The Call for Nominations has been open for a month and it is time to remind our readers that in addition to two Board Director Positions, one of the positions that is open this year is President Elect. I thought that it might be illuminating for anyone who is considering what it might be like to be president of SIETAR USA to hear from the past presidents. I asked two questions: Why did you become president of SIETAR USA? How did it turn out for you? The responses are varied but all express the joy of this job. In no particular order:
Heather Robinson: “Quite simply, I became president of SIETAR USA because I wanted to give back to the organization that had given me so much, both professionally and personally. As the first elected president of SIETAR USA, I was taking the position the uncommonly gifted and energetic Peggy Pusch had handled in addition to being the Executive Director of the organization. Mercifully, Peggy had my back as we negotiated some growing pains. It was only the fourth year of SIETAR USA’s existence and we faced numerous challenges – creating an organization that was true to the global mission of SIETAR established in 1974, that was uniquely US American in its appeal, and that met the moment by supporting practitioners as interested in diversity and inclusion as intercultural work. We experimented with a structure in which each board member was responsible for a portfolio and could recruit any SIETAR USA members they deemed fit to help them execute. We benefited from formal board development, bringing in Ann Macfarlane of Jurassic Parliament to share her wisdom on Practical Leadership. We oversaw two very successful conferences - one in Bloomington, Indiana and one in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Shortly after I became president of SIETAR USA, I followed my husband on an international job assignment to Bangalore. The joke was SIETAR USA had outsourced the presidency to India! Being president of SIETAR USA taught me a lot in a short time, both about leadership and about followership. With the learning I had gained from my SIETAR USA presidency, I found myself well equipped to be a founding member of SIETAR India in 2006. So, as a result, not only was I able to give back to the organization that had given me so much, I was able to pay it forward in supporting the creation of a new member organization in the global SIETAR family. I shall forever be grateful to those who asked me (yes, you, Sandy Fowler), those who encouraged me (yes, you, Rita Wuebbeler) and all who served with me on the board and on conference committees, for this life-enhancing opportunity. Thank you all!“ SIETAR USA President 2003-2005
Esther Louie: “I had voiced interest to some members and had asked some SIETAR USA Board members—what their responsibilities were, what is it they worked on as Board members, etc. I had been an active volunteer during our annual conferences and felt that I was still learning about the organization. I had not actively sought a nomination and felt that I was still in the learning mode. So, this may not be the most auspicious start onto the SIETAR USA Board but during the Bloomington, IN conference when we were nominating new Board members, I took a bathroom break, and came back to my table to find out that I had been nominated onto the SIETAR USA Board.
As I learned more about the role of Board members and eventually became president, I most valued the collegial interactions, learning about our members throughout the United States and meeting their interest, concerns and needs. Keeping abreast of the intercultural/multicultural and global aspects of equity, diversity and social trends, developments and results and outcomes invigorated me and my professional goals. Visioning and planning with the Board and our members were my favorite activities. The coordination with SIETARs around the United States and globally was always a welcomed engagement. I loved my years with SIETAR USA and wish all the best to its important and continued success.” SIETAR USA President 2007-2008.
Kelli McLoud-Schingen: “It is no secret that I absolutely ADORE the SIETAR family – worldwide! Though it wasn’t always like that. I have said this many times, but my first SIETAR USA conference was in Minneapolis and while I was already an active member of the Houston local group, I hadn’t attended the USA events. So, just weeks after September 11, 2001, I attended the conference in Minneapolis. It was a tough time for the nation and most specifically, for those of us who knew what the xenophobic fall out would be. I hoped to find my people… I did not. But I did find a few persons who challenged me, invited me to stay, and to help change the organization from within. 20 years later, I am so happy that I did. Not only did I find my people, I found my family. A global family that means the absolute world to me. After my board service as Membership Outreach and Diversity Chair I was encouraged by Andy Reynolds and Tatyana Fertelmeyster to put my name in the ring for the President position. I didn’t think I was ready to lead a national organization and the two of them assured me that I wouldn’t be alone with their support and especially with Peggy at the helm. It was terribly unfortunate that I only had a few months to work with Peggy before she retired, but she was there for me for absolutely anything I needed. When you love an organization so much you want it to be the very best that it can be for you, its members and all that we touch. So, it was a natural progression for me to want to lead our beloved organization as President from 2010-2012 and to continue serving in an Advisory role until this year. It was exciting, challenging, fulfilling, frustrating, but most of all, one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. If I had to do it all again, I absolutely would. Again, and again. I am grateful for the honor and pleasure of leading this amazing and best kept secret and I look forward to many more years as a loyal and faithful member.” SIETAR USA President 2010-2012.
Holly Emert: “SIETAR USA has always had my heart. I became involved in 2001--wow, that seems like forever ago--as soon as I learned about the organization through my graduate studies at the University of Minnesota. First, I helped out as Volunteer Coordinator for the 2001 annual conference and kept going from being Professional Development Portfolio Director through to President. I couldn't get enough of the mission and the people who found a home in SIETAR USA and the broader worldwide SIETAR family! Being President of this great organization is a worthwhile commitment of one's passion, dedication, and yes, the ability to herd cats! You make your mark through being President and support others as they make their own. It's a wonderful opportunity to support others and to be supported in turn. Please consider submitting your candidacy for President!” SIETAR USA President 2017-2018.
Patricia Malidor Coleman: “In 2015 I had the privilege to serve as President of SIETAR USA. As a former active member and board member, I saw the opportunity to walk the talk and put into action some of what many members like me looked for. SIETAR USA listens and the best way to get involved to contribute to as well as grow the intercultural field is to volunteer in committees and/or join the board. I started as member at large and worked my way up to the board and presidency with which I serve as a hands-on leader.
Being president of SIETAR USA is a place to gain and grow:
….and more but if I have to summarize, I’d say:
- Lasting relationships
- Intercultural skills
- Professional development skills
- Personal development skills
- Business skills
- Inclusive Leadership
- Spirit of community
- Diverse team collaboration
- Global impact
- Global networking
- Event planning management skills
- Volunteer team management
- Nonprofit organization management
“Being president of SIETAR USA is giving & receiving!”
SIETAR USA President 2015-2016.
Sandy Fowler: “I had been president of SIETAR International in 1989 and was a founding member of SIETAR USA but never thought about being president. I had a busy life and found pleasure in the tasks I did for SIETAR USA, which kept me in touch with the intercultural community. However, as my life changed after my husband’s passing, I felt that SIETAR USA needed me, and I was ready to take on the challenge of the presidency. I was fortunate to have the time to devote to it but, being president can be done in the midst of a busy life—ask any one of the others who responded to my two questions, and they will tell you that it can be done. They did it! For me, the greatest joy was connecting with the Board members, working together for the benefit of the society. I hope that The Interculturalist: A Periodical of SIETAR USA will be my legacy and last long after I’m gone.” SIETAR USA President 2019-2020.
Christopher Deal: “When I was asked to be nominated and serve as President of SIETAR USA, I immediately said, “Yes, I would be honored to serve.” I knew it would be challenging because running any organization has many inherent challenges. I also remembered Peggy Pusch saying something to the effect that it was like herding cats, something she was actually quite good at, I thought. The reason I did not hesitate was because I have a strong commitment to helping foster mutual understanding among people from different cultural backgrounds. I was happy to find that commitment embodied in the fields of intercultural communication, intercultural relations, and related fields and also happy to discover SIETAR USA as the nation’s premier professional association for intercultural work. I had the opportunity to serve on the SIETAR USA Board of Directors for about eight years as Local Group Chair, and that helped me learn the history and inner workings of the organization before becoming President Elect.
I can remember so many times when attendees at SIETAR or SIIC (Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication) would say that coming to the conference felt like “finding my people.” Well, for me it was quite a joy to get to work with likeminded people for so many years on something so worthwhile and meaningful. I would encourage everyone with a passion for the field to consider serving on the Board of Directors or otherwise contributing to our cause.
Becoming president turned out to have even more benefits than getting to work with great people and affect positive change. In 2015, I went to the SIETAR USA conference in Orlando, Florida even though I was feeling ill with unexplained headaches and was also inexplicably losing and dropping things constantly. I went despite feeling ill because Patricia Coleman, then President, said I would be inducted into the SIETAR USA Hall of Fame, which all former presidents are. As it turned out, the conference hotel they had chosen that year was very close to a branch of the Florida Hospital with one of the top brain surgeons in the country. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the conference that year, but Patricia asked Sue Shinomiya to come and see about me when my condition became critical. Sue, who I had served on the SIETAR Board for many years, met me at the emergency room where a scan revealed a large mass in my brain. She then accompanied me in the ambulance to the surgical center (What a wonderful thing it is to have a good friend with you at a time like that). The surgery was successful in removing most of a cancerous tumor of the type GBM (glioblastoma multiforme). I was so thankful to be near my SIETAR USA community when I was in need of help. Then, when my family and I faced the very difficult treatment and recovery phase after being told I had little chance to live beyond three years, SIETAR USA and the larger worldwide intercultural community really came through for us with an incredible outpouring of support in many forms: Money when we were having trouble with the medical bills, prayers, thoughts, good wishes—everything we needed. After radiation, one year of chemo, and then over three years wearing a device on my head called Optune, I reached the five-year mark and my doctor finally said I can be called a “survivor.” Who knows how things might have turned out if I had not been a part of SIETAR USA, but I am incredibly appreciative of the support of people in this community?” Christopher Deal, Ph.D., SIETAR USA President 2013-2014.
Editor’s Note: Some people have a friend who decides to nominate them. Others come to the decision on their own and submit their candidacy. However it happens, every other year we need to search for a good steward of the association—a new president. Let us hear from you if you have someone in mind. Perhaps it is you.
Sandra M. Fowler