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Vice Provost Jeffrey Riedinger on serving as NAFSA President and Chair of the Board of Directors

Vice Provost Jeffery Riedinger

Dr. Riedinger has leadership and administrative responsibility for the University’s diverse global programming including support for international research, study abroad, student and faculty exchanges, and overseas centers. He also serves on the faculty of the University of Washington School of Law and the Sustainable Development LL.M. program. He has served in multiple leadership roles for NAFSA: Association of International Educators over the last 10 years. He currently serves as the President of NAFSA and Chair of the NAFSA Board of Directors through calendar year 2022.

An expert on the political economy of land reform, sustainable agriculture and natural resource management, Vice Provost Riedinger has carried out research in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and the Middle East. He has conducted briefings on foreign aid, land reform and other development issues for members of the White House staff, state department and USAID personnel, members of Congress, the World Bank, non-governmental organizations and private foundations. His publications include two books and numerous articles, chapters, reviews and monographs.

Tell us about this new role as President of NAFSA and Chair of the NAFSA Board of Directors. What will this involve?

NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world’s largest non-profit association dedicated to international education and exchange. NAFSA serves the needs of more than 10,000 members and international educators at more than 3,500 institutions, in more than 150 countries.

My formal responsibilities as President of the association and Chair of the Board of Directors include:

  • ensuring the development of NAFSA’s organizational strategy, as well as policies, processes, plans and structures to support that strategy;
  • taking the lead in ensuring the long-term financial health of the association;
  • communicating the association’s direction, priorities, and positions to both internal and external audiences; and
  • ensuring excellent volunteer and staff leadership in the association.

Each of these responsibilities is daunting, the combination even more so. Fortunately, I am blessed to be working with remarkable colleagues on the Board of Directors, an extraordinary Executive Director and CEO, senior management team and professional staff, and experienced and talented volunteer member-leaders. I am doubly blessed to have an exceptional group of colleagues in the Office of Global Affairs. Their passion, professionalism and excellence make it possible for me to carve out time to serve in this volunteer member-leader role for NAFSA.

Q: What are the top three priorities for NAFSA in the upcoming year?

In 2020, as NAFSA’s Vice President for Scholarship and Institutional Strategy, I worked with the other members of the NAFSA Board of Directors to reimagine our Strategic Plan. We wanted to:

  • create a compelling and easy to remember set of strategic goals;
  • provide broad strategic direction while allowing greater flexibility for innovation and creativity by member-leaders and NAFSA professional staff;
  • signal the central importance of advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice within NAFSA, the home institutions of NAFSA members, and the field of international education; and
  • reinforce the crucial and positive role of international education in addressing some of the most pressing challenges of our time, from a global pandemic to climate change, from rising nationalism and political polarization to growing income inequality and legacies of centuries-old racial and social injustice.

We distilled NAFSA’s Strategic Plan into three priorities for 2021–2023:

  • Educate. NAFSA is dedicated to educating, informing and supporting international educators throughout their careers.
  • Advocate. NAFSA will continue to advocate for public policies that lead to a more globally informed, welcoming, and engaged United States.
  • Innovate. In all that it does, NAFSA will emphasize innovation, cooperation, and effective organization.

Q: During your tenure, what initiatives are you most passionate about advancing?

In my roles at the UW and NAFSA, I believe that it is only through cross-cultural and cross-continent collaborations that we can address the world’s most pressing challenges and most promising opportunities. International educators and the field of International Education can and must help advance the cross-cultural competencies and understandings that are essential to forming such collaborations.

As part of this work, it is imperative that we work to address systemic racism and social inequities, in this country and around the world. I am extremely pleased that NAFSA added an emphasis on equity and social justice to its new Strategic Plan, building upon its ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion. We are working to unleash the experience, insights, passion and compassion of our leadership and members in advancing these priorities within NAFSA, in the home institutions of NAFSA members, and in the field of international education.

Q: What do you anticipate to be one of the most challenging aspects of this new role?

The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly harmful to the field of international education, here at the UW and around the world. International educators are not unique in having lost family, friends, and colleagues. However, the pandemic-related restrictions on travel and events have placed a special strain on our field. In turn, international education professionals have lost jobs as campus and company offices downsized staff. Many of our colleagues who are still employed have fewer resources for professional development.

The pandemic’s impact on international education also deeply affects the association. NAFSA is operating with extremely constrained resources. The Annual Conference and Expo is NAFSA’s largest source of revenue. NAFSA finances have been seriously affected by not having an in-person Annual Conference in 2020 or 2021. The reductions in international education professionals and in resources for professional development also put NAFSA membership and membership revenues under strain.

However, NAFSA and the field of international education have faced crises before. NAFSA has risen to past challenges and will do so again. I am working closely with the extraordinary people on our Board, in our volunteer member-leadership, on the Management team and professional staff, and in our membership. I am confident that together we will be able to ensure that NAFSA continues to be a vibrant leader in the field of international education when it celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2048.

Q: What will the future of global engagement look like? Give us a glimpse into the conversations at NAFSA about the future.

It is imperative that NAFSA and the field of international education are partners in the efforts to address systemic racism and social inequalities, in this country and around the world. For NAFSA this work is central to our Strategic Plan which emphasizes diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. A key element of our work will be to decolonize the field of international education.

This work will extend to offices like Global Affairs. Too many senior international professionals, particularly in the U.S., look like me: white, gray-haired, and male. We need to promote access. Specifically, we need to be more intentional and much more successful in creating welcoming pathways for under-represented students, faculty and professional staff to engage in, and to lead, international education.

This work will also extend to the content and location of study abroad programs. U.S. students have typically studied abroad in “traditional” locations such as the United Kingdom and Europe. Relatively few U.S. students have opportunities or choose to study in “non-traditional” locations, particularly low-income countries. Few of the programs in the traditional locations have explored the colonial legacies of the countries in which they are situated. It will be similarly important to build such content into programs in non-traditional locations, particularly countries that are former colonies.

NAFSA has long had a set of ethical principles. With my background in international research, I look forward to extending these principles to better reflect the ethical conduct guidelines of scholarly organizations such as the African Studies Association. In this vein, I am proud that the Advisory Council for the UW’s Office of Global Affairs has long articulated and recently updated a robust set of guidelines for global engagement.

The other domain of exciting, and overdue, work relates to sustainability. In the field of international education and in NAFSA, we have opportunities, and are challenged, to do much more to promote sustainability and address climate change. In the past, much of our focus was on international mobility of students and scholars. This will remain a core element of our work because in-person experiences can be uniquely impactful in building cross-cultural competence and understanding. Yet we know that many of the students, faculty and professional staff we serve are unable to travel across geographic borders, whether for reasons of finances, curricular barriers, or family commitments. We also know that international travel can involve a significant carbon footprint.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted significant technological improvements that make it easier to imagine and to implement international education in a remote learning environment. The pandemic has accelerated initiatives in Cooperative Online International Learning and demonstrated the power and practicality of virtual international education, research, internships and community engagement. And technology has made it possible to significantly increase access, connecting students, faculty, guest speakers, and members of distant communities and doing so with less impact on our climate and natural resources.

We can also expand cross-cultural learning opportunities for our students (and our faculty and staff) by creating more “study away” programming, engaging local international heritage communities and indigenous communities in more intentional, respectful, and mutually beneficial ways.

In short, despite the many challenges, I am excited about the many opportunities for enhancing the field of international education and better serving NAFSA members and the students, faculty and professional staff we serve.