A Playbook for Risk Management
In early 2020, the first inklings that the COVID-19 pandemic would pose serious challenges for international education at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMass Amherst) came not from program staff in the international office, but from international students.
“Some of our Chinese students, and students from Wuhan in particular…would come to our office and ask us what we thought was going to happen, like they were trying to get our attention,” recalls Kenneth Reade, MA, the university’s director of international student and scholar services. As he states in UMass Amherst’s 2019–2020 Global Report, “At that point, no one grasped the gravity of the whole thing.”
The rapid pace at which the pandemic disrupted international programming took virtually every institution by surprise. As COVID-19 reached a crisis stage last March, UMass Amherst faced yet another unanticipated challenge as it worked to bring back more than 760 students studying abroad. Its director of international health, safety, and security had gone on maternity leave at the end of February, and the new director of education abroad programs had just arrived at the institution in the fall.
“It tested our systems and our ability to follow through,” says Kalpen Trivedi, PhD, associate provost for international programs.
As was the case at many colleges and universities, intentional efforts by the UMass Amherst international office to create structures for risk management helped staff respond to and plan for an emergency response and ongoing uncertainty over the past year. This proactive approach to risk management has also