Care, Patience and Service: Haile Earns Distinguished Service Award
It was May 2020, and uncertainty surrounded life at Franklin & Marshall and around the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic had forced most students to complete the spring semester remotely. But most of the College's international students remained on campus, unsure of their next steps.
Jessica Haile remembers it vividly. As assistant dean for international student services, she oversees all immigration guidance, policies and day-to-day services for students holding F-1 visas at F&M. Perhaps better than anyone, she knew the challenges graduating international students faced when the pandemic changed everything.
"The world was scary, and many students needed to determine if they were headed home, still able to go to graduate school, or if they needed to figure out how to find a job in the new normal," Haile says. "Because most of the students were hanging out in Lancaster, my colleagues and I distributed their diplomas at the Joseph International Center. It was a really special moment. It was a nice way to say goodbye to many of them, when so much happening around us felt sad and disappointing."
That bright moment in a weary world is one of Haile's most memorable moments during her time at F&M, where she has worked in a variety of positions since 2008. Her colleagues say she approaches her job with great care and patience, particularly during stressful times. For these reasons and others, she is the 2021 recipient of the Richard Kneedler Distinguished Service Award. Named after president emeritus Richard Kneedler, the honor is presented annually to a member of the professional staff in recognition of outstanding contributions and commitment to the mission of the College.
"International students are 19 percent of the campus population, and to honor a staff member in that office with this distinguished service recognition is another way to say that this population matters, the services we provide matter, and that the work that has to go into supporting a large population doesn't go unnoticed," Haile says. "It reflects the efforts of our entire international student services team. We are blessed with a fantastic team and a very steady-handed department chair."
The international student services team serves as the bridge between the College and the federal government, ensuring that students' immigration records are clean and aligned with the rules. "I read the code of federal regulations a lot— it's some good bedtime reading if you ever can't fall asleep— and have to interpret how they work for individual situations," Haile says.
She sees her role as threefold: immigration compliance, academic success and adjustment support. The international student services team dabbles in it all, she says, and responds to the needs of the moment.
Those needs evolved rapidly at the start of the pandemic. Haile wondered: "If I was alone in a country halfway around the world during a pandemic, what would I need? If my child was in that situation, what would I hope someone could do for them?"
"We did a lot of scrambling with travel agents and embassies trying to get students home," she remembers. "At the same time, we were jumping in to support our campus partners and their efforts to provide life-sustaining support to the students we couldn't get homeâ¦ It was the definition of drinking from a firehose, but in some ways, it was energizing and didn't give me time to worry about how the pandemic was affecting me, personally."
Because of her position and also her eagerness to serve others, Haile is a natural leader in DipCares, a team of individuals who provide students guidance during challenging times. She also has been a prominent figure in F&M Votes, a nonpartisan coalition of F&M students, faculty and professional staff engaged in voter registration, education and motivation activities.
"I really enjoy tag-teaming my work with the College House deans and other DipCares professionals," she says. "And F&M Votes is something very near and dear to my heart. I am a true believer in helping our domestic students develop behaviors of being aware of local and national elections."
F&M has been part of Haile's life for 20 years, since her husband, Jonathan Haile '06, was a student at the College. She says it is humbling to be part of the F&M family in a special way.
"The previous winners of the Kneedler Award are people I consider friends and mentors. I am proud to have my name listed alongside theirs."
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