A Conversation with Margaret Wiedenhoeft


Margaret WiedenhoeftMargaret Wiedenhoeft is the Acting Director of the Center for International Programs at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Currently she manages the operations of the office, as well as the Kalamazoo study abroad programs in Australia, China, France, India, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Thailand. Margaret received her B.A. in International Studies from Emory University her M.B.A. and doctorate from Western Michigan University. Professional interests include promoting diversity in study abroad participation, developing new types of programming for study abroad, and studying the impact and experience of study abroad on U.S. college students.

Mandy: What’s on your calendar for today?

Margaret: Today is a pretty good day since it is a Wednesday. I have a couple of study abroad appointments with students and a meeting with the registrar and financial aid to discuss possible options for students who want to return home early from France.

Mandy: Where do you like to travel for fun?

Margaret: My favorite place to travel for fun is Berlin, Germany.

Mandy: How many countries have you been to?

Margaret: I actually have no idea. It is more than 30 countries but, less than 70.

Mandy: Describe a “pivotal career moment” when you knew you were ready to move from managing education abroad programs to leading a broader internationalization strategy.

Margaret: One of the moments that come to mind is having conversations with our language faculty about working with our business majors to encourage students to connect with language earlier so they could take certain courses abroad in the target language. Having that moment with faculty in talking about how we could get students to go abroad and connecting faculty and students to the work they are doing on campus got me really excited.

Mandy: What are a few skills you find are necessary to your role as an SIO/Senior EA Professional?

Margaret: I think the most helpful skills are the ability to analyze the system (in a broad sense), understanding the way your campus works and functions, the way your administrators function and the way your faculty function and use this knowledge to identify the pathways for collaboration to happen, etc. Another important skill is the ability to communicate your point effectively and to negotiate effectively, to come to a mutual agreement with someone who has a different viewpoint than you, especially with someone who has a different background than you. It can be really easy to be defensive about some of the positions you take which can prevent some conversations from taking place. The ability to think about short vs. long term goals and outcomes and thinking about what future outcomes will be and what the mid-term points would be an important aspect of this as well.

Mandy: What do you like most about your role as a SIO/Senior EA Professional?

Margaret: I really enjoy thinking strategically and thinking at the 40,000 foot level. Sometimes with the day-to-day things we encounter, which are usually not the glamorous part of the job, I like having the time and the responsibility to make recommendations and collaborate about what would be good for our institution and students in terms of internationalization. There are not a lot of people, at least where I am, that has this as part of their job description to look at internationalization and the whole institution and not just their department or area.

Mandy: What do you like least about your role as a SIO/Senior EA Professional?

Margaret: The thing I like least is sometimes you can be spread too thin. The reality is I have limited time to think strategically because my primary role is to really function and respond to the day-to-day events that happen throughout our term. The frustrating part about this is how to build in the time to think strategically for the long-term while also getting the day-to-day work done. I don’t mind talking to parents or working with students, even the memorable ones, but it is really the balance of this responsibility that is hard to manage.

Mandy: What are some of the major challenges you face in your role as an SIO/Senior EA Professional and how to you face them?

Margaret: Two things that I have noticed is: I do not have the same status as a faculty member despite the fact that I have a PhD. I have been able to establish relationships with some faculty but it is more of a challenge with new faculty who I have not worked with before and who do not necessarily understand how my role works. The other challenge is how to do more with less. We are small private liberal arts college and we have budget pressures just like everyone else and have to respond to these challenges in creative ways without slashing services. It is a challenge to do this in an academic setting. I also have to think about this in both the short-term vs. the long-term as well.

Mandy: What are a few pieces of advice you would give new and mid-career EA professionals who are looking to continue on towards eventually becoming a SIO/Senior EA Professional?

Margaret: I think that one of the most important things you can do is just talk to people and get experience and advice from people on how they learned and received their “on the job training”. This isn’t necessarily something you can go to grad school for, although that is helpful. You really need to be in the trenches for most of this. You have to have experience advising students, with budgets, analyzing the market, working with faculty, etc. All of those things you get by acquiring the skills over time. We are also very generous with each other in this field and are willing to talk to each other, share information and be accessible as mentors or colleagues.

Mandy: How has NAFSA assisted you in your role as SIO/Senior EA Professional (either with resources, events, etc.)?

Margaret: I think NAFSA has played an important role in my development in two ways. One has been in the education and training piece when I was a newbie and knew nothing - going to the training and the conferences was a very important part of my education. As I have grown in the profession, I have appreciated that NAFSA has tried to develop new content for mid and senior career professionals. I have also gained a lot from my work in NAFSA leadership and being mentored by NAFSA staff and other volunteers and getting the opportunity to see how NAFSA works. Also, the biggest thing for me has been the ability to network and connect and with like-minded institutions and people in the U.S. and around the world.

Mandy: Do you feel there is a shift in the SIO/Senior EA Professional Profile, and that the new generation of SIOs/Senior EA Professionals coming up in the field of IE necessarily needs a PhD to perform well in their position?

Margaret: No one should ever get a PhD unless they really want a PhD. It is way too much work and too much of an investment. I obtained one because I was interested in the topic and I wanted to learn how to do research. I don’t think getting a PhD gives you a magic credential to run a study abroad office. I see this often when faculty transition to administrative roles. The ability to manage staff, budgets, etc. is not what they teach in grad schools. I do think if you are serious about being a director that you will need to learn how to do budget modelling, personnel management, strategic planning, etc. I think that the particular culture of the institution is going to determine who is qualified for the SIO/Senior EA position. Some institutions make it clear that they want someone who has a PhD and who has published in his or her field (which may or may not be international education). Other institutions may be just as happy with an individual who has the relevant experience and perhaps a graduate degree. I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand the culture of the institution or organization.

Mandy: Where do you see yourself in 5 years or 10 years from now?

Margaret: I see myself even more involved at a strategic level in international education and thinking about and implementing programs that impact at all four years and not just during the time they are off campus. Plan B is I win the lottery and move to the beach.

Mandy: What do you see as current trends within education abroad?

Margaret: I think there is more of an interest from moving away from the traditional study abroad paradigm towards internships, service-learning, etc., whether that is informal or formalized, etc. I also think students’ attention spans have become even shorter and the technology to engage effectively on site has become more vital.

Mandy: What is the one thing you don’t think the field is giving enough attention to?

Margaret: I don’t think we are paying as much attention to language learning as we should. Until we are realistic and advocate for the learning of language and work side by side with our colleagues in foreign languages we risk losing that important foundation for cultural learning. In my mind, when you talk about having students who are ready for the global world you need to have a student who knows more than English. We should not lose sight of this in order to get more students abroad.

Mandy: What’s the one thing you never travel without?

Margaret: My slippers for the plane. I bought them when I was visiting Hong Kong many years ago and I still have them and I keep them in a special pouch. I carry them with me everywhere.

mandy reinigMandy Reinig
St. Mary's College of Maryland

Mandy Reinig is the director of international education at St. Mary's College of Maryland. She works with outgoing students in pursuing their study abroad opportunities and serves as the PDSO and the ARO for the campus. She presents regularly on social media as it relates to international education at the regional, national, and international level.