At the world’s largest gathering of professionals in international education — where almost two dozen faculty and staff members represented Virginia Tech — the university laid the groundwork for new international programs and partnerships.

“Being at an event such as NAFSA helps us tell Virginia Tech’s story,” Language and Culture Institute Director Don Back said.

For the first time, the university was an exhibitor at the annual conference for NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange.

“Virginia Tech is an internationally recognized land-grant university, and NAFSA attendees are a key audience invested in promoting international education,” Back said. “Through dozens of meetings at our booth and elsewhere at the convention, we strengthened relationships with existing partners while also laying valuable groundwork for new ones.”

The event in Washington, D.C., brought together 10,000 professionals from more than 110 countries. It included more than 350 exhibitors representing every aspect of international education, including foreign universities, scholarship organizations, consulting firms, third-party providers, and more.

Virginia Tech representatives spotlighted the university’s internationalization efforts — including study abroad programs, overseas recruitment activities, global research collaborations, and innovative partnerships.

A highlighted program was the College of Engineering’s Rising Sophomore Abroad Program, honored by NAFSA this year with a Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award. The largest study abroad program at Virginia Tech, it offers concurrent tracks to locations on five continents.

The Language and Culture Institute organized and led the university's presence at the conference. Sponsors included Outreach and International AffairsContinuing and Professional Education, and the Global Education Office. The institute also underwrote a plenary session featuring an address by NPR social science correspondent and popular podcaster Shankar Vedantam.

Visiting as many as 20 countries a year, the Language and Culture Institute recruits international students into Virginia Tech’s degree programs. It also plays a central role in initiating and developing partnerships in research, teaching, and service.

“The institute is committed to promoting the university’s international engagement,” Back said. “We host international dignitaries, arrange foreign missions for faculty members, publicize our colleges’ global engagement activities, and promote the university at prominent events such as NAFSA.”

A man and three women sitting around a table
A representative from a university in Ireland (left) meets with Virginia Tech's Wafa Al-Daily, associate director for global initiatives at the Language and Culture Institute; Nicole Sanderlin, director of global engagement in the College of Engineering; and Georgeta Pourchot, associate director for recruitment at the School of Public and International Affairs.

Svetlana Filiatreau, director of international programs at the Pamplin College of Business, participated in professional development workshops aimed at addressing immigration policies and finding sustainable internships and jobs for international students. “It’s encouraging to find out that, practice-wise, we are on the right track with what the field is doing regarding these difficult issues,” she said. “It is important that we keep global learning at the forefront and keep investing in ways to make it affordable and accessible.”

Rommelyn Coffren, assistant director with the Global Education Office, reached people from sites throughout Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, Oceania, and the Middle East — all without traveling outside of Washington.

“Sharing details about Virginia Tech and the work being done by our students and faculty to address global issues was rewarding. It was heartening to be part of Virginia Tech’s global presence at NAFSA, and hopefully this effort leads to more opportunities for Hokies to engage on the global stage,” Coffren said.

More than 1,400 Virginia Tech students studied abroad last academic year, an increase of almost 15 percent from the previous year. The Global Education Office, which like the Language and Culture Institute is part of Outreach and International Affairs, has pledged to increase study abroad participation to 23 percent of the student body.

Georgeta Pourchot, associate director for recruitment for the School of Public and International Affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, said the conference was eye-opening, from an instruction, networking, and outreach point of view.

“Participating in an event of this magnitude helps us compete for excellent students and figure out what our competitors are doing. It is a great opportunity to learn, be visible, and make great contacts,” she said.

The Language and Culture Institute also introduced the inaugural issue of Virginia Tech Global magazine at the conference. In print and online, the magazine highlights ways the university is interacting with the world through education, research, and engagement.

Written by Rich Mathieson