Academy coaches are behind many of the success stories from the NAFSA Academy for International Education. To get insight into the value that coaches bring to the Academy experience, we asked Loveness Schafer, the 2020 and 2021 Region III Academy coach, about her journey as a coach. 

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Can you tell us a bit about your role as an Academy coach?

I love serving as the NAFSA Academy for International Educators coach for NAFSA Region III (Arkansans, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas). I coach six awesome trainees: Two international student advisers; two education abroad advisers; one SEVIS coordinator; and one programming specialist. My trainees have 2–5 years of experience in international education.

How did the coaching process begin for you?

My journey began in September 2019 when all the coaches representing the 11 NAFSA regions and one national coach gathered in Washington, D.C., for a two-and-a-half-day training. My fellow coaches and I are all experienced professionals in our diverse areas of international education. Our two Academy chairs and NAFSA staff partners provided us with outstanding tools that we have been able to utilize in our service as coaches. We started our coaching in January 2020 and since then, have participated in monthly coach-cohort virtual meetings for continued learning and networking. 

Practically speaking, what does it look like to be an Academy coach? What all is involved?

I enjoyed spending January and February getting to know my six trainees and guiding them as they set their individual goals and learning plans for the year. In early March, all the trainees from all 12 cohorts met for Spring Training. I worked with my fellow coaches to teach workshops in our respective knowledge communities (KCs) and in comprehensive internationalization, in an effort to expose all our trainees to the broad field of international education. 

We met one-on-one with trainees to review, update, and refine learning plans. This gave coaches and trainees an opportunity to bond. I learned so much from our many discussions about my trainees’ professional work and aspirations. I also [benefitted] from our coaches’ meetings and, after Spring Training, I knew I could lean on any of my fellow coaches for assistance. For my trainees, Spring Training marked the beginning of their learning transformation. I was delighted to see their level of motivation and confidence soar. 

What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on this year’s Academy experience and your role as a coach?

 Since March, I have been meeting monthly with my trainees as a cohort, virtually, for 1 hour. I’ve also been interacting with each of them individually once a month for about 30 minutes. In May, during the virtual NAFSA eConnection, trainees presented progress reports to their regional cohort and their respective coaches. 

It was so heartwarming to see their creativity; I was so proud to see how much work and passion all my trainees put into their beautiful and engaging presentations and projects. They created and presented storybooks, newsprints, mind maps, and more! They came up with unique analogies and metaphors to represent how far they had progressed. Yes, we also had some commiserations about COVID-19 and social justice; yet, I was extremely pleased as I observed the civil and intellectually stimulating discourse among these outstanding young professionals.

How did your Academy work progress throughout the year amid new challenges? 

My trainees and I spent the summer months reflecting on their progress, looking back at where they started, planning for the second half of the year, and updating and refining learning plans. All my trainees came to more fully understand that their learning plan is a living document to be tweaked or amended as circumstances change for better or for worse.   

During the NAFSA Region III virtual conference in September, my trainees presented a newcomers’ orientation session that attracted record attendance. They introduced attendees to NAFSA, who we are (our values and beliefs), what we do, and how we do it. They organized a virtual happy hour and enjoyed each other’s company after the presentation. 

How did the Academy help prepare them for this type of presentation? 

All my trainees were offered the opportunity to host our monthly cohort meeting, assuming responsibility for all aspects of the meeting, including handling meeting logistics; coming up with a presentation topic; finding a copresenter from the NAFSA community; collaborating with the copresenter; and, finally, presenting to their fellow trainees. 

These responsibilities empowered and energized the trainees. Fellow trainees gave constructive feedback during the presentation. It was an opportunity for the trainees to practice professionalism in a relatively low-stress setting. Fellow trainees viewed the host with admiration and looked forward to their own turn to host a meeting. 

What have you enjoyed the most about being an Academy coach this year?

My trainees came into this year-long experience with knowledge, skills, and talents. As coach, I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know each trainee’s background and interests and to recognize, value, and affirm their perspectives and skill set. I see my primary role as facilitating my trainees’ individual and communal learning and professional advancement. I try to maintain a balance between sharing my expertise and encouraging them to learn on their own, because they benefit most from guidance, not lectures. I strive to give constructive feedback and to empower and encourage trainees to pursue their passions. 

I’ve truly enjoyed seeing my trainees grow professionally. My coaching experience has also contributed to my own personal and professional development in many ways. I look forward to seeing all my outstanding trainees graduate from the Academy in December, and I look forward to serving again in 2021! The growth each of my trainees demonstrated this year shows just how valuable the Academy is.