As NAFSA's new CEO Fanta Aw said in a recent interview, “Members have always been a driving force for the work. They have given their time, their knowledge, and their talents.” We know every member has their own NAFSA story, and we look forward to reading yours!
Shoreline Community College
Associate Vice President, International Education and Global Engagement
My NAFSA story began in 1995 when I was finishing grad school at Bowling Green State University. I had been interning in the international services department and was invited to attend a conference that everyone seemed very excited about. It was called NAFSA (sounded a lot like NASA, but quite different, I was assured!) in New Orleans. Little did I know that it would be one of the most important decisions I would make for my career trajectory.
The energy at the conference was palpable, and I was hooked from day one! I attended sessions, applied for jobs, and met lots of international educators—passionate, open-minded, worldly, and fun individuals, many of whom I am still in touch with. I went on to serve in different international education roles at vastly diverse institutions—an Ivy League university on the east coast, a large Research 1 university in the Midwest, and a community college on the west coast.
Through it all, NAFSA remained the one constant thread. I was able to rely on the support of colleagues around the country and the world who generously shared their time and expertise as we grappled with the conundrum of the day, be it IIRAIRA [Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996], the Asian financial crisis, September 11, SEVIS implementation, SARS, SIO issues, navigating campus politics, recruiting overseas, or COVID-19. I am thrilled to be able to give back to this same community as a presenter and volunteer leader and mentor.
My NAFSA story began in New York City in 1975, at a hamburger joint at lunch with Archer Brown of CIEE. I was managing IIE's publications and informational services, and we were talking about collaboration among IIE, CIEE, and NAFSA around education abroad materials and training. Archer was high on NAFSA and suggested I look into joining. I attended the 1975 annual conference in San Diego (and every one since!)—and the rest is history.
As a member-leader I served on the SECUSSA Team, was SECUSSA Chair, and was elected to the NAFSA Board of Directors as member-at-large. I never served on my regional leadership team, but a highlight of my career has been representing NAFSA at regional conferences. These 11 grassroots entities are the fabric of our association. For many members, regional conferences are the start of the process of discovery of the field—and of lifelong personal connections—and it has been a joy to watch that happen to a next generation of international educators.
One word to describe my NAFSA journey is “profound.” I've grown in so many ways with NAFSA, learning nuances about the field but also learning from and making lifelong friends with colleagues worldwide. It might be cliche, but it has been a privilege these past 48 years to be part of the field alongside colleagues who supported me in my leadership roles–same for staff in the NAFSA office, first in support of my member leadership terms, but also as colleagues later in my career. [There are many] people I met through NAFSA who I am proud to call my friends. They have been a source of inspiration and support over the years. I'm very proud I knew and worked with a number of the founders and giants in our profession, and learned from the greatest. And it was at a NAFSA annual conference I met my husband.
Portland State University
Director, International Student and Scholar Services
To me, the NAFSA community means infectious laughter. Serious, life-changing, thoughtful conversations. Life-long friendships. Family. Home.
Kirkwood Community College
Dean, Global Learning
NAFSA reminds of the "why" of my career—why I do what I do, why we do what we do, and why we need to continue doing what we do. It is a place and community of inspiration and friendship.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Assistant Director, ISSS
NAFSA started out as just another funny acronym to me. But then I attended the NAFSA annual conference in Boston with support from a Region X grant. It was was the catalyst for my decision to join the field. I was finally able to see myself in a career where I could still be happy with my work 20 or 30 years in the future, particularly because of the camaraderie I experienced.
University of Houston
International Student Counselor
I have had a “phenomenal” 20-year journey with NAFSA. The aspect of NAFSA that has been the most meaningful to me has been my involvement with the Member Interest Groups (MIGS) because they focus on member engagement opportunities, fostering diversity, equity and inclusion, and the shared experiences of our NAFSA members.
Vice Provost and Senior International Officer
My professional experience in international education commenced with a decade of challenging, but highly enjoyable, field experience with SIT, running and supervising programs mostly in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. In that decade, I would hear about NAFSA and wonder what it was all about. What was I missing out on? I never had a chance to attend a NAFSA conference, and to me, NAFSA seemed something far away, something that others did, perhaps home office people.
Fast forward to 2009 and I found myself moving to the United States to work for Marist College in New York. No longer purely a field person, I needed to quickly identify my ample blind spots and become a well-rounded international educator. The NAFSA annual conference was in Los Angeles that year, my old stomping ground, and I highly enjoyed digging into each seminar and lecture on the schedule. I think I bought every book available at the conference bookstore and began to expand my knowledge of “doing” international education. I enjoyed the many NAFSA and country receptions—wow, the receptions.
But you know what I enjoyed most? Meeting fellow NAFSA members: people from all over the world, with diverse and interesting stories, people to whom I would remain forever connected. And what stays with me to today is, while we come from many backgrounds, we’re connected by a commitment to education, to students, to people, the planet, and to building bridges for mutual dialog, insight, and a better tomorrow.
Joseph G. Hoff
University of North Carolina-Charlotte
Director, Office of Global Education and Engagement
I hope that NAFSA becomes a facilitator for growth and change amongst its members to truly integrate international education into our institutions. There is such a need for understanding the world and promoting collaboration amongst the world's cultures. NAFSA can be the change agent to accomplish these outcomes.
Jennings International Education Leadership and Training
Founder and Principal
My volunteer leadership roles have also been particularly meaningful. I was a volunteer leader as Canada Member Interest Group co-chair, which then led to two roles with the International Education Leadership knowledge community, including my current role as 2023 chair. It is such an incredible privilege to be able to give back to the organization that has given me so much over the years. I am so excited about NAFSA's deepened focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, justice, and accessibility work. We all have so much to learn and grow in these areas. It is particularly important as NAFSA looks to engage with international members in new and deeper ways.
Kerry A. Geffert
I remember my start. It was my first Region X Conference after having worked 6 years in Region III. The next year’s conference was going to be in my institution’s area, so I volunteered for the local arrangements team. That simple act led to 30 years of NAFSA roles on teams, committees, and task forces. Among all these experiences, I am most proud of my 10 years spent with the NAFSA Management Development Program (MDP). I had the good fortune of being asked to join the inaugural team of trainers, thanks to providence and an ability that someone saw in me. The team leader was Gary Althen, a NAFSA leader and author I had long admired. I remember being stressed about the first training session as the stakes and expectations were high. However, we were so well prepared for the first cohort that we didn’t miss a beat when one of our team had a medical emergency and another a family emergency.
Over the course of the next decade I, and an amazing array of trainers, led around 500 NAFSAns through what I believe to be one of NAFSA’s best training opportunities. I grew as a trainer, presenter, and as a manager. However, the most rewarding aspect has been when I connect with fellow trainers and alumni who recount how the program improved them. NAFSA shines with training opportunities. NAFSA’s MDP helps turn individuals well-trained in their respective subject areas into international education managers ready to take on whatever comes our way.
Bridges University of North Texas
Director, International Student and Scholar Services
The work that I have done through NAFSA regions continues to enrich my life even after my positions have ended. My involvement with NAFSA Region III provided me with professional development that I believe has led to career progression. Beyond that, I met many of my lifelong friends while volunteering with Regional Affairs. I now have friends across the country that I would never have had the privilege of meeting were it not for NAFSA. These are relationships that span beyond the professional and are now my personal support network. My journey with NAFSA is one of endless opportunity.
Linda L . Melville
University of New Mexico
Global Education Office Director, International Student and Scholar Services
I have loved all aspects of my NAFSA journey since then. My participation as a NAFSA volunteer leader—from regional teams, to ISTA Network leader, to Advocacy Day—have greatly enriched my career and my understanding of the complex and meaningful nature of international education. However, my participation in the Trainer Corps community has been the most valuable part of my experience in NAFSA. I love this Corps of committed, dedicated professionals and colleagues and cannot express just how much I have learned from being a part of Trainer Corps.
When I lived in Korea in 1995, I heard about NAFSA at an education fair. I returned to work in the United States at the Office of International Affairs Office at Pratt Institute in 1997, and a new boss insisted I attend the NAFSA Region X Conference in the Catskills. I remember an Elvis impersonator as the evening entertainment and I was hooked. Being a Member Interest Group (MIG) leader for the Creative Industries MIG since 2018 and a member since its inception has been the biggest reward. As a natural fit working for the OIA at Pratt, the CI MIG is a home plate making the world smaller and connecting me to other arts institutions (and people of course) around the world, which opened up so many mobility opportunities for our students.
Nadia Alvarez Mexia
University of Arizona
Assistant Professor of Practice and director of Transborder Education Initiatives
In one word, my NAFSA journey has been transformative. I feel honored to be part of a community where I can find a colleague and sources to nourish my own journey. This sense of belonging gives us the capacity to learn from other peers that are facing challenging situations and together can support each other to conduct and renovate our practices. For me, NAFSA was the first path through international education, and it has transformed my vision regarding this educational agenda, my own definition as an immigrant educator and former international student. It is a sea of potential opportunities, a transformative path, and a diverse community.
Dean, Global Education
One of my earliest memories of NAFSA was during my doctoral studies, when I created and taught a course for graduate students preparing to be education abroad professionals. I structured the course around NAFSA’s Guide to Education Abroad , which provided a solid grounding for our projects and discussions. Fast forward 10 years later, I was thrilled to author a chapter on outcomes assessment for a later version of the same guide. This was an opportunity to give back to the community. And for me, that is one of the key strengths of both our field of international education and NAFSA as a home for professionals like me: We come together to share and learn from each other. I feel very lucky every day to have the support and wisdom of my NAFSA colleagues.
Opal Leeman Bartzis
Michigan State University
Executive director of education abroad and interim director, Global Youth
Advancement Network The NAFSA community at large is a compass for international education. Our work takes us in many directions, figuratively and literally, professionally and geographically, but NAFSA is always available as a guide and a touchpoint.
Western Illinois University (retired )
Director emeritus, Western's English as a Second Language
I wish for NAFSA a continuation of growth and development. In the more than 40 years I have been a member, I have seen great ideas developed and implemented. I am excited to see that move forward and grow from our new generation of NAFSA leaders and organizational staff. Surely the world needs the kind of understanding generated by NAFSA now more than ever.
Western Washington University
Executive Director, Institute for Global Engagement
My NAFSA story began nearly 20 years ago with a director whose mentoring included strong encouragement to be an engaged member of NAFSA. She took me to my first NAFSA conference and shortly after, through her connections, I was invited to serve as registrar for the NAFSA Region XII Conference.
NAFSA connected me with professional development opportunities that I desperately needed but weren't always part of my position descriptions at various stages of my career. For example, when I was an assistant director, I had no budgeting responsibilities, but I knew I needed that experience to move up in my career. At one point, Region XII needed a treasurer, and I put my name in the hat and was appointed to that role by our regional leadership. Over the 3 years serving in that role, I gained so much experience in bookkeeping, budgeting, and best practices in financial risk management through trainings from NAFSA's Controller and CFO at Washington Leadership Meetings and throughout the year. I added those skills to my CV, which ended up being essential when I applied for a director role at another university. This example, other skill building and networking opportunities, and working with colleagues to achieve the goals of our meaningful work has made my engagement with NAFSA very valuable to me.
One word to describe my NAFSA journey is growth. This word best represents the various ways my engagement with NAFSA has impacted me and my career. NAFSA has provided opportunities for me update my expertise, solve problems outside of my control, share my expertise with others, build my professional competencies (like budgeting and bookkeeping by serving in a regional treasurer role!), stay engaged with colleagues and best practices from around the world, and, finally, to become an Academy coach and pay it all forward.
University of California-Berkeley (retired)
Founding Director, Visiting Scholar and Postdoc Affairs Program
When I served as chair of the Northern California district of Region XII, I was so amazed with NAFSAns and their dedication to international affairs. This experience opened up my heart and made me the person I became. The most meaningful part of my journey with NAFSA was the establishment of the Postdoc Special Interest Group, which is now 15 years old. Plus, my work with the National Postdoctoral Association involved coupling ideas and strategies with NAFSA. This truly was my best experience throughout my career.
University of North Georgia
Associate Vice President, International Programs
My NAFSA story began in 1992 when I asked the international student adviser, John Rodgers, at the University of Iowa how someone could gets a job like his. I was volunteering at the International Center and spent my time marketing the host family program in the Iowa City community, as well as sitting in on advising appointments, and I was taken by the variety of students and situations that the advisers encountered every day. John smiled coyly as he opened a filing cabinet (yes, and actual piece of furniture!) and pulled out a trifold paper brochure (remember those?) for NAFSA. He suggested that I attend a conference to learn more about the field and to explore career opportunities.
I went to my first NAFSA annual conference in 1995 in New Orleans after completing a Master’s degree. While there, I used the job registry (cards tacked to a bulletin board which job seekers circled like a hawk) to schedule interviews. I was fortunate to have several interviews at the conference and started my first job as an international student adviser at the University of Idaho a few months later.
I am so grateful to NAFSA for that first opportunity. Now in my 28th year in the field, NAFSA remains a constant source of expert information, professional development opportunities, and, most importantly, incredible networking and friendships.
University of California-San Francisco
International study and travel risk manager
The word that defines my NAFSA journey is relationships. As we reflect back on 75 year s of NAFSA and I think back on my years engaging with the organization and field, it's the relationships that I have built over the years that stand out to me as most significant, helpful, and enjoyable.
University of Pittsburgh
Interim director, Center for Global Studies
Awarded annually by NAFSA, the "gold standard" for campus comprehensive internationalization is the Senator Paul Simon Award. Receiving this award on three separate occasions while serving as the senior international officer at three major public universities (2008, 2014, and 2019) has immeasurably assisted me and my leadership team to state the case for why our institutions should value and take pride in its internationalization efforts and why our institutions should continue to invest additional resources in comprehensive campus internationalization.