This month’s Advice From The Field column is authored by Patti Jones, NAFSA volunteer leader and a retired international educator from Western Illinois University. Patti shares her strategies for obtaining resources to support staff professional development.
Q. How can I best advocate for my team to receive the professional training they need? NAFSA’s conferences offer so much, but I can't afford to send everyone. What are some supplemental resources or tips to get the most NAFSA bang for our buck?
A: Patti Jones
Advocating for your team is always a necessary activity. Our field demands that professional training include a thorough understanding of policy, regulation, and their applications. This knowledge base requires continual updating. Very few people outside of the international office fully understand the nature of our work or its complexity. That is, until an external immigration review by a federal agency or a risk management audit of an education abroad program provides a massive reality check for administration.
Advocacy is all about the influence you have at your institution, and your ability to convince decision makers to consider your course of action. There are two parts to getting the support you need for your team: providing the justification for it, and finding the most economical way to deliver it. Here are some suggestions for strengthening your proposal and getting more "bang for your buck."
Budget offices and administrators are less likely to argue with data. Keep a record of all daily office contacts. It can be as simple as a sign-in sheet or as sophisticated as a database that collects information on contacts from a variety of platforms (such as office visits, e-mail, social media, and phone calls). Indicate not only the number of individuals served, but the type and level of service provided. Identify those situations that could put the student, faculty member, or institution in jeopardy if not taken care of immediately and correctly. Collect this data daily and analyze it monthly for documentation purposes. This provides “ammunition” for requests for staff training.
Keep administration apprised of how often regulations change that affect your institution’s international activities. These are not just within the realm of the international office, but include those managed by other offices, such as National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regulations, I-9 requirements, and the penalties that can be applied if the institution is not in compliance. Often times the international office is the first to learn about these changes and can help bring attention to any critical issues.
To maximize your potential for obtaining support for staff training and professional development, utilize the NAFSA data on the financial contributions of international students to your institution and to your state. NAFSA conducts an annual state-by-state and congressional district analysis of the economic contributions of international students and their families to the U.S. economy. While the answer to attending a professional development conference like a NAFSA regional or annual conference may still be “no,” you’ve created a foundation for returning to the administration and asking for support at a future time.
To get more training when there are limited resources, look to NAFSA’s online professional learning and training options, including e-Learning Seminars and Collegial Conversations. These require access to a computer, but that is hardly ever an issue. These programs are offered on varying topics and range from the specifics of every day work in the field to long-term strategic planning. The cost is less than sending an individual to a conference, if such travel is not allowed, but will still provide the staff person with an excellent learning experience. The person who receives the training can share that expertise with others. Additionally, some programs that are offered for a single fee allow for multiple participants per site.
If you can’t finance the cost of training through your office budget, consider alternative funding sources. There may be grants for staff training offered through institutional development offices, or look at external grant opportunities, including NAFSA travel grants supported by your region.
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"Advice from the Field" is a bi-monthly online column that offers trusted career and professional development advice for international educators at all levels. The column is a joint initiative of NAFSA’s Phase II Member Interest Group (MIG) and the NAFSA Career Center, and is edited by Ellen Badger, past-coordinator of the Phase II MIG. For additional career resources, visit www.nafsa.org/careercenter.