How Mission & Vision Statements Can Chart a Course for Internationalization

Jeff Foot | 3-8-2018

I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago entitled Five Model Practices for Student Internationalization introducing what I believe are the essential elements of a successful campus international program. As I mentioned previously, after spending 17 years working in campus administration with international students, most faculty and staff agree a quality international program is good for the institution; the challenge lies in defining the mission and vision of the international program.

The first model practice we covered is, “the program has a clear and concise vision and mission statement inclusive of global learning goals, internationalization, and cross-cultural competencies.” Why is this important? Because a vision and a mission statement will give your program a clear direction as to what activities you will provide, the expectations you hold, and the mandate it communicates to other units across campus. It also establishes the kind of program your team strives to develop for your administration, your international population, and your community.

Does this mean every winner of the NAFSA Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization has a Vision and Mission Statement hanging on their office wall or posted on their website? No, not at all. But like almost any organization, a clear and concise vision and mission statement creates a statement of purpose the international department can always refer to in times of change or challenges.


Vision Statement

I want to emphasize vision and mission statements are two separate things. A Vision Statement portrays the preferred future your school wants for its international program. In other words, it’s your “North Star” so to speak. “We are going that way.” These statements are almost written in future tense: “Our vision is to be…,” or “(School) aspires to be…,” or “We strive…” When you research, notice most vision statements are just a couple of sentences; brevity and clarity are key.

Here are some excellent examples of international office vision statements:


Mission Statement

The adage goes, “You can’t be everything to everybody.” Well, a mission statement helps you set the boundaries of what your program can do and become.  An analogy I like is of a rudder and sail for your international office’s ship bobbing along in San Francisco Bay. With a sail and rudder, you can head to San Francisco, Oakland or Sausalito; your choice. Without them, you may land somewhere you like, or end up at San Quentin. 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. I also believe value statements are a good rallying point when adverse external influences present challenges.


Examples of Mission and Vision Statements for Schools

Here, in our opinion, are good mission and vision statements that provide these schools with a sail and rudder for their ships.

So, do you want to change the world through exemplary English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher training like the University of Texas? Or, do you want to foster a global campus where through mutual understanding and respect, all community members transform and grow together, like at the University of Michigan?


How to Write Mission and Vision Statements as a Team

You probably already know it is not easy to craft vision and mission statements, so tackling it as a team and bringing together different perspectives is imperative. Our suggestion is to:

  1. Form a cross-functional team with relevant offices across campus.
  2. Prior to the first meeting, assign two pieces of 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 fresh perspective as well (non-profits, entrepreneurial companies, Warren Buffet, etc.).
  3. Conduct a committee workshop meeting that includes a work area with a whiteboard.
  4. 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.
  5. Place them on the board into two groups.
  6. Keep and parse words from the two groups based on group consensus.

With a whiteboard, you can easily write in the “other” words like “the,” “an,” “that,” or have someone write those words on another color Post-It note. Then, much like the magnetic poetry words on refrigerators, have a facilitator start assembling phrases based on group input it believes best represents the international program. 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 so your mission supports those.


Draft Your Mission Statement and Come Back to it

This obviously will take some time, which means this will take more than one meeting. 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 and develop a communication and authorization plan across the requisite authority structures in place. 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 your efforts will open up valuable conversations and will be acknowledged by the institution. Having a mission and vision will be the foundation to build upon to reach agreed upon and widely supported goals to support internationalization.

Lastly, we want to share the Vision and Mission statement from Carnegie Mellon University. It’s not for their international office specifically, but for their entire institution. In our opinion, this is just about perfect:

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any additional thoughts or questions about this subject. I would love to listen and learn about your institution’s unique approach to internationalization.


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.