three new fellows and one new intern who will be supporting Diversity Abroad initiatives over the course of the 2017-2018 year. In its first year, the Diversity Abroad Fellowship Program invited graduate students and new professionals interested in pursuing careers or gaining professional development experience in global education to apply for the 1-year program. After a very competitive review process, Diversity Abroad is delighted to welcome three fellows to join the Diversity Abroad Team. Fellows will be collaborating with the Diversity Abroad team within the following areas: Student Support Services, Educational Resources & Member Engagement, and Event Coordination. In addition to the fellowship program, Diversity Abroad welcomes a new intern to support the Diversity Abroad Network. 


Student Support Services Fellow

Lorelle Babwah

Lorelle Babwah

Lorelle Babwah is Diversity Abroad’s Student Services Fellow.  In her day-job, Lorelle serves as Assistant Director of Student Services for the Professional Masters Programs at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering. Her work focuses on improving student experience and creating opportunities for intercultural learning for domestic students and international students studying in the United States.

Lorelle is a proud double Tar Heel, holding a JD from the University of North Carolina School of Law and a BA in Psychology with a focus in Behavioral Neuroscience, also from the University of North Carolina.  Prior to working in higher education, Lorelle was in private practice focusing on immigration and criminal defense. 

Although she has adopted North Carolina as home, Lorelle’s family hails from Jamaica, Trinidad, and the US Virgin Islands.  She also grew up as an army brat, living in Panama and all over the US before landing in her current home of Durham.  As an undergraduate, Lorelle studied abroad in Botswana, and most recently spent time in parts of the Middle East and Asia for her work in support of international students.  She is excited to contribute to the Diversity Abroad community 


Educational Resources & Member Engagement Fellow

Robert B. Peterson, Ph.D.

Robert B. Peterson, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor and leads the Morehouse Pan-African Global Experience II (MPAGE) Brazil in the Department of Sociology at Morehouse College. He was recently awarded a Diversity Abroad Graduate and New Professional Fellowship from the Diversity Abroad Network. His interests in education abroad began during his undergraduate years. As a NIMH-COR Fellow he was able to conduct intensive sociological field research in Cape Town, South Africa on HIV/AIDS and educator’s knowledge, attitudes and beliefs. Dr. Peterson’s research and teaching interests focuses on issues of the intersectionality of Race, Class, & Gender; The Sociology of Health & Illness; HIV/AIDS; Sexual Violence & Sexual Consent; Gender Expression (Masculinities) & Health Outcomes; & Internationalization & Education Abroad.

Dr. Peterson has proficiency teaching several courses and is experienced with planning, developing, and executing programmatic events related to study abroad and gender/sexuality programing. Particularly, he gained executive and programmatic experience by serving as a Program Manager for a Ford Foundation Funded Faces of Manhood Initiative and currently serves as one of the Associate Directors of the MPAGE Ghana 2014 and MPAGE II Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador and Ghana Study Abroad Programs. Recently, Dr. Peterson was selected to assist in the Faculty-Led Alternative Spring Break to Haiti Education Abroad Experience guiding 14 young African American men abroad. 

Specifically, his ongoing service to the college and the sociology department has been in the planning, organizing, execution, and assessment of successful MPAGE study abroad programs. The Brazil program commenced the first ever study abroad experience to Bahia, Brazil in summer 2015 with 10 students and two faculty members. Dr. Peterson’s extensive experience with the logistical and organizational structure of study abroad programs lead to an increase awareness and participation in MPAGE Bahia. He organized interest meetings and Study Abroad Fairs that increased recruitment efforts, established a more efficient on-line application infrastructure that streamlined and recorded data of applicants, and created a new financial model that increased the number of student participants in the program. He has experience with education abroad programs that include service learning, curriculum based, and civic-engagement. 

Dr. Peterson received his B.A. in Sociology from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and received his Ph.D. in Medical Sociology from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. During his personal time, he enjoys cooking (& eating), traveling, community involvement, watching/reading cable news programs (political/social commentary) and socializing with family, fraternity (Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc.) and friends. He self-identifies as a relatively private person (as much as a Scorpio can be ☺) and in 2017 he joined Twitter, Facebook, & Instagram—although not a fan--yet.


Event Coordination Fellow 

Lauren Griggs

Lauren is the Diversity Abroad Graduate & New Professional Event Coordination Fellow. She assists in the organization and execution of events such as the Annual Diversity Abroad Conference, Regional Workshops and Online Webinars. Lauren supports Diversity Abroad’s presence at the global education conferences and aids in the planning and development of the Global Institute for Inclusive Leadership. 

Lauren received her B.S. in Engineering Science, with a concentration in Nanomedicine from The University of Virginia in 2012. Currently, Lauren is working towards completing her doctoral studies in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Her work in the Cell and Matrix Biomechanics Laboratory at VCU involves investigation into the mechanism governing how cells interpret mechanical signals from their surroundings and use those signals to grow new tissues. Lauren published this work in the journal Matrix Biology and has presented her research at several national conferences, including the Biomedical Engineering Society Annual Conference, where she received the Innovation and Career Development Travel Award. She was recently awarded the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship through the National Institute of Health. 

Lauren also serves as the Program Coordinator for the VCU Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program. In this work, Lauren strives to increasing the number of underrepresented minority students earning baccalaureate degrees and matriculating to graduate school. Lauren’s passion lies in working directly with students, serving as an advisor, inspiring others through meaningful career discussions and helping others to gain confidence as well as succeed in their chosen degree fields. Upon completion of her doctoral degree, Lauren plans to continue to develop her commitment to outreach and diversity, with aspirations of pursuing a career in university administration and research. 


Diversity Abroad Network Intern 

Shayna Trujillo

Shayna is currently serving as the Diversity Abroad Network Intern while completing her Master’s Degree in International Education Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. She is working specifically with the Diversity Abroad Network to refine materials for the Access, Inclusion, and Diversity Workshops. 

Throughout her career, Shayna has fostered understanding of, collaboration with, and opportunities for underserved and underrepresented populations. Before coming to the field of international education, she worked in early childhood education, community organizing, and institutions of higher education. Shayna is interested in issues of gender equity, intercultural competency, and working with educators to create high quality, high impact programs at home and abroad.  She has lived, conducted university-level research, worked, and volunteered in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the United States. She is fluent in English and Spanish, and is working towards fluency in Russian.  Shayna is thrilled to be joining the Diversity Abroad team and looking forward to contributing to the great work that they do every day. 

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Interview with Senior Associate Athletics Director for Academic Services at the University of Oklahoma

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, July 11, 2017

 Interview with Senior Associate Athletics Director for Academic Services at the University of Oklahoma. 

 Submitted by the 2016-2017 Athletes Task Force


Michael Meade, Senior Associate Athletics Director for Academic Services at the University of Oklahoma, agreed to answer some questions for the Athletes Task Force of Diversity Abroad. 


Why is study abroad important? What do you think students can learn from international education?  Study abroad is important because it gives student-athletes an opportunity to explore the richness of other cultures, languages, traditions and history. This experience complements their learning in the classroom.

Did you have education abroad opportunities as an undergraduate? If so, how did it impact your college experience?  I did not complete a formal study abroad experience as an undergraduate. However, I did participate in a European tour with a men's choral group while at Notre Dame. It was a month-long experience during which I was able to experience cultures in seven different countries and also learn about my own family history during my time in Ireland. I actually located family in County Kerry during my extended stay there. That was an unforgettable moment.

Have you been abroad as a professional?  If yes, where?  I have not been abroad as a professional, but I am definitely interested in future opportunities. 

What would you say is the general support level for student-athletes to study abroad while at the University of Oklahoma?  Is there support from the top down at both the university and athletics levels?    The Athletics Department provides tremendous support for student-athletes interested in study abroad, as does the university’s administration from the President down. In addition to the coaches being receptive to this experience, the department also provides financial support through the NCAA Student Assistance Fund for student-athlete well-being needs. 

As a rule, are your athletic advisers encouraged to mention study abroad to the student-athletes during advising sessions?  Athletics academic advisers encourage student-athletes to consider study abroad based on their interest and designated academic program. Additionally, our Foreign Language Center coordinator meets with student-athletes interested in study abroad to determine the best plan of action and type of program, and provides guidance through the application process.


Has there been an increase in the number of athletes studying abroad from OU during the past five years?  Yes, a significant increase. Between 1993-2012, approximately 10 student-athletes participated in study abroad programs at OU.  Between 2013 and 2016, an additional 59 students completed study abroad programs. In 2017 alone, 30 student-athletes are participating in study abroad.


Do you find it easier for some sports to study abroad compared to others?  Student-athletes in most sport programs are able to participate in study abroad at some point during the summer. Depending on the students' seasons of competition, some participate in May while others choose programs that are offered in either June or July. Almost all student-athletes have the opportunity to participate in the summer or after they have completed their eligibility.

Do you think coaches and administrators would be more apt to promote study abroad if there were an athletic component to the program?  Coaches are receptive to students interested in study abroad opportunities. Generally speaking, an athletic component is not essential, provided they make responsible, healthy decisions during their experience.  

Do you think student-athletes would be more likely to study abroad if there were an athletic training/competition component?  While many student-athletes have an interest in study abroad programs that focus on a topic related to sport, that certainly is not the priority for most students.

In general, do you feel there is support among coaches for their team members to go on study abroad or is it impossible to generalize about this?   I believe coaches are supportive of student-athletes interested in studying abroad. I have not heard of any head coaches that are opposed to students interested in taking advantage of this opportunity. 

Has Athletics publicized any high-profile student-athletes who have studied abroad?  If yes, in what ways and which sports?   Student-athletes participating in study abroad opportunities are recognized during our annual Scholar Athlete banquet in April. Additionally, the Athletics Communications staff has written articles regarding student-athletes' study abroad experiences in recent years. We certainly plan to continue this effort as we see this as a valuable opportunity for all college students.  

Do you know if the idea of study abroad for student-athletes is mentioned to recruits?  Study abroad opportunities are mentioned during prospective student-athlete recruiting visits. Study abroad is highlighted during prospect tours of the Prentice Gautt Academic Center.

Are there things you think should be happening on campus to promote study abroad for student-athletes that are not happening at this time?  The focus on study abroad at the University of Oklahoma is impressive. The number and variety of options makes such an opportunity accessible for the vast majority of students across campus. The Athletics Department appreciates this support.

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Reflections on the NACE 2017 Conference

Posted By Christopher LeGrant, Friday, July 7, 2017

Preparing the Next Generation of Global Leaders.  For us at Diversity Abroad, this means making sure students from underrepresented backgrounds have access to global experiences that will allow them to thrive in later stages of life.  But what role do we have in supporting students throughout the entire continuum of the study abroad process, especially when they return home? Recruiters and hiring managers are now recognizing some of the connections between global education and top talent. As educators, we need to actively facilitate these connections for students before, during and after a global education program to give them the best chance to succeed. 


To this end, myself and our CEO & Founder, Andrew Gordon attended the NACE conference in Las Vegas between June 6-9, 2017. For those who are not familiar, NACE (the National Association of Colleges and Employers) holds an annual conference that connects career services professionals to recruiting specialists and the business affiliates that serve this community.  As many readers of this blog are aware, Diversity Abroad team members are very active in industry wide conferences and summits for education abroad (including hosting our own conference). However, this was our first time attending NACE in a formal capacity so it was a great opportunity to learn about the intersections of our two fields and to strengthen connections with career service departments and employers that are looking to recruit diverse talent to their organizations.


One of the things that struck me during the first day is that the “siloing” of institutional departments in higher education is real. At our exhibit booth, I was approached by career service professionals who worked for institutions that were members of the Diversity Network but were unaware of their membership status. To some extent, this is not entirely unexpected.  We have long spoken about this siloing effect, acknowledging that many study abroad offices can often feel like islands on their own campuses. However, encountering this phenomena during the conference only reinforces that it’s an issue: career service and study abroad professionals that could be pooling their resources and talent to strengthen the links between global education and career mobility are simply not talking to each other.  

A second revelation is that many of the challenges career service departments are currently experiencing are very similar to those found in study abroad. Time and time again, I was told by career service professionals about issues with recruiting, advising and supporting students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. Again, this should not be entirely unexpected as the challenges we face concerning diversity and inclusion in our specific fields are reflective of systemic challenges in our society. We also know how global education can help prepare students for working in the 21st century and much of the thought leadership and professional development endeavors we work on in the field can be adapted to address the challenges facing both departments on campus.  

As always, Diversity Abroad looks to address these issues as holistically as possible by connecting directly with students as well as with our colleagues across the academy.  One of our goals for the remainder of 2017 and beyond is to develop a fully utilized career center on DiversityAbroad.com, connecting students with not only internship and graduate school programs but to actual job opportunities. This career center will also make resources available to students to help them better leverage their global experiences in a competitive job market.  Within the Diversity Network, we are continuing to focus on facilitating connections and professional development through the Diversity Abroad Conference, online short courses and our in-person and virtual workshops. Ultimately, attending a conference like NACE helps us align our goals more closely to that of the student: to complete their education and start a successful and rewarding career.  We hope to see you again at NACE 2018!

Tags:  career 

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