Meet Ben Iverson '04
Director of international admission & advising
Augustana College, Sioux Falls
— Spanish & international studies majors
Q. How did you choose Augustana?
A. Despite the fact that if I don’t say this she could fire me, the honest truth is that I had an amazing admission counselor named Nancy Davidson (now VP for Enrollment at Augustana). She was so good at showing me how Augustana was the perfect fit that I really didn’t consider many other options very seriously. I also played baseball in college, so the chance to compete at the NCAA Division II level and to still enjoy the advantages of a small, private school with excellent academics was a perfect combination for me.
Life at Augie
Q. Favorite class and why?
A. I really enjoyed Dr. Dondelinger’s “Comparative Politics” and “International Law” courses. His method of explaining complicated theories and issues by analyzing examples from current geopolitical events in class is really interesting and effective. Forcing myself to put in the work to succeed in those courses made graduate school a breeze. I’m sure that I was never his best student, and he probably wouldn’t admit this now, but he even gave me an A-minus once. I’m pretty proud of that A-minus.
Q. Best Augie memory?
A. I have a lot of great memories from Augustana: lifelong friendships, a lasting professional mentor, a semester abroad in Spain, winning a conference title in baseball my junior year, as well as stimulating course work and inspiring professors all rank as top memories. If I had to pick just one thing, though, my favorite memory might be beating the old guys on the Staff Pack in intramural volleyball. That was sweet.
Q. Tell us about your journey after graduating from Augustana – first job, grad school, travel, etc.?
A. Shortly after graduating from Augustana, I was fortunate to have been invited to attend a NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference along with Donn Grinager, Director of International Programs. I met his counterpart at a university in Norway, now called Nordland University in the city of Bodø. I spent nine months in Bodø working on marketing projects for the university’s international office. When I was coming back to the U.S., there was an opening in the admission office at Augustana, so I applied. The college was foolish enough to hire me and hasn’t come to its senses yet. I spent four years in our “domestic” admission office and I’m in the middle of my sixth year working in our International Programs Office. Over the course of this time, I also completed a master’s degree in international education from the School for International Training (SIT) Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT. I stopped counting now, but I think that I have visited somewhere in the range of 30 countries in the course of my work at Augustana.
Q. Tell us about your career – what’s an average day like?
A. That’s maybe the thing that I like best about my job. My personality is such that I get bored easily if I’m not learning something new or being challenged in some way. In this job, no two days are exactly alike. In any given week I might be giving a presentation in Spanish to a group of high school students in Latin America, conducting a Skype interview with a Vietnamese candidate for admission from my office, designing a new marketing strategy for an African market, analyzing a European country for its recruitment potential, strategizing how to most effectively use our travel time and resources, trying to convince an admitted student from the tropics about the virtues of studying in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in January, or working with a sponsoring organization that manages exchange programs on behalf of the U.S. State Department or a foreign country like Saudi Arabia or Brazil. More than any specific major or minor, the liberal arts foundation at Augustana prepared me well for my job. Culture, language, economics, history, politics – all of these things play a role in my work today. Even more than that, the core curriculum provided a foundation for continued learning, which my job definitely requires every single day.
Q. Greatest challenges and best rewards of your current role?
A. One of the biggest challenges is that there are thousands of academically talented but extremely financially challenged students overseas. I’d like to be able to give some of the best of them a spot at Augustana regardless of their financial means, but, obviously, there are significant costs associated with providing an excellent education in the U.S. context. We are fortunate at Augustana to have excellent facilities, great scholarships, talented professor-mentors, and extremely generous friends and alumni. But, even still, we obviously have financial limitations. For us to continue to grow our student body with the best and brightest from around the world, we’ll need to continue to be able to invest significantly in our students. I am very grateful to our donors who support student scholarships. They have allowed us to grow to the point that we have today.
The best thing about the job is working with really talented and motivated students from all over the world. For many, studying in the U.S. is something they have long dreamt about, so it is fun to be part of helping them accomplish a dream. I’m also consistently amazed at the growth that takes place in our students between freshman year and graduation. For many students, Augustana is a transformative and life-changing experience and it is really fulfilling to witness that transformation.
It seems a little idealistic, but the most important underlying thing that drives me each day is the idea that educational exchange can be a force for peace and understanding in the world. I believe that exposing our American students to different cultures (and international students to American culture) is an integral part of a quality, modern education of enduring value. The world is becoming more interconnected every day, so it is important that our future leaders know and understand people and points of view different from our own. Sen. William J. Fulbright once said that “[educational exchange} aimsto bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.”The idea that I’m contributing in some small way to that possibility is humbling and motivating.
Q. Greatest professional accomplishment thus far?
A. Besides beating the Staff Pack? I guess it would have to be the fact that we have managed to quadruple the number of international students at Augustana since 2009. I take pride in contributing to the visible change in terms of the diversity that you’ll see at Augustana if you haven’t been to campus for a few years – as well as in the growth of the college’s capacity to properly support and advise this unique cohort of students.
Q. What’s next for you professionally?
A. At Augustana, I’d love for us to eventually be nominated for the prestigious Senator Paul Simon Award for campus internationalization, which would put us in an elite category of schools in the United States on that front. We have made significant progress already, but it would be fun to work on moving us even further towards that goal. Personally, I plan to stay in the international education realm for the foreseeable future. I’d like to eventually manage a college international office and/or coordinate a college’s broader internationalization effort. I also think there are lots of opportunities for entrepreneurs in international education. I could see myself starting a business or joining a start-up related to educational exchange as well. I really enjoy the entrepreneurial nature of my current position and I envision that playing a role in whatever my next job might be.
Q. If you could offer a prospective or existing Augie student some advice, what would you say?
A. First of all, study at Augustana. There are a lot of really smart and really helpful people here who will challenge you intellectually and who will help you reach your goals. Then, study abroad. It will change your life in ways that you can’t really understand fully until you go. Do it! Finally, while you’re in college, find a good mentor and get hands-on professional experience in areas in which you might consider working after college. I didn’t know my current job even existed when I was in high school. I’m a big proponent of experiential learning: it was the combination of some amazing mentors both as a student and as an employee at Augustana, study abroad, internships in this field, and other life experiences that eventually led me to this vocation. Your classroom experience at Augustana is important, but in one sense it will just set the stage for you to take advantage of your own experiences, passions and opportunities in a professional setting someday.
Q. Tell us about your family.
A. My wife, Stephanie, is an RN at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls. We have a 15-month-old son named Will and a yellow lab named Sven. Sven is a 100-pound lap dog who thinks he is a human and Will is a 25-pound wild animal whose talents include climbing furniture, making honking noises at passing geese and attempting to ride Sven.
Q. What’s given you the greatest personal satisfaction since graduating from Augie? And why?
A. I don’t know if this is my “greatest personal satisfaction,” but two goals that I had when I was 22 and graduating from Augustana were to find a job where I could see the world, and to do something that wasn’t just a job – something that contributed to a greater good. I’m proud that I feel like I have started down that path professionally at this stage in my career. If I’m being completely honest, I have to also say that I also get a lot of personal satisfaction out of out-shooting and out-fishing my dad and my hunting buddy (who happens to be my former college roommate) Kevin Wiessner, ’04. I’m grateful to have an amazing wife and son, a few close friends, and a supportive family as well. The opportunity to travel gives one lots of perspective. We are so fortunate in this country in so many ways. Life is pretty good.