A global nonprofit association of more than 10,000 members dedicated to international education and exchange recognized Kalamazoo College Center for International Programs (CIP) Executive Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft by naming her its 2023 conference chair.
Coinciding with the organization’s 75th anniversary, the NAFSA: Association of International Educators Conference and Expo—held May 30–June 2 in Washington, D.C.—united its community to reflect, celebrate, inspire and create through shared lessons, diverse perspectives and innovative approaches; explore trends in professional development and career advancement; and emphasize the need for inclusive global communities in higher education.
As the NAFSA conference chair, Wiedenhoeft worked with the annual conference committee to develop a call for proposals, recruit reviewers for those proposals, and decide who was invited to present, while crafting the conference theme, brainstorming the kinds of sessions they wanted, and reaching out to promote the gathering to prospective first-time attendees.
“I had never been a part of a conference that had 10,000 attendees,” Wiedenhoeft said. “It was exciting and an interesting behind-the-scenes look. One thing I was surprised about was that as the conference chair, I was asked to be in a lot of pictures with many delegations from outside the United States. It was a lot of fun and a great way to get to know people and hear about why they traveled. It was a great way to build relationships.”
Ultimately, much of the event focused on NAFSA’s milestone anniversary and how the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic through issues such as international student recruitment, VISA accessibility, and the funding available for first-generation students who want to study abroad.
“There was a lot of discussion about the kinds of advocacy work we can do at the national and state levels to help decision makers and institutions understand the impact that funding international education initiatives can have beyond our campuses,” Wiedenhoeft said. “We also discussed the political climate, especially with certain states censoring DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) initiatives and censuring students that come from certain countries, so we can be ready to respond and advocate.”
In a separate opportunity, Wiedenhoeft also presented at a Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities (MICU) conference in October to address how institutions think about security for students when they travel off campus, particularly to environments or places not geographically connected to it. The gathering wasn’t only for international educators, but for all educators to think about safety.
“It was a great conversation,” she said. “It reminded me that there are resources on our own campus and folks who think about student safety all the time with safety being a goal for all of us. I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned and to contextualize it for folks who may be thinking about starting programs or thinking about particular risks that they’re concerned about in certain places. I always say the riskiest place is ignorance, so it’s important to help folks know what they need to understand about where students go to live and study.”
Wiedenhoeft began working for K in 2000 and has served as the CIP’s executive director since 2017. In that department, she structures and oversees its operations, policies and practices including study abroad, domestic study away and international student support while collaborating with partners overseas, students, and faculty to ensure programs are financially accessible, sustainable, and connected to life and study at K.
She applauds K administrators, students, faculty and staff for making that work possible as the College has become a standard bearer for study abroad, international education and international programs. K offers 53 study abroad opportunities that vary from one to three terms in 33 countries.
“I could not do this work without the support of the Provost and President, and from my wonderful colleagues in the CIP—Sally, Asia, Alayna, Abosede, NaShera, Colin and Lizbeth,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I will show up anywhere and everywhere to promote Kalamazoo College.”