Build Your Career through Volunteering

December 18, 2015

By Ellen Badger, Editor

Welcome to the first edition of Advice From the Field, a new monthly online column that offers trusted career and professional development advice for international education professionals at all levels. Informed by NAFSA’s Phase II Member Interest Group, each column will explore real questions from NAFSA members in the field looking to further their personal and professional development.

Q. I often hear about opportunities for working in NAFSA in various leadership areas or in general as volunteers. Does such involvement lead to greater professional development and institutional recognition? What are the time demands? I'm hoping for some ideas that I can use in making the case for myself with my institution.

A. Gary Althen, Retired, University of Iowa, NAFSA Life Member

NAFSA leaders and volunteers have opportunities not often available at their place of employment to learn and practice skills such as: organizing projects; motivating people; appreciating alternative perspectives; conducting meetings; participating effectively in meetings; networking; public speaking; using technology; teaching and training; and writing. NAFSA leaders and volunteers can become personally acquainted with knowledgeable and experienced professional colleagues, key government-agency personnel, and staff in relevant international education organizations. They can get ideas from other schools or organizations concerning programs and ways of doing business and then use those ideas in their own operations.

Of course, leadership positions require time -- for travel, phone calls, reading, and a generous supply of electronic communications. Some of your leader work can and may even need to be done during regular business hours, when the people you need to talk to are in their offices. But much of it will inevitably flow over into evenings and weekends. Although NAFSA leadership adds to your workload, it can be surprisingly energizing as you deal with an array of people in settings outside your own campus or organization.

It’s not enough just to sign on for NAFSA leadership. You must do your NAFSA job conscientiously and reliably, just as you must your day job. You need to learn how NAFSA works, prepare yourself for meetings, follow through on commitments, and, importantly, meet deadlines.

As an international educator, your success depends on your knowledge and skills. Both can be enhanced immeasurably by participating in NAFSA leadership. It exposes you to the big picture – how your own work fits with that of others in the field, what the larger trends and issues are, who’s who, and where you can get information and help.

To read more responses on the career benefits of volunteering, view the full post in the NAFSA Career Center, /careercenter.

Have a question? It may appear in a future column! Submit your questions to jr@nafsa.org.


"Advice from the Field" is a joint initiative of NAFSA’s Phase II Member Interest Group (MIG) and the NAFSA Career Center. The column is edited by Ellen Badger, coordinator of the Phase II MIG. For additional career resources, visit www.nafsa.org/careercenter.


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