Allison Blizzard brings extensive experience and fresh ideas
In January 2021, Reed welcomed a new Director of International Programs, Allison Blizzard. Blizzard replaced Paul DeYoung, who had worked as Reed’s Director of International Programs since 1977.
Blizzard’s first “international experience” came at an early age. Raised in a military family, Blizzard moved to Germany when she was just 8 years old; she lived there for three years and began learning German. This early childhood experience got Blizzard interested in foreign languages, and she decided to study German and French in college. Halfway through her bachelor’s program, however, Blizzard was given the opportunity to travel to Germany to work as a nanny. While she initially planned on returning to the U.S. to complete her bachelor’s degree after a year, Blizzard decided to remain in Germany, and she went on to complete a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate at various German universities.
Blizzard has a wealth of experience working with collegiate international programs. Prior to coming to Reed, she served as the District Director of International Student Services at Portland Community College for four and a half years. Among a host of other responsibilities, Blizzard oversaw the college’s international recruitment, admissions, and student life teams, as well as the foreign exchange program. Before that, Blizzard was the Director of the American Language Institute at California State University, Long Beach, and she has held administrative positions at colleges in Washington and Germany.
Familiar with both the Pacific Northwest and the strengths of Reed’s international program, Blizzard was excited for the opportunity to bring her plentiful experience in international education to Reed.
“The campus, the students, the way of teaching, the focus on… intellectual excellence, and the way that seminars are held is different than at most universities,” Blizzard said. “I knew about Reed and I knew that it was a great place, so when I saw this position come open, I was very excited to apply.”
Blizzard hopes to build upon Reed’s “strong and robust” international program and contribute her own diverse experiences in international education to explore new ideas and initiatives. However, Blizzard emphasized that she is not coming to Reed with a rigid, fixed set of ideas to pursue or programs to implement. Instead, Blizzard believes that the trick is to listen to the needs of the community and respond flexibly to changing circumstances. “Whatever we do has to come from the community. It has to be something that students, faculty, and staff can embrace and see value in and want to pursue,” Blizzard said. “So I definitely am not coming in and saying: so we have to do X, Y, and Z.”
That being said, Blizzard has begun considering several initiatives to further promote international opportunities at Reed based on early community feedback. For example, Blizzard is interested in establishing an Online International Learning program, which would serve to connect professors and students around the globe through Zoom.
“The basic idea is that a professor here at Reed may have a unit or something that they’re doing with their class here that might be enhanced by connecting it to a class, perhaps in Beijing, St. Petersburg, or Cape Town,” Blizzard explained. “Through the [Online International Learning program], we can look at if we can connect the two professors, and maybe they have something that they would like their classes to work on together.”
Furthermore, Blizzard also plans to look into creating opportunities for short-term study abroad programs which would send professors and students abroad for a period of roughly two weeks. Such short-term study abroad experiences would not only supplement the education that students receive at Reed, but would also serve as an alternative for Reedies who are unable or unwilling to spend a full semester abroad.
Whether it be through online learning or short-term study abroad programs, Blizzard highlighted the importance of integrating Reed into the international community and creating opportunities for Reedies to make global connections.
“My goal is always to look at comprehensive internationalization,” Blizzard said. “And for me, that just means opening up doors to global opportunities in many different ways.”
Conventional approaches to international engagement and exchange, however, have become substantially more difficult with the global spread of COVID-19. COVID-related travel bans and rules have posed barriers to international students, and the enrollment of new international students at U.S. colleges decreased by 43% during the Fall 2020 semester. International conferences had to be called off, study-abroad plans were cancelled last minute, and the financial viability of international programs at some institutions has been called into question.
Fortunately, Reed has been relatively successful at containing the spread of COVID, and Blizzard believes that the college has done a good job in supporting international students. She pointed to the fact that Reed’s international student enrollment has remained relatively consistent despite COVID.
“Reed has been doing a fantastic job… keeping the campus open and safe, whereas many other institutions have closed completely.” Blizzard said. “So Reed is positioned very well to support the international students who are here.”
However, Blizzard acknowledged that Reed’s international program still faced challenges and uncertainties. “Exchange programs, as well as the Language Scholar Program really are built on physical presence,” Blizzard explained. “And if physical presence is interrupted by COVID… that poses unique challenges in maintaining [these] programs.”
But according to Blizzard, these difficulties do not represent insurmountable barriers, especially given the success of online communication platforms such as Zoom. Online platforms provide new means of global exchange and connection, and while Zoom may not be a substitute for actual travel and face-to-face interaction, it can nonetheless provide college students with a valuable tool for engaging globally. For example, Blizzard noted that Reed’s German Department has arranged for a German language scholar to work with students virtually through Zoom, and there may be room for similar options going forward.
Finally, Blizzard emphasized the importance of establishing accessible channels of communication with Reed’s community members in improving Reed’s International Program. “The big thing for me is communication and outreach,” Blizzard said. “My goal is building relationships and finding ways for easy and accessible communication.”
With this in mind, Blizzard is looking to set up virtual office hours, as well as working to revamp the International Programs webpage to have more updates about different international opportunities. She hopes that increasing communication and accessibility will not only provide students with relevant information about international programs, events, and opportunities, but also will allow community members to share their feedback and opinions with Reed’s International Program.
“I really want to hear from students, staff, and faculty,” Blizzard said. “I want to know… what has been your experience with the [international] program, and I [want] your advice. So just hearing all kinds of ideas, I would love that.”