Gannon University recently welcomed Ashraf Alzawaideh as the associate vice president of international enrollment and affairs, supervising the International Admissions Office, the International Student Office and the English as a Second Language program.
Prior to coming to Gannon, Alzawaideh worked as the director of international recruitment and government-sponsored programs at the University of New Haven, where he helped increase international student enrollment, among other accomplishments.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Jordan. He then acquired two master’s degrees – one in counseling and human resources development from the University of Bridgeport in 2001 and a second in labor relations from the University of New Haven in 2010.
Bill Edmondson, Gannon’s vice president of enrollment, said the university was looking for someone who shared the vision the university has for its international student services and who had the background the capability to do the job.
The university hired a search firm, which conducted a national and an international search for possible candidates for the newly added position. Among more than 50 applicants, Edmondson said, Alzawaideh was “the shining star from the group.”
Edmondson said Americans, on many occasions, refer to students from different countries as international students, rather than referring to them as Chinese or Indians. However, Edmondson said, these students don’t see themselves as international students, but as individuals who are coming to study in this country.
“I don’t think we are as sensitive to the culture as we need to be, he said. “I think we’re making strides in that area and one thing that Ash will bring to that is coming from a different culture, he could help us understand the sensitivities that we need to have.”
These three entities Alzawaideh supervises will come together and relocate to a different building on campus, Edmondson said.
“When students come here, they don’t see it as ISO and International Admissions Office,” he said. “They think, ‘where do I go to get this done?’ So by putting them together, we are going to be providing a much better service to the students.”
With less than a month spent in Erie, Alzawaideh said he was still getting used to the city, but his favorite parts so far are Presque Isle and the Bayfront.
He said he has felt welcomed as a part of Gannon.
“People at Gannon and the staff at the offices here are really friendly and cooperative, helpful to each other, me and students. They are also eager to learn new things,” he said.
Alzawaideh said that the most challenging aspect of the job so far is getting people to adapt to new ideas and new things, which he said was a natural stage in every new environment.
He said his goals for Gannon include streamlining the operation of international admissions, orientation, English as a second language, and academic degree completion for international students and simultaneously growing international student population and providing a better quality service to international students.
Kim Hajec, the associate director of international enrollment and affairs, said Alzawaideh has had a positive influence in the admissions process as a whole.
“I think it is great to have somebody at his level sitting at the table with higher administration to help make decisions about international enrollment,” she said. “It’s nice to have someone giving us some sort of direction on where Gannon wants to go and where he wants to take Gannon as far as enrollment and affairs.”
Hajec said Alzawaideh’s experience from other schools will help streamline the admissions processes for international students and improve the quality of the students the university enrolls.
“I think he is going to help with admitting qualified students to qualified degree programs by making sure they are a good match and a good fit for Gannon,” she said.
Part of Alzawaideh’s job, Edmondson said, will be diversifying the number of countries students apply to Gannon from, increasing the university’s presence in different areas in the world.
Bhanisha Nagindas, a senior accounting major from Canada, said having a large international student population on campus allows her to expand her knowledge about other cultures.
“There is a good international student presence on campus and the university holds a lot of activities for students to get to know each other,” Nagindas said.
“I would like to see more students representing more countries but I think we have had a good diverse presence so far, too.”