Candidate for international services position focuses on building relationships


Alec Giljohann/Iowa State Daily

Sara Thurston, Ph.D., speaks to Iowa State students at the International Student Forum in the Memorial Union on Feb. 6.

Nik Heftman

Scores of Iowa State faculty, staff and students gathered in the Soults Family Visitor Center in the Memorial Union to meet Sara Thurston, director of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at Kansas State University.

Thurston is one of the candidates for director of International Students and Scholars at Iowa State. Monday afternoon marked the first of three rounds of open forums where candidates were allowed to present their case for the position. 

After a short introduction, Thurston shared her background with the audience.

Thurston grew up in Horicon, Wisconsin. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Louisville, eventually receiving her Ph.D in higher education administration from Loyola University in Chicago.

Thurston recently earned an executive board position with NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange.

Its an exciting new challenge for me,” Thurston said. “I love the field of international education.”

Thurston’s presentation centered around the concept of building relationships. She further split the idea into four sections: internal office relationships, relationships with students, relationships with faculty and external relationships.

Thurston said being fully staffed, as well as having a committed staff, are important for building relationships among faculty.

“Always looking for ways to improve what were doing for students and scholars is very important to me,” Thurston said.

Team development, space management and technology management also were important points.

To support the idea of relationships with students and scholars, Thurston said she knows about every international student on her campus. 

“I’m real proud of that,” Thurston said.

Thurston continued by stating that orientation is a crucial time in her office at Kansas State. She said relationships need to be built with students as soon as they step foot on campus.

“We can be the first contact for international students and scholars on campus,” she said.

Thurston also mentioned her constant interaction with students at Kansas State, saying she would hope to bring the same constant interaction to Iowa State through presentations, community events, crisis support and a good relationship with Student Government. 

In an effort to build faculty relationships, Thurston said she has created key partnerships between her office at Kansas State and the housing, dining and student life offices there.

“We do training for current and new staff to learn about international students,” Thurston said. She also has collaborated with athletics, the alumni association and academic advisers at Kansas State.

In reference to external relationships, the final section of her presentation, Thurston said her office has been active in the local community at Kansas State. She cited relationships she’s built with the city’s mayor, chamber of commerce, local businesses and community groups.

Martino Harmon, senior vice president for student affairs at Iowa State, was in attendance. He had the first question for Thurston, asking how she would help build relationships between students born in the United States and international students.

“When I talk with international students, I tell them you have to be brave,” Thurston said. “[I tell them to] talk to the person next to [them]. You have to be the one to break the ice because domestic students usually feel the same way.”

The next round of open forums will take place at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Soults Family Visitor Center of the Memorial Union.