Exploring the NAFSA International Education Professional Competencies

October 14, 2015

By Kristen Albrecht

What do the NAFSA International Education Professional Competencies™ and kickball have in common? Well, nothing, except for the fact that we had both at the University of Missouri International Center staff retreat this summer.

NAFSA unveiled its competency model at the 2015 Annual Conference & Expo in Boston this year, and our director of international student and scholar services, David Currey, wanted to review the model as a team and discuss how we could utilize the information in our office. Our annual staff retreat seemed like the perfect place for this to happen.

With the time we had for this portion of the retreat, I chose to focus on the competencies specific to the field of international student and scholar services:

  • Contributing to comprehensive internationalization
  • Crisis management
  • Office administration
  • Orientation, retention, and student services programming
  • Student and scholar advising

We discussed each competency briefly and the team had some time to review on their own. While they were reviewing, I asked them to be thinking about our strengths for each of the five competencies.


I had placed posters around the room that had each competency listed on the top and asked each team member to write down at least one strength per competency. The team spent several minutes adding strengths to each of the posters. We soon had five lists that were full of items, tasks, and services that we do well. I read each response aloud and it was great to see heads nod in agreement and hear comments of “duh, of course we do that well!” Some of the responses included:

  • “Completing large quantities of document requests for students in a timely and orderly fashion”
  • “Accuracy and consistency of advising practices to more than 2,800 students from multiple advisers”
  • “Developed a comprehensive and streamlined immigration check-in process”
  • “Identifying and implementing new, effective tools or software”
  • “Tracking office data (document processing, walk-in advising trends, workshop attendance, etc.)”
  • “Building and maintaining relationships with campus stakeholders”
  • “Provide appropriate responses and support in crisis situations”

Before the team had too long to bask in the glory of their awesomeness, I asked them to think about opportunities for growth for each competency. They then took a few minutes adding these items to the posters around the room. Again, I read each item aloud to the team. As with the strengths, there were nods in agreement and acknowledgement of the realities of our limitations. Some of these responses included:

  • “Offer more opportunities for engagement with American students”
  • “Enhancement of orientation, retention, and student programming”
  • “Better prioritization of projects and commitments”
  • “Learn what challenges other departments on campus encounter when working with internationals and how we can support them”
  • “Improve communication flow among staff following crisis situations”

When all the opportunities for growth were listed, I asked each team member to mark three items they thought were most important or they believed our office should work on. It was interesting to see the common concerns of many people in the office. The most popular items included:

  • “Add staff to reduce advisor-to-student ratios”
  • “Redesign office space or identify new space to accommodate growth”
  • “Cultivate good stewardship through streamlined and transparent budgeting”
  • “Send us abroad to grow internationally”

To wrap up the session, I divided the team into our smaller sub teams (that is, the student team, the sponsored student team, the SEVIS team, and the scholar team) and asked them to discuss priorities for the upcoming academic year. I asked each team to develop three goals they thought were reasonable for the next year and to let me know what they were. I will be reviewing their goals and checking in throughout the next year to see how they are progressing. Our first check-in will be before the NAFSA Region IV conference. Another follow up will be scheduled in the spring semester, and the final check-in will likely take place at our staff retreat next summer.


I am confident in their ability to reach the goals they have set for their teams. The goals are meant to encourage and remind the team why we do what we do. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks and not take the time to acknowledge the big picture. Too often we put things on the back burner and say “I’ll get to this next week,” only to realize that months have passed.

I know our office is not alone in our strengths and opportunities for growth, but now they are on paper. They are out there for all of us to see, they are there for us to make goals, they are there for us to see where we fall short, and they are there to remind us on the tough days that we do some things really well.

I look forward to the year of growth our team has in store, and of course, the next round of kickball.

Kristen Albrecht is the assistant director and coordinator of international student and scholar services at the University of Missouri, where she advises students on all things immigration. She also helps coordinate the international student welcome program for new students. She holds a master’s degree in intercultural relations from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.