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Lauren Nehlsen brings her worldview to ECC

Lauren Nehlsen

Lauren Nehlsen, director of international education and programs

For Lauren Nehlsen, being Elgin Community College's director of international education and programs is more than a title. She's lived it.

“I'm passionate about international education because I've been an international student/expat,” she said. “I've studied, lived, and/or worked in Canada, Australia, England and Russia.”

ECC proved to be a perfect fit for Nehlsen, who grew up in the Fox Valley. Her mother took classes here when she was growing up, and Nehlsen remembers the great stories she told about being a student here.

When Nehlsen began working at ECC in 2007, she recalled how happy and welcoming everyone was during her first day. And she remembered getting lost in the then-alphabet soup of three-letter buildings. “It took me a few weeks to become comfortable navigating around the campus,” she said.

We caught up with Nehlsen to ask her questions about herself, her experiences and ECC. Here's what she had to say.

In your words, what do you do at ECC?

As director of international education and programs, I provide leadership for and manage the daily operations in the Center for International Education and Programs. We are a small department, but we do a lot!

The Center for International Education and Programs manages international student recruitment, international student admissions and visa maintenance, new international student orientation, study abroad programming and advising, international exchange programs, global academic partnerships with foreign institutions, and the International Student Homestay Program. Most importantly, the center serves as the central resource for international education on campus. I work in a team-based department, and the department is always working together to best serve the needs of students, faculty, and our international partners.

One of the best things about my position is the cross-departmental interaction I have with people across campus. I love working with individuals and departments with whom I may not otherwise interact. I enjoy working with faculty, students, community members, and other administrators in promoting diversity, global awareness, and internationalization on campus.

I also serve as the chair of GIST (Global/International Studies Team), which is the cross-functional international education committee on campus. Shout out to all GIST members who are doing some great work with globalization on campus!

What is your greatest accomplishment since you've been here?

Professionally, my greatest accomplishment would have to be the establishment and creation of the International Student Homestay Program. With extraordinary support from GIST and senior administration, the homestay program was approved in 2011. Creating the program was a lesson in best practices, streamlined processes, and serving student and host families' needs. We had to do many, many hours of research and writing to create the documents and procedures that provided the foundation of the program. (Note: You can find out more about the Homestay Program at www.elgin.edu/homestay)

Personally, my greatest accomplishment would be beginning and sticking with a doctoral program. I'm enrolled in the PhD in higher education administration program through Illinois State University. It's been a long-time personal goal of mine to complete my PhD, and I kept waiting for the “right” time to start one. I finally figured out that there is no “right” time to start a doctorate-you just have to take the plunge and commit yourself to doing it. It's challenging to work full-time, have a family and small children, and pursue a PhD. But, in the long run, it's worth it-I love learning and want to use my acquired knowledge and skills to promote diversity, cultural awareness, and inclusion in higher education.

What would you do if you were ECC president for a day?

This is such an interesting question! There are two things I would do. For fun, I would organize an ECC Employee Family and Friends Day and have an event where all employees could bring their families/friends to campus and enjoy the company of their colleagues! Kind of like an Opening Day activity but for family (including furkids) and friends.

From a professional perspective, I would organize an advocacy day in Springfield and encourage as many ECC employees and students as possible to speak to policymakers about how the state's actions are affecting higher education. It's important that we, as citizens and residents of the state of Illinois, make our voices and concerns known to lawmakers, who seem to be completely out-of-step with the real world lately.

If there was a movie about your life, who would you want to play you?

Kate Winslet or Lauren Cohan (especially if it's the zombie apocalypse)!

What's on your “bucket list?”

Finishing my doctorate and visiting places I have always wanted to go, including Jerusalem, Israel, Turkey, the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica, Peru (Machu Picchu) and Egypt.

What's one fact we should know about you?

I'm very involved in animal rescue and welfare. I'm on the Board of Directors and a Transport Coordinator with Quincy K-9 Connection, a rescue that pulls unwanted pets from high-kill shelters in Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa, and facilitates transport across the state and southern Wisconsin to reputable rescues, adopters, and fosters. There are so many pets who are euthanized in our state simply because no one adopted them and animal controls run out of space. With puppy mills in high numbers in Missouri and Iowa (among other states), the flow of pets coming in always exceeds available space. You can never truly appreciate the horrors of the industry until you attend a puppy mill auction … it is truly heartbreaking what these animals go through. Rescue your next furfriend-don't buy from a breeder or pet store!

What's something about your job that others should know?

ECC has an active study abroad program for both ECC students and community members. A lot of people are surprised to know that community colleges have study abroad programming.

However, studying abroad at the community college level is almost always less expensive than at a four-year university and many of the study abroad programs are exactly the same as you would find at a university! Students can spend a semester abroad and that credit can be used towards their degree requirements here at ECC. It's a wonderful opportunity for students.

What was your favorite class in school?

English and History.

What was your first job out of school?

I worked at a rebate company for a very short while during my “gap” semester prior to completing my master's abroad. It was a learning experience.

Don't ever, ever buy a product just because of a rebate. Half of the time, the documents get lost during processing, and the people you are talking to about your rebate probably don't work for the company that made the product you bought! Needless to say, I found another job (in the journalism industry) pretty quickly after I found out how the rebate industry worked.

Complete this sentence: “I enjoy working at ECC because … “

We are doing some wonderful things to better serve and meet the needs of our students and constituents. I also love working with people who genuinely enjoy their jobs and appreciate the work-life balance that the college provides. 

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