Why You Need a Designated Senior International Officer and How to Get One

Jeff Foot | 10-30-2018

The following is the third blog of a six-part weekly series highlighting model practices of International Student Offices.

We’ve talked about Mission and Vision statements previously, but once those statements are crafted, now what? Now, let’s talk about having a designated champion for the international office, or as some institutions call the role, Senior International Officer.


What is a Senior International Officer?  

The job title can vary with each school, but the Association of International Education Administrators defines a Senior International Officer (SIO) as the person charged with leading and facilitating its comprehensive internationalization efforts. Generally, the person who is the “voice” for international students both internally and externally.

In my experience, the SIO is a liaison to not only to that school but outside the campus as well. This person:

  • Advocates internally for international student services
  • Promotes international social events on campus
  • Creates a strategy for global mobility
  • Helps with recruitment efforts and foreign student retention

Depending upon the school, the SIO could be a director of the international office or a vice provost with a role in international themes. Some larger schools may have multiple SIOs focused on specific responsibilities (i.e., inbound students vs. study abroad), while at smaller campuses, the SIO role resides with a professor, dean, or even the school’s president.


What are Typical SIO Responsibilities?

As you probably would suspect, SIO responsibilities vary greatly with each institution. This person can be responsible for:

  • Developing a comprehensive and effective orientation and transition program for international students.
  • Collaborating to provide cultural, mentorship, and other co-curricular academic and social programming for international students across campus and community.
  • Building and supporting an inclusive, welcoming, and vibrant environment for international students.
  • Developing and coordinating effective international curriculum, programs, and excursions.
  • Developing assessment plans and metrics to ensure programs, systems and services are working effectively.
  • Facilitating the development of necessary skills to help international students transition to the U.S. culture.


What are the Qualifications of an SIO?

It’s difficult to rise to the level of SIO without having academic experience or credentials, primarily due to the need for administrative skills and knowledge of how an academic environment works. Here are a few qualifications for when your school looks for an SIO:

  • A Masters or Doctoral degree
  • International experience either living/working abroad or studying abroad. (International business experience is not the same thing as true cultural immersion)
  • Multi-lingual proficiency and intercultural competence
  • Familiarity with the university community and cross-cultural experiences
  • Several years of experience running an aspect of an international student program or an international non-profit
  • Experience in developing, refining, and implementing effective international student retention strategies and programs
  • Familiarity with SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) as well as regulations for international student visas (F-1, J-1, M-1).


What to Do if There Is No Senior International Officer?

There are some of you perhaps asking, “How do you advocate for a designated SIO if your school doesn’t have one?” First thing I recommend is you involve provosts, presidents, or other upper-level decision makers in the international programs to get them interested. Invite them to go on trips, meet recruiters, attend special international events…essentially, have them do the things an SIO would do if you had one. Let them experience the importance of having such a role on campus. You can also remind them that new students mean more revenue for the school and a larger international group means a larger school overall. Fiscal discussions tied to increased populations on campus have a way of getting a lot of decision-maker attention.


International Student Programs to Emulate

If you’re just getting started, sometimes it helps to look at what others are doing and borrow their ideas. Some universities that have excellent international student programs, from recruitment to retention, include:


Next time in our continuing series of Five Model Practices for Student Internationalization, I’ll look at the Three Steps to Creating an Infrastructure for Internationalization.

What’s your experience at your institution? Email me at jfoot@lewer.com and tell me what you believe are the most important things you’ve done for the success of internationalization efforts at your school!

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.