Dispatches from NAFSA 2016 Denver, Colorado

June 2nd, 2016

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The 2016 NAFSA: Association of International Educators’ annual conference was held in Denver, CO from May 29 – June 3. I was told that this year the conference had about 9,300 attendees which is a lower than last year’s 10,000 plus that was held in Boston, MA.  But, this still is a healthy turnout considering it is next to impossible to run into the same person twice given the scale and scope of the venue.

Barely twenty minutes into my arrival in Denver four nights earlier, and I learn my uber driver is from Eritrea. He’d first told me he was from Africa but I asked him which country. He then told me he is helping his sister, a high school graduate in Eritrea, to come and study in the U.S.  This of course prompted me to tell him about ACEI and our international credential evaluation service. I gave him my card to pass onto her. He was so happy that I knew of his country and could be of help. Made me equally happy.

I spent my first official day at NAFSA with a visit to the exhibit hall known as the International Education Expo. The large hall was a vibrant hub of more than 400 institutions, service and technology providers, and suppliers from around the globe. It felt like being at a World Fair, and in a way it was; a world fair focused on education. Clearly the message that this conference invokes is that by providing and encouraging study abroad opportunities and supporting services we are not only helping open the minds and hearts, but building bridges and breaking down prejudices.

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The International Education Expo, NAFSA 2016, Denver, CO

The conference’s opening plenary address was given by David Brooks, the op-ed columnist for the New York Times. As a senior fellow at the Yale University Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Brooks often focuses on topics connected with higher education and international affairs. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend his address but heart it was inspiring.

The Wednesday, June 1st Plenary address was given by Bryan Stevenson who is recognized as a visionary legal scholar, advocate, and champion for social justice. He is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization committed to fair and just treatment for all people in the U.S. legal system. A quote from Stevenson’s address that I jotted down was that “we must do uncomfortable things to change the world through education.” If we want to see change, we need to get out of our comfort zone.

The Thursday, June 2nd Plenary address was given by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a journalist and author who focuses on the evolving roles of women throughout the world. She is a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and writes frequently about empowering women in developing countries through economic investment.  A couple of quotes that are worth noting and remembering from her address include: “What binds us is more important than what divides us” and “education is the great leader…all of a sudden you’re in a world where there is no difference between you and them.” Couldn’t agree more.

One way to participate in NAFSA, besides an attendee, or as an exhibitor, is to be a presenter. I was fortunate to have been part of two presentations: 1) Credentials Fraud and Diploma Mills – A Global and Growing Problem, which I co-presented with Drew Feder from Credentials Consultants, in Houston, TX and 2) Fighting Back Against Misconduct in the Academic Space which I co-presented with Teresa Axe and Michelle Hampton of Education Testing Services (ETS), Princeton, NJ, and Jonathan Burdick from the University of Rochester, NY. Both sessions were well received with great questions from the audience. The session I presented on Credentials Fraud and Diploma Mills had more than 100 attendees and the room was filled to capacity, so much so that people were being turned away. Clearly, Credential Fraud and Diploma Mills are a hot and timely topic, as more and more bogus institutions continue to pop up offering fake degrees for a price duping the public. For those who may have missed the presentation and those who attended and interested to have a free copy of our PowerPoint, please go this link on our website.

Besides the wonderful and inspiring plenary speakers, NAFSA conference program offered a plethora of sessions making it next to impossible to see and hear everything. If only we could clone ourselves and be at more than one session at the same time!

All and all, the NAFSA annual national conference is a great way to establish new partnerships, participate in networking opportunities, learn something new (even for us old-timers) and most importantly reconnect with friends/colleagues you’ve known for many years. The opportunity of seeing colleagues face-to-face whom throughout the year you engage with by Skype/phone/ email, text and social media is priceless and what makes the conference worthwhile and memorable.

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L-R: Robert Watkins, UT Austin, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert, ACEI, William Paver, FCES, Zepur Solakian, CGACC, Kirstin Baker, GPS.
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L-R: Jackie Chu, University of New Haven, Solakian, CGACC, Madjid Niroumand, OCC

It’s time to say goodbye to NAFSA and Denver and head back to Los Angeles. The good news is, next year, the conference will be in Los Angeles, our very own backyard!

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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Filed under Credentials, Education

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