South Dakota State University’s Office of International Affairs saw two individuals receive honors at the NAFSA Region IV Conference, held virtually in October. The region consists of colleges and universities in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Graduate student Nur Islamiah Fuad Mohamad, better known as Is, received the Outstanding Student Award, and International Student Adviser Derek Schmidt received the Outstanding New Professional Award.
“These awards are wonderful achievements for Islamiah and Derek, both of whom are dedicated to the international students and scholars they serve on campus every day. It is also an opportunity to showcase SDSU: the high quality of SDSU’s academic experience—both recipients have two SDSU degrees—and the positive impact of Jackrabbit Nation upon Islamiah as a student-athlete alumna. NAFSA provides our office with opportunities to develop professionally while sharing best practices with our fellow international educators,” said Jon Stauff, SDSU’s assistant vice president for international affairs.
Unaware of nomination
Fuad, a graduate assistant in the Office of International Affairs, is originally from Perak, Malaysia. She played on the Jackrabbits’ women’s golf team and is now working on a second master’s degree. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sport and recreation management and added a master’s degree in sport and recreation administration.
“The day before the announcement, Greg (Wymer, SDSU’s director of international students and scholars) said I should tune in to the conference. He said there were a few people in the office who were nominated. If the event was in person, I would have tried my best to go there,” Fuad said.
“When they were talking about the winner, I started to realize ‘they’re talking about me.’ It was really cool, definitely a cool surprise,” she continued.
Since starting in the Office of International Affairs, Fuad is now focused on either becoming an international student adviser or an academic advisor, building on the skills gained from her previous degrees.
“I don’t think I ever imagined the path I’m on,” she said. “I thought I’d get bachelor’s, work for a couple of years and then pursue a master’s because that way I would be certain I knew what I wanted to do. After I got my bachelor’s, I realized I wanted to discover what other options are out there if I were to stick with sport administration. For example, if I wanted to advise students, I could be like Jennie Sell (SDSU’s assistant athletic director-academics).
“When I got the opportunity to be a GA at OIA, I took it because I also got to work with students and liked the environment from my time volunteering as a diplomat,” Fuad continued. “Working here has definitely helped guide me to see what I want do to, which is helping students.”
Another surprise recipient
Schmidt ’13/M.S. ’16 started at State in 2017, after completing his master’s in counseling and human resource development at SDSU.
Like Fuad, he originally attended the virtual conference for professional development opportunities and to show support for co-workers.
“I had no idea I was even nominated until they were talking about the award and I saw my picture show up. It was a nice surprise and is really appreciated,” Schmidt said. “To see the support I have from my supervisors and co-workers, that means a lot to me.
“My reason for being in the profession is to help students. I was very fortunate to have people around me—whether they were role models, professors, advisers—who helped shape my student experience in the best way possible. As a result, I want to pay it forward. I love working with international students because every interaction is an opportunity to learn and expand my worldview. When they come here, I want to make sure they have the best experience I can possibly provide,” he continued.
Schmidt and the International Relations Council plan to hold events in the spring 2021 semester. He acknowledges the COVID-19 pandemic has caused issues but the students’ safety and experiences remain first.
“We still want to give students the opportunity to share their culture and continue to build that community through events like International Night,” Schmidt said. “Our goal is to help international students feel welcome and supported at SDSU.”
The conference, titled “Virtually Everyone will be There,” focused on international student support services, international student enrollment management, and education abroad in time of COVID-19. More than 500 individuals registered to attend. In addition to his role at SDSU, Wymer is the region chair and Eric Leise, SDSU’s director for international admissions, is the state of South Dakota representative. Both had various roles in the virtual conference.