IPO undergoes leadership transition

IPO undergoes leadership transition
IPO co-directors Erin Kane and Heather Reed

The International Programs Office welcomed its first set of co-directors earlier this month after its former director announced his resignation in August.

Previous Director of International Programs and Enrollment Ben Iverson led the IPO for the past five years but recently accepted a position at Concordia College, where he now serves as the school’s vice president for enrollment. His last day at Augustana was Sept. 8.

Erin Kane, senior study away adviser, and Heather Reed, senior international student adviser, step into the interim co-directorship with 19 years of combined experience with the IPO.

Reed said the pair’s transition into a leadership role happened organically.

“I think it was pretty natural honestly,” Reed said. “Erin and I have engendered the trust and confidence of faculty, staff and students in our own areas of expertise, and I think Erin and I are both people who are inclusive not just to students but to each other and to women and to humanity.”

The IPO acts as a student mobility office, as it oversees the inbound and outbound of student travel and academic courses. The program ultimately reports to the provost in the Office of Academic Affairs.

Interim Provost Joel Johnson decided to appoint Kane and Reed to their new positions so they could offer better insight into the office’s future as a center for global engagement.

According to Johnson, the switch in IPO leadership came at a less than ideal time, as international students arrive on campus and begin orientation in August.

“I think I have great respect for both Heather and Erin for how quickly they have been able to take the baton from Ben because it’s not easy,” Johnson said. “I mean, it’d be really nice to have a little more warning that we need to figure out a plan.”

Reed and Kane felt their partnership would prevent the office from losing ground on current initiatives and support its growth.

“We were both just like, ‘We don’t need to make this about who gets to be the most powerful person in the office,’” Reed said. “We work really well together, and I think we felt we were stronger together than creating a singular hierarchy structure.”

Several weeks into Kane and Reed’s leadership, senior international student Vedant Thakkar said he thought the transition had gone smoothly.

“I have never had an issue,” Thakkar said. “As an ASA senator, I’m trying to get some information. I get it on a very timely basis. As a student who’s about to graduate, I had some questions about my visa last week, and I got the information I needed on time.”

Leadership responsibilities

During Iverson’s time with the IPO, the director position involved a focus on higher-level administrative projects. Iverson also oversaw Kane, Reed and the rest of the IPO staff.

However, Kane said she and Reed have been in charge of their respective areas for years.

Kane’s main role in the IPO has been study-away advising, including course development, processing applications, advising students on programs and organizing travel.

Reed has acted as an adviser to Augustana’s international students by providing cultural adjustment advising and academic advising in addition to managing visas, being the adviser to Augustana International Club and organizing student events.

Now, Kane will also largely focus on working with the IPO’s global partners to ensure students get the resources and education they need while studying abroad.

In addition to continuing her advising work, Reed will become the university’s principal designated school official, a title Iverson previously held.

Because Augustana issues visas to international students, it has a relationship with the federal government, Reed said. As the PDSO, Reed will be the primary person in charge of that relationship.

Kane and Reed will also oversee the IPO’s budget and staff.

“Well, I think what they’re bringing to the table is expertise in their own areas and a really excellent collaborative spirit,” Johnson said.

Although a traditional business hierarchy would require the IPO to appoint one person to the director position, Johnson said the IPO is a “special case.” Reed focuses on inbound students and on-campus support while Kane’s work centers on outbound students who want to study abroad.

“It’s two related but distinct activities. They have always been within the same office, but it’s not necessarily the case that those things have to be run together by one person,” Johnson said. “Part of how I view this is that by decentralizing a little bit, you actually take the first steps towards growing.”

That growth is not to come without challenges.

According to Kane, Iverson set a precedent for working long hours.

“Ben was a workhorse. He did a ton. He probably worked 60 hour weeks — no joke,” Kane said. “So we just have to find our balance here. We have to find our space to be able to do this job, to continue to do it well but also not burn out doing it.”

However, the pair feels confident in their experience and abilities.

“I think we have done a nice job getting to know the constituents, getting to know our students, getting to know the faculty leaders working with other offices,” Kane said. “So we just want to continue that work and see how we can be in this together.”

The Division of Student Affairs has also seen a number of staff and leadership changes over the past several months. Read more about the new staff members.

Student reflections

Senior international student Shirley Wang, who worked in the IPO for two years, said she is sad to see Iverson go.

“IPO is just such a family kind of vibe, and Ben definitely brought some of that,” Wang said. “When I see Ben, I just kind of feel reassured. He brings that gift to the IPO.”

However, Wang said she is excited for Kane and Reed to lead the office and trusts in their ability to do so.

“I know for sure that both of them have all the international students’ best interests in mind,” Wang said. “I’m glad they’re the ones who are taking over the role instead of somebody else who doesn’t know much about our office coming in.”

Kane said Iverson’s role was not very student-facing, so her and Reed’s promotions to co-directors will mainly affect students by a simple change in their titles.

“How students approach the International Programs Office doesn’t change for now,” Reed said.

Thakkar said he did not think many students worked on a one-on-one basis with Iverson.

“I don’t know if [his absence] is going to impact how IPO operates in terms of the structure, but I think they are going to be okay and they’re going to be amazing. I have known Heather and Erin for the last three years, and they’re absolutely phenomenal,” Thakkar said.

Looking to the future

Johnson said the future of IPO leadership is not yet solidified. The benefit of an interim co-directorship is that it will help the university discover how the office’s next stage looks, he said.

“That will require them to be in the roles for at least this semester, if not longer,” Johnson said. “I mean, for now they’re our people and we’re backing them and they’re leading really well.”

According to Johnson, the co-directorship is less about maintaining the IPO and more about growing it.

“We’re blowing past records left and right here. So what do you do with that success? You need to figure out how to build for something even better. And that’s what we’re in the midst of right now,” Johnson said.  

Alongside the executive team, Kane and Reed are currently considering adding another advisory position to the IPO. They both have a large student caseload for advising but will also need to have the time to achieve their high-level tasks.

“But we don’t want to lose the student caseload either. We want to stay a part of that community and help our team grow into their roles,” Kane said.