GSIE Staff Earn Award at Prestigious International Conference

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Ruby Bowles, left, and Namiko Bagirimvano.

Two staff members in the Graduate School and International Education earned an award for one of the best posters at the NAFSA Association of International Educators conference, one of the world’s largest international education conferences.

Ruby Bowles, foreign student adviser with the International Students and Scholars Office, and Namiko Bagirimvano, director of sponsored students and special programs, presenting a poster on proactive communication to international students about university resources to ensure successful onboarding at the university. Their work was selected as the top poster in the “Orientation Programs as an Integral Support Service” theme at the conference.

The award recognized work that Bowles and Bagirimvano have undertaken in their roles within GSIE to help international students in their transition to their studies the U of A. The International Students and Scholars retention team begins communication with international students shortly after their admission to the university, Communicating a variety of topics to them to ensure they are prepared once they arrive to campus.

“Our goal is making sure our international students will feel welcome during the transition and onboarding processes, which we believe will lead to students’ successes and retention,” Bagirimvano said. “COVID changed our ways of communication and our onboarding process. It has challenged us to rethink and reimagine tools, platforms and approaches to communicating to students.”

“The poster creation process helped us to think about some educational theories that would fit in our context and our own practices,” Bagirimvano added. “It also encouraged us to have scholar practitioners perspectives in our day-to-day work. Attending the NAFSA Annual Conference always gives me energy, personally and professionally, to think about our support services for our students on campus.”

For Bowles, the project was of personal importance, having seen the challenges international students face when studying in a new country.

“International students go through so many emotions once accepted to a university in the United States,” Bowles said. “Being admitted is the start of their journey. What is the anxiety — how to get a visa, how do they find a place to live, will they fit in, is their English good enough. Communication is a way we can help students process the anxiety and help them answer some of their questions.”

Bowles has worked at the U of A since 2020 and has worked in international education for eight years. In her role, she serves international students by advising on immigration policies related to F-1 policy with the Department of Homeland Security.

Bagirimvano has served in numerous roles at the U of A and came back to GSIE last year, first with the International Students and Scholars Office before moving to the Office of Sponsored Students and Special Programs. She has worked in the international education field for more than a decade.

About NAFSA: Association of International Educators: The association is the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange. NAFSA serves the needs of more than 10,000 members and international educators worldwide at more than 3,500 institutions, in over 150 countries. The association holds an annual conference and expo each year that is the premier global professional learning and networking event for international educators and organizations supporting international education programs.

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