The following is the second blog of a six-part weekly series highlighting model practices of International Student Offices.
In Five Model Practices for Student Internationalization, I outlined the essential elements of what I believe to be a successful internationalization plan for colleges and universities. After spending 17 years working for a university serving international students, I can attest most college faculties agree a quality international program benefits their respective schools. The challenge, however, lies in defining exactly how the program benefits. That’s the foundational value of mission and vision statements for an international program.
Are Mission and Vision Statements Important?
The first model practice for internationalization begins with the cornerstone of clear and concise vision and mission statements. These statements should be inclusive of global learning goals and cross-cultural competencies. Why is this important?
Vision and Mission statements give your program a clear direction as to what activities you will provide, the expectations you have, and the mandate to communicate to other units across campus. These statements define your department and establish the kind of program your team strives to become.
Does this mean every winner of the NAFSA Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization has a Vision and Mission Statement hanging on an office wall or posted on the school’s website? No, not necessarily. But, these international offices do have a crystal clear understanding of their vision and mission statement, which they can easily refer to in times of change to help guide their efforts in a forward-thinking manner.
What is a Vision Statement?
Vision and mission statements have two separate functions. A vision statement pictures the preferred future you want your international program to become. In other words, it’s your “North Star.” Vision statements are almost always written in future tense: “Our vision is to be…,” or “(School Name) aspires to be…,” or, “We strive…”
Vision statements are short being only a couple of sentences. Brevity and clarity are key to vision statements; that’s why they are not easy to write. Every word should be carefully selected.
For example, “Our vision is to (become/foster/enhance/aspires) international education through mutual understanding and respect. Or, our vision is to become an international leader in (fill in the blank), by demonstrating the values of (list three values).”
What is a Mission Statement?
You’ve probably heard the adage, “You can’t be everything to everybody.” Well, that’s where a mission statement can help. A properly crafted mission statement helps you set the boundaries of what your program does. It is often several sentences longer to capture
The mission statement can be further refined into value statements. It is important to let the world know the values that matter most to the international program.
A Process for Writing Mission and Vision Statements
You probably already know it is not easy to craft vision and mission statements. It can be a rather daunting exercise, so tackling it as a team and bringing together different perspectives is important. Here is a useful process:
- Form a cross-functional team with offices across campus that are also vested in international students. Their perspectives will be valuable.
- Prior to the first meeting, assign the following homework:
- Ask a leading question all stakeholders need to be prepared to talk about: “How does your office perceive the value of my office and how we contribute to the academic quality, product, and environment at our institution?”
- Have each committee member conduct their own online research on vision and mission statements of other offices at institutions they respect, highlighting specific words and phrases they like. Reviewing vision and mission statements from other places can inspire a fresh perspective. Don’t just limit vision and mission statements from high education. Look at non-profits, entrepreneurial companies, Warren Buffet, etc.
- Schedule and conduct a committee workshop meeting that includes a work area with a whiteboard.
- Debrief the homework and ask each committee member to write their words on Post-It notes with one color of note being for nouns, another for verbs.
- Pick a Meeting Facilitator, if it isn’t yourself.
- Place the Post-It notes on the board into their two color groups.
- As a consensus, the Meeting Facilitator starts mixing and matching words together from the Post-It notes, both keeping and deleting words.
- Take a photograph of the board (including the deleted words) for your records.
With a whiteboard, you can easily write in the works such as “the,” “an,” “that,” or have someone write those words on another Post-It note color. This process is much like the magnetic poetry words on refrigerators where word phrases can be set aside as the group’s input works on another part of the sentence. No need to be full of purple prose, here. “Our purpose is to (verb) (noun).” “To become a (noun phrase) and a (noun phrase)…” Remember to use any existing campus vision and missions statements as reference points.
Draft Your Mission & Vision Statement And Then Come Back To It
This obviously will take some time, which means this will take more than one meeting—that’s why taking a picture of the board will help. Once you have a draft or even an incomplete draft, have the committee meet again a week later to look at the statements from varying perspectives. A person representing marketing will have a different perspective than someone from a financial or legal background. Meet as often as necessary to come to a consensus.
Once you have a final draft, you should also develop a communication and authorization plan that takes into account the requisite authority structure for the school.
In the end, the words you and your team put together to form sentences and paragraphs will give the broader community of stakeholders an understanding of where the program wants to go and how it is going to get there.
I know some of you are probably saying, “That sounds great, but at my school (insert challenge here).” Each institution has a different culture and its own set of challenges. I get it; challenges can quickly mount. I would hope, however, that at a minimum, your efforts will open up valuable conversations and will be acknowledged by the institution.
Examples of Vision & Mission Statements
Here are some excellent examples of international office mission and vision statements:
- University of Michigan
- Northern Arizona University
- University of Minnesota
- The University of Utah
- University of Texas
- University of North Carolina, Pembroke
- The University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
- Princeton University
- Seattle University
Lastly, I want to share an example that I believe is extremely well crafted. It’s not just for the international office, but the entire university.
Next week, we’ll talk about the Value of a Designated Senior International Officer and How to Get One.
What’s your experience at your institution? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you believe are the most important things you’ve done for internationalization efforts at your school, or examples you know about.
Author: Jeff Foot
Jeff Foot is the Executive Director at LewerMark and is responsible for developing new client relationships. He joined LewerMark after spending 17 years at Northwest Missouri State University where he served as Director of Admissions and International Affairs. While at the university he also served as International Affairs Director and Data Specialist for the Intercultural International Center. He has a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Missouri, a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from NMSU and a Bachelor of Arts Sociology from the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Foot also led the English as a Second Language Program at Byuk Sung College in South Korea from 1998 to 2000.