Edited by Ellen Badger

Welcome to the first edition of Advice From the Field, a new monthly online column that offers trusted career and professional development advice for international education professionals at all levels. Informed by NAFSA’s Phase II Member Interest Group, each column will explore real questions from NAFSA members in the field looking to further their personal and professional development.

Q. I often hear about opportunities for working in NAFSA in various leadership areas or in general as volunteers. Does such involvement lead to greater professional development and institutional recognition? What are the time demands? I'm hoping for some ideas that I can use in making the case for myself with my institution.

A. Gary Althen, Retired, University of Iowa, NAFSA Life Member
NAFSA leaders and volunteers have opportunities not often available at their place of employment to learn and practice skills such as: organizing projects; motivating people; appreciating alternative perspectives; conducting meetings; participating effectively in meetings; networking; public speaking; using technology; teaching and training; and writing. NAFSA leaders and volunteers can become personally acquainted with knowledgeable and experienced professional colleagues, key government-agency personnel, and staff in relevant international education organizations. They can get ideas from other schools or organizations concerning programs and ways of doing business and then use those ideas in their own operations.

Of course, leadership positions require time -- for travel, phone calls, reading, and a generous supply of electronic communications. Some of your leader work can and may even need to be done during regular business hours, when the people you need to talk to are in their offices. But much of it will inevitably flow over into evenings and weekends. Although NAFSA leadership adds to your workload, it can be surprisingly energizing as you deal with an array of people in settings outside your own campus or organization.

It’s not enough just to sign on for NAFSA leadership. You must do your NAFSA job conscientiously and reliably, just as you must your day job. You need to learn how NAFSA works, prepare yourself for meetings, follow through on commitments, and, importantly, meet deadlines.

As an international educator, your success depends on your knowledge and skills. Both can be enhanced immeasurably by participating in NAFSA leadership. It exposes you to the big picture – how your own work fits with that of others in the field, what the larger trends and issues are, who’s who, and where you can get information and help.

A. Diana Lopez, Retired, University of Tennessee
My first 2-3 positions with NAFSA were not planned. Someone asked me to do something, and I said yes. The more I did, the more I enjoyed the people with whom I worked and what we accomplished. As I moved from regional to national leadership, I saw positions from which I thought I could benefit and also for which I could provide some expertise. In most cases, I simply mentioned that I was interested in a position, and it wasn’t long before I was offered it or put up for election. Sometimes it took a couple of tries. My boss encouraged my involvement, and provided the time off I might need for meetings and conferences, but there was never any formal recognition and certainly no monetary gain.

There were times when things might not have been going well at my institution, and NAFSA came to my rescue by allowing me to focus on something else. And then, of course, whenever my boss wanted some information on what other institutions were doing about a particular topic, my NAFSA colleagues came through with answers.

A. Patti Jones, Retired, Western Illinois University, Life Member
NAFSA involvement begins at the “grass roots” for many of us. After my first conference session presentation, I realized that each of us develops expertise in an area and that is our springboard into NAFSA activities. Lead a session, work on local arrangements, become a part of the regional team, and the list goes on. When you are listed as a presenter, or a chair, or a leader, make sure you “toot your own horn” by having it included in campus media. That’s the beginning of building your credibility and recognition on your own campus.

Balancing your work and your NAFSA role will come with practice and involvement. As you progress in leadership activities, you will see where the important activities or jobs related to NAFSA fit in your personal life and schedule. If you are elected to a major leadership role, your institution will need to be in agreement with the time commitment, and all the “credibility building” and institutional recognition you have gained over the years will help with getting this support.

A. Joan Elias Gore, PhD, Senior Program Development Consultant, Foundation for International Education
Volunteering for NAFSA positions does demand your time. But that is offset by the opportunity to exercise and develop leadership skills and network within your profession. With NAFSA, you will learn to expand your knowledge about how others handle the challenges and issues of delivering professional service and developing institutional policy, how others navigate effectively within their institutions, and how you can grow and move within the field of international education.

No one can promise you will get recognition or support at your home institution. This will depend on your reporting line and what they perceive as important, as well as how they perceive the role of administrators at your institution. Nonetheless, your professional activity outside your institution may be of value in promotion. It is there that your ability to show you have leadership ability and broader talent can make a difference.

Realistically, some institutions value your professional service outside your institution (so time spent can be spent as part of your workday) while others ignore it (and your time spent may be in addition to your workday). The real reward can be seen when you change jobs. Demonstrating you are both exposed to and respected by your peers nationally can make a real difference in moving to different institutions and up the career ladder. So time spent in service to NAFSA will pay off, both in your own knowledge and in your eventual career development. It is also rewarding in and of itself, reflecting your membership and identity within your chosen profession.

A. Joy Stevenson, Retired, University of Central Missouri, Life Member
We each have a unique story of how we got involved with NAFSA and the impact it has had on our life and those around us. That great quote that “No man is an island” is so true, but when I first began in my original position as an International Student Advisor, I was a One Person Office. No one on campus had a clear idea of my duties, or the challenges I would face and the opportunities that would come. I have vivid memories of my first NAFSA Regional conference where the supportive nature of the members and their eagerness to share welcomed me warmly. My first major role was with my region. As my network of friends and colleagues grew each year, I volunteered or was asked to step into other regional volunteer positions, and ultimately national roles. From the beginning I was supported by my university and they appreciated the publicity the university received through my NAFSA positions.

NAFSA provides leaders with excellent training through workshops, training modules, webinars, conference calls and support materials. Of particular use are the sessions focused upon Advocacy. Individuals are empowered to begin presentations promoting the importance of international education on campus, at the state level and beyond at the national and global level. Leaders develop new skills which translate easily to job duties involving data analysis, research, public relations, personnel management, budget preparation and multi-media presentations. As technology changes around us, NAFSA and its leaders are always working to identify and share the latest resources that will improve the quality of our efforts.

No matter what professional position an individual holds, a NAFSA volunteer leadership role will enhance your personal life as well. Lifelong friendships are a wonderful benefit as are professional connections and networks which may ultimately play a significant factor in job advancement. NAFSA leaders are supportive and encouraging in times of difficulty and are eager to listen and share ideas.

If you are a young professional, volunteer and become engaged more fully within NAFSA! If you are a more experienced professional, please encourage and support the young professionals around you to be engaged in leadership roles.

Have a question? It may appear in a future column! Submit your questions to [email protected].

"Advice from the Field" is a joint initiative of NAFSA’s Phase II Member Interest Group (MIG) and the NAFSA Career Center. The column is edited by Ellen Badger, coordinator of the Phase II MIG. For additional career resources, visit www.nafsa.org/careercenter.