Partner Feature: Augustana University

Ben Iverson, Director of International Programs & Enrollment at Augustana University

This month we are excited to highlight our host partner, Augustana University! Ben Iverson is an  alumnus of Augustana and currently works there as Director of International Programs & Enrollment, where he serves as their Senior International Officer, overseeing international admission, international student advising, and study abroad. He also works on international partnerships, programming, development, and campus internationalization. Ben works alongside two amazing international student advisors, Erin Kane and Heather Reed, who provide excellent service for degree-seeking and visiting international students.

What does your orientation for international students involve?

Our international student orientation is a blast! It’s one of my favorite times of the year. We spend the first 2-3 days on campus where we help students get to know people and places at Augustana. We cover cultural adjustment, academic expectations, compliance issues, and then we do lots of fun things with campus clubs and organizations. Last year, we did some rock climbing at a nearby state park, for instance, with the Augustana Outdoor Club. Later on in our orientation week, we take all of our students to the Black Hills in South Dakota where we see Badlands National Park, Mt. Rushmore, and Crazy Horse, and then hike Black Elk Peak. 

A new international student orientation group in front of the Ole the Viking statue on Augustana’s campus

We continue getting to know one another and covering important orientation themes while enjoying the natural beauty. All the while we’re assisted by our Augustana Cultural Exchange (ACE) Ambassadors, upperclassmen who help us with everything from airport pickups to leading activities during orientation, and who often become our new international students’ first American and international student friends at Augustana.  It’s a busy week, but it often stands out as a highlight of students’ entire experience at AU, according to our survey results.

Can you briefly describe a handful of campus clubs, events, and/or programs that are designed with international students in mind?

Members of the Augustana International Club (AIC) on a float during Augustana’s Viking Days (homecoming) parade.

Before the pandemic, we hosted a program called the Friday Rendezvous each week, at which a student or a group of students from different countries (and sometimes returned study abroad students, too) give a presentation about some aspect of their home country or culture. It is often a well-attended event and serves as a kickoff for the weekend as students make plans with one another after the presentation.  During the pandemic, we’ve moved instead towards a podcast called The Window Seat in which we feature NPR-style interviews with our current international students, allowing our campus community to get to know our international students’ stories in a bit greater detail.

Augustana is a small school with roughly 2,000 total undergraduates, of whom about 150 are international under normal circumstances. Still, our students are very active in our 100+ clubs and organizations. Some of the internationally-focused clubs include the Asian Student Organization, African Student Union, La Unión Hispana, and the overarching Augustana International Club, in addition to Better Together (an interfaith club), to mention a few. One of the most popular annual events that these organizations help manage is our World’s Got Talent Show and Food Festival, normally held during International Education Week in the fall.

What is your favorite place on campus and why?

My favorite place is our campus Starbucks. It’s a nice, relaxed environment with huge windows and lots of natural light overlooking our quad – the perfect place to meet up with students over coffee. It’s also where we display the finalists in our annual international photo contest – an incredible visual representation of the amazing intercultural experiences our American students have abroad, and that our international students have in the United States.

Please share a positive takeaway or memorable story from your work with Global UGRADs.

I think my favorite thing about the Global UGRAD Program is the lasting impact and connections that the students seem to make. Social media helps us stay in contact, of course, but it seems like I regularly hear stories about our American students, alumni, or friendship families visiting their Global UGRAD friends overseas, and we’re also regularly in touch with former participants who return to the United States for graduate school or other things. I’ve even met up with a few on my own travels abroad on behalf of Augustana. Global UGRADs are cultural ambassadors in the truest sense of the phrase, and they’ve made a deep impact on Augustana and in our local community.

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