LAKERS TOGETHER: Grand Valley is preparing for successful learning experiences when classes resume on Aug. 31. Learn more about the plan for fall in this handbook.
Interim Chief International Officer
Mike Vrooman, new to the PIC team, is no stranger to international travel and the adventures of the Padnos International Center. Spain is a second home to Mike who first visited the Iberian Peninsula while in high school and returned to study abroad as an undergraduate. An interest in linguistics and dialects of Spanish led him to study Yucatec Maya and explore Mayan-Spanish child language acquisition in Quintana Roo, Mexico, where he took up residence in a palapa with a Mayan family for a year. While he never quite mastered the intricacies of preparing handmade corn tortillas on a xamach, or griddle, on an open fire every day, he eventually was able to spin stories with his host family and their village neighbors.
Passionate about study abroad, Mike has directed programs and taught students in Chile, Mexico, and Spain. While working with a GVSU Partnership university in Bilbao, Spain, he and his family enjoyed traveling the Basque country coast, lively conversations with Spanish friends on the terrazas of Deusto, and taking the subway to accompany the kids to school every day.
If you happen to see him walking around campus or at the Rec Center early in the morning with earbuds plugged in, Mike is most likely listening to a recent podcast from Radio Nacional de España or Global News from the BBC. When it’s time to disconnect, he enjoys hiking the Manistee River Trail, hammock camping, and playing Euchre (for blood, of course).
Vicki Wenger, AKA Victorious VIP (Vicki in Padnos) is the public face of the Padnos International Center, serving as the front desk receptionist and office manager. Vicki is one of those detail-oriented people without whom an office would collapse in on itself in a matter of weeks. Make no assumptions about the tasteful wardrobe, hair and jewelry; Vicki grew up with three older brothers…nuf said. Vicki enjoys working with students and the fact that every day in the office is different and unpredictable.
Vicki is passionate about physical exercise; she enjoys yoga, running, HIIT class, bike riding, hiking, anything really that gets her outdoors. She’s a frequent participant in various races; 10K, 25K and ½ Marathon. Above all, she enjoys long trips with her husband on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Vicki loves the color purple, avocados, and sunny beaches. She’s never met a vegetable she didn’t like. She is not a fan of shoes or those who fail to say please and thank you. So please say hi to Vicki on your next visit to PIC. Thank you!
Padnos International Center Assistant
As a young boy enjoying an early spring day of hiking in the Grand River valley near Allendale, Gary Van Harn emerged from a ravine with his scout troop onto a cornfield marred with a few piles of dirt and some heavy equipment. When asked what was going on here so far out in the country, the scoutmaster answered “they’re breaking ground for a new college.” This provoked gales of derisive laughter. Fifty-some years later, no one is laughing, least of all Gary. Btw, Gary’s office suite today overlooks this very ravine. As a GVSU Alum and twenty-year veteran employee, Gary serves as the budget manager, assistant to the Director of the Padnos International Center, and unofficial office counselor and confessional. In his off hours, Gary is an avid bicyclist, riding laps around Reeds Lake or on the trails of Millenium Park. He enjoys gardening, landscaping, and taking care of his bees, fruit trees, and grapevines. As the owner of an historic car, Gary belongs to several car clubs, and is an enthusiastic member of the Gilmore Car Museum.
Gary believes deeply in the University’s “mission to internationalize the campus and enjoys sharing in the excitement and passion exhibited by my colleagues for both domestic study abroad and international students.”
Study Abroad Advisor
While in high school Meaghann Myers-Smith may have been voted least likely to study abroad, but in the Padnos International Center, she absolutely wins as Best Study Abroad Adviser ever. As a GVSU student, she studied in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, China and El Salvador, which turned out to be life-changing experiences. Meaghann is now the Study Abroad Adviser for the Padnos International Center; as such, she is responsible for hiring and training all of PIC’s student peer advisors, counseling all students in their choice of location, academic program and class line-up, serves as liaison to all other academic advisors across campus, coordinates the Study Abroad Fairs and other related events, organizes all program materials and information, digital and hard copy, and all advising sessions.
Meaghann says “I like that (my position) keeps me connected to young people. I also love that it’s meaningful work. Assisting students with their first journey into this big, beautiful world is incredibly rewarding! Although all experiences are unique, I like to think that study abroad is really the enemy of prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness. This is especially important when shaping the world views of people (students) who will one day likely be in positions of power.”
When not being The Best Study Abroad Adviser Ever and mentor to hundreds, she is the mother of three, fluent in Spanish as a second language, a pop culture maven (Beyonce rules) and can often be heard to ask “where are my (keys, phone, purse)?”
Director of Study Abroad & International Partnerships
Dedicated, focused, professional, enthusiastic and inspiring are all words one could use to describe Rebecca Hambleton, PIC’s Director of Study Abroad and International Partnerships. Much of the time you will find “Becca” working diligently in her office, surrounded by a blizzard of ever-changing paperwork pertaining to our partner universities from around the world. Somehow she manages to stay on top of it all, in addition to advising students about their partnership programs and guiding them through the process. Becca possesses a deep love of adventure and a thirst for exploration, having already visited 36 countries around the world. Locally, she loves to roam the woods around her home, taking long hikes. She enjoys organic gardening, woodworking, painting, and collecting art nouveau objects.
Becca says “I love that my job is full of a variety of different tasks. Each day I am switching between communicating with partners around the world, to helping a student deal with a visa issue, to creating marketing materials for our exchange programs, or preparing a program for a delegation of colleagues to visit one of our partner institutions. Every day is different. As our field continues to change, grow and evolve, new opportunities emerge. There is always so much more to learn about the world and its cultures.”
Coordinator of Faculty-Led Programs
Elena Selezneva, PIC’s Coordinator of Faculty-led Programs and Internships, is a native of the Don steppes of Russia, where, compared to Michigan, winters are milder and less extreme. Elena brings a wealth of cultural knowledge, experience and perspective to the staff of the Padnos International Center. A passionate proponent of Russian art, music and literature, a native Russian speaker, master of English, and frequent world traveler, Elena is uniquely positioned to advise students and provide support to faculty who lead groups of students overseas on study abroad trips.
Elena loves cooking, good food, good company, dancing, travel, and being outdoors. She is an avid and experienced traveler, and revels in the discovery of new places. Elena particularly enjoys the opportunity her position provides in working with students, faculty, and co-workers who are goal-oriented towards developing internationally.
Study Abroad Outreach Coordinator
Alissa Lane’s diminutive size barely contains her ginormous personality and seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm; indeed, some suspect she has an identical twin. As PIC’s Coordinator of Marketing and Outreach, Alissa is responsible for getting our message out to the GVSU community; by effectively using social media platforms, by designing the look and feel of our publications (Global Connections), advertising, and through classroom presentations. She creates and coordinates various events, information seminars, tabling, and video production.
When she’s not busy being a dynamo here, she likes to play soccer two or three nights a week, loves writing, photography, and of course, travel and exploration. Alissa says what she likes most about her job is the chance to “help students start an adventure. Going abroad was the best thing I ever did for myself.”
Coordinator of Study Abroad and International Partnerships
Ehren Kuzekov has come full circle in life, having been born and raised in West Michigan, studying abroad in Australia as an undergraduate, and serving in the Peace Corp in Kazakhstan, where she learned to speak Russian and met her husband. Ehren previously worked in Western Illinois University’s Office of Study Abroad and Outreach, and came to us in the summer of 2017.
Ehren likes the color green, the color of nature. She finds it relaxing, and recharges herself through weight training, running, meditation and yoga. An outdoor person, she also enjoys swimming in Lake Michigan or the ocean.
Ehren wants us to know that “to have another language is to possess another soul,” a quote attributed to Charlemagne. Learning to speak Russian opened her up to another people, another culture, an entirely different way to live. Through this experience, she gained friends, colleagues, her husband, and family.
Director of International Student and Scholar Services
Kate Stoetzner learned early on in life how to project her voice. With a heart and personality as big as all outdoors, and winner of the “Most Infectious Laugh” award, Kate is the Director of International Student and Scholar Services. As such she plays the role of Ultimate Den Mother to more than 400 international students from over 85 countries. Kate says “My favorite part of my job is helping international students to be successful. I particularly like problem solving through difficult and challenging situations with the students and determining the resources and opportunities that are available.”
Kate loves all things silver and sparkly, and spends the majority of her free time supporting her two children in all their endeavors. She was raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and has an ongoing love affair with the state and the Great Lakes.
International Student Integration Coordinator
If you can catch the blur of red hair and energy blowing through the Padnos International Center, say hello to Elizabeth (Libby) Jawish, our International Student Services Coordinator. This bilingual dynamo of British and Lebanese heritage speaks fluid Arabic, and loves cooking, baking, sewing, gardening, reading, writing, travel, and adventure in general. She’s never met a vegetable she didn’t like. She is not a fan of laziness, whining, or shoes.
As regards her role at PIC, she says “my favorite part of my work is the students. International students are so strong, interesting, impressive and brave. I love learning from them and trying to help them within my capacity as an advisor-come-mentor-come-resource connector.”
One of the newest members of the Padnos International Center, Noelia Siriamphone comes to us from the Muskegon area. A life-long resident of West Michigan, Noelia grew up in a bilingual household, speaking English and Spanish. She earned a BA from Aquinas College in International Business, and cut her higher education teeth at Muskegon Community College as an enrollment specialist.
When she’s not here supporting International students, solving technical issues and performing spreadsheet magic, Noelia enjoys being home with her two daughters, husband, and the family dogs. Noelia is an avid photographer and videographer; she has an eye for color and light. As a lover of the outdoors and camping, it is no surprise that her favorite color is green. A highly social person, Noelia loves dancing, singing, family time, and lending a helping hand to anyone who needs it. Her stated goal is to live life as if each day is the last, and to support others in their time of need.