Taking care of our people: How the UK International Center supports UK employees’ global work
LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 26, 2023) — In the spring of 2023, Jennifer Grisham, professor in the Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education program at the University of Kentucky College of Education's Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Counselor Education, found herself in a difficult situation.
“I have been involved in international work for many years at UK,” Grisham said. “On a research trip to Valencia Catholic University, in Spain, I became very ill and ended up in the hospital. It wasn’t a situation I had envisioned, and it definitely wasn’t one that I wanted to navigate alone.”
In the days that followed, Grisham was consistently supported by staff from the UK International Center (UKIC)’s office of International Health, Safety & Security, who worked with her and with her colleagues in Spain to ensure that her medical bills were paid, her flights were rebooked and that she was receiving the best possible care.
“It was very reassuring to know that I did not have to worry about these things when I was so sick in another country,” Grisham said. “I hope that sharing my experience will help get the word out to other faculty about the support that UKIC provides UK employees doing research overseas."
“While student-facing work like Education Abroad programming and international student support are certainly integral to what we do, our mission is just as deeply tied to supporting the important global work that UK employees undertake every day,” said Associate Provost for Internationalization Sue Roberts. “From working with departments to successfully hire international employees, to guiding colleges through the complexities of developing international research partnerships, to supporting the health and safety of employees working in challenging environments abroad, taking care of our people guides much of the work of our unit every day.”
In the International Student & Scholar Services area, Executive Director Elizabeth Leibach noted that her office supports over 500 visiting scholars and international new hires each year with complex immigration questions and helps guide departments across the university with the onboarding process.
Catherine Maware, a new assistant professor in the Fujio Cho Department of Engineering Technology, shared that this support was critical both for her and her family.
“UKIC answered all the questions I had each time I requested assistance,” she said. “And one thing that touched me was that they also helped me with the visa application process for my family. I could not afford the immigration lawyers to do this on my own, and I am sure that many other new hires are in the same situation. Getting this help was a huge relief to me.”
Scholars and their families from around the world on short-term assignments are also supported through free English as a Second Language courses offered in partnership with UK HealthCare, to help them hone their English language skills.
“As far as we know, no other university offers a free ESL program like ours,” Leibach said. “It’s not just about ensuring that our scholars make it to campus with the right legal documents in hand. It’s about creating a welcoming on-campus environment where they and their families can thrive as part of the UK community.”
Executive Director of International Partnerships & Research (IPR) Tim Barnes highlighted the International Center’s facilitation of Fulbright programming for both faculty and staff as a way that UKIC supports professional development opportunities for employees.
“UK was recently named a top Fulbright producer, so it’s clear that the support that the university provides for these opportunities is making a difference,” he said. “And it’s not just limited to faculty researchers — staff are eligible for some of these same awards, and many UK staff members have been selected for them in recent years. Each person we can support in this way helps add a new dimension to their work and a new perspective to campus.”
IPR also works with faculty and departments who host incoming Fulbright Scholars, further adding to the rich diversity of the UK community.
“The work of internationalization doesn’t stop with students,” Roberts said. “And neither does the work of supporting the UK community. We’re honored to have a role that allows us to further our employees’ global ambitions while at the same time doing the important work of advancing the institution’s strategic goal of taking care of our people.”