Tuesday, April 23, 2024

GEO shares love for retiring director

By Aleksandra Sidorova

Those who know Jacqueline “Jackie” Vogl, director of the Global Education Office, call her a friend, a mentor and a leader like no other. Vogl will retire after almost 33 years at SUNY Plattsburgh, 25 of which she spent growing international student enrollment. 

Amanda Suriel, now an international student adviser for GEO, met Vogl in 2017 while working in Human Resources. Suriel started working with Vogl at the fall 2019 international student orientation, while still a graduate student.

Suriel found Vogl intimidating at first.

“All I knew was that Jackie was this powerhouse: She’s traveled the world, and she’s put Plattsburgh on the map. I knew all of these great things about her, which made it so intimidating for me as a new person on campus,” Suriel said. “Just, like, ‘Oh my god, it’s Jackie Vogl.’ It was very intimidating.”

However, there was a time when Jackie hadn’t ventured outside of the country at all, besides a 1989 trip to the Netherlands.

Vogl started working at SUNY Plattsburgh in 1990, performing all work pertaining to domestic admissions. Her area of recruitment was Buffalo, New York. Occasionally, an application or inquiry letter from a prospective student overseas would get into her hands.

“Back in the day, we didn’t actually actively recruit international students. I have absolutely no idea how they found us,” Vogl said. “I mean, this is in the early days of email and no web.”

In 1998, the college decided it was interested in attracting international students. However, Vogl canceled her first recruitment trip abroad because she was pregnant with her second son, Aidan, so the college hired someone else for the role.

Many staff members resigned under the replacement hire. When the position went to Vogl in 2003, it was just her, a graduate assistant and a secretary. The office now has eight full-time professional staff members, three graduate assistants and eight student employees, in large part due to Vogl’s leadership. Those who know her say she is too humble to admit it. Vogl’s direct supervisor, Interim Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Cori Jackson, called GEO “Jackie’s creation, her baby.”

Photos provided

Most of Vogl’s recent work has been focused on ensuring a smooth transition to a new director. This includes establishing standard operating procedures that ensure her successor has “crumbs to follow” and extending some of her own global connections — around 5,000 contacts — to the GEO staff who will stay after she retires.

Study Away Coordinator Brooke Layhee said that when she travels to conferences with Vogl, they don’t make it to any of the sessions because their days are filled with seven to eight meetings with some of the partners Vogl has cultivated over the years. Layhee recalled once establishing a new connection for a study abroad program, but she couldn’t introduce her contact to Jackie, because they already knew each other.

“That was so funny, when we’re like, ‘I should have known better. Of course Jackie already knows who this is,’” Layhee said. 

At any conference GEO staff attends, evoking Vogl’s name stands testament to her reputation and influence, which GEO Assistant Director Michelle St. Onge calls “global gravitas.”

“Every conference, every tour, every EducationUSA college fair circuit — anywhere where more than a few university representatives are gathered, you’ll meet a bunch of people you don’t know but you know they do your job,” St. Onge said. “And you say, ‘Hi, I’m Michelle, I’m from Plattsburgh.’ ‘Oh, you know Jackie, you must work with Jackie. She’s great, she’s tremendous, I love Jackie’ — everywhere I go.”

Through her work, Vogl has elevated SUNY Plattsburgh’s prestige, Jackson said. Two years in a row — 2011 and 2012 — SUNY Plattsburgh was ranked by the International Student Barometer as no. 1 in overall international student satisfaction among 13 participating American universities, including Northeastern University. In 2012, SUNY Plattsburgh ranked no. 2 out of 208 universities across the world, and the year prior it ranked no. 3 out of 203 universities. GEO might still be winning such honors today, but SUNY Plattsburgh hasn’t participated in the survey since due to high costs.

The Council of International Schools, an organization committed to international education and representing more than 1450 schools and universities in 121 countries, presented Vogl with its T. Michael Maybury award in 2017. The award recognizes recipients’ contributions to international education at their institutions.

“At one point, I was able to say I work for the best international education office in the world, which I do say, but there was actually some data,” Friedrich said.

Layhee described Jackie as the “busiest woman ever.” Vogl’s “backoffice” work includes managing the office’s budget, hiring, strategic planning, creating calendars, fixing what’s broken and supporting her staff. Vogl said one of her greatest strengths and strongest loves is data mining, which helps her in her projects. When Vogl develops her projects, she looks at the international student “life cycle” as a whole, with the goal of enrolling students who will fit Plattsburgh for the long term. 

“It’s like candy for me, when people give me a question or hypothesis and I have to pull the data to respond, I’m like, ‘Oooh!’” Vogl said.

Photos provided

Vogl’s ability to pull and analyze data allowed GEO to come up with student recruitment strategies that are “ahead of the curve” and become one of the first American universities to arrive in some countries’ markets for education.

“Now, when I look at literature, the countries people are pointing to as the growth markets, we identified 10 years ago, so we’ve been there, done that,” Vogl said. “That’s what brings a smile to my face. The only issue is we get there too soon in some cases.”

Vogl has also taught some of her staff, like Administrative Assistant Rebecca “Beckie” Greenhaw, these skills.

“It would blow your mind if you watched her, in a day, being able to run a query in Microsoft Access and pull all these different pieces together,” Greenhaw said.

Vogl is a “workaholic,” Suriel said. Vogl doesn’t talk about work-life balance, but instead “work-life integration.” She doesn’t work the normal 40 hours a week, and instead said she works 50 to 60 hours a week, coming into the office Sundays to prepare for the week ahead. She doesn’t take days off the way “normal people” take them off, either, Greenhaw said..

“I’m actually very surprised that she’s been taking Fridays off,” Greenhaw said. “She’s been known in the past to put time off on her schedule and then not really take time off — she’ll come in anyway or still work part of the day.”

If Vogl is traveling for work or taking time off, she will still be there for her staff if they need her help. Suriel recalled an instance when the team decided against asking Jackie for help “because we know if we do, she’s going to respond.”

“Even things that are not urgent, I’ve never not felt comfortable reaching out to her with something,” Suriel said.

St. Onge described Vogl as a “servant leader,” always putting her team and the students she works with first. Her passion for her job and serving students is key to her work: Most international students’ unique needs fall outside of the 9 to 5, especially before they arrive in the United States. International Admissions Adviser Katherine Friedrich highlighted that international students, usually the farthest from home among the student body, need a support network the most. 

The high level of service that Jackie’s GEO provides is one of the reasons Friedrich stayed after she joined the office as a graduate assistant. She said Vogl’s leadership is not only effective, but ethical, with students’ best interests at the forefront.

Jackie pushes for international scholarship funding, student support services and programming to engage international students with the Plattsburgh community — showing the campus “there’s so much value for us to be able to have international students here,” Layhee said. Vogl works so closely with students that she can recall even those who graduated decades ago.

“I feel like, definitely, students don’t know, they don’t see it, and I don’t think we really speak to it as often as we should, but she’s just been a fierce advocate for global education,” Suriel said. “She keeps Plattsburgh relevant. I think that sometimes, we get into the weeds of nickels and dimes and how much it costs, but there really is no dollar value to what she’s built.”

Vogl never asks her staff to do anything she wouldn’t do or go anywhere she hasn’t been herself. While traveling for work, Vogl has had armed escorts and ridden in bulletproof vehicles provided by U.S. embassies.

“When I was younger and I had young children, frankly, I did worry about [safety abroad.] But as I got older, I thought, this is where the students are, this is where I want to be,” Vogl said.

Many of GEO’s current professional staff started as graduate assistants, interns or other smaller positions, and have not just moved up the ranks, but stayed with Jackie. 

“It’s a true testament to Jackie’s style that her staff come and stay and rise to the challenges she presents them,” St. Onge said. “People say, people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. Jackie’s people don’t leave because she does such a good job.”

Vogl sees her staff’s full potential and works to bring it out. With a colleague’s strengths and weaknesses in mind, she invites them to try their hand at new areas and trusts them to do more than their job description suggests. 

Photos provided

Jackie is the reason Layhee rerouted her career from teaching high schoolers math and chemistry to global education. This quality of Vogl’s is what brought St. Onge from an eight-hours-a-week job connecting international students with local families to her current full-time position of assistant director. It’s how Greenhaw got to supervise not just student employees, but fellow professionals. 

“Some people think, ‘Oh, she’s just a secretary,’ but Jackie makes sure to take my skill set and make me the best version of what I can do, which I appreciate, because not everybody as a supervisor will do that,” Greenhaw said.

As Suriel transitions to a position with more responsibilities — International Student Services coordinator — she looks to Vogl as an example of leadership. Suriel recalls being invited to the conversation and asked her opinion even as a graduate student.

“As a woman in a leadership role, I was just inspired that she had that approach with everyone, from grad students up to her assistant director,” Suriel said. “She’s very organized, very structured, very coordinated — so many of the things I aspire to be and, quite frankly, a lot of the ways I model how I work now and how I want to be as a leader myself.”

From the start, staff are taken seriously and involved in decision-making under Jackie’s leadership, and it serves as a catalyst for their professional development. One of Vogl’s mentees, Catrillia “Cat” Young, now works at Pace University in Manhattan as the director of Kaplan International Pathways, a company that guides students to universities abroad. Young recalled hearing from Jackie early on in their work together, “One day, we’re going to have a difference of opinion about how things should go in the office, and that’s when you’re going to go run your own office.” Years later, she was right.

Young met Vogl in 2006 at a NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference in Montreal. Immediately, there was a connection between them, but they bonded while “glued” to each other in a bus trying to scale a “tiny road” on its way to a school in India. At the time, Young worked at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, but a few months later, Jackie “poached” her into working for GEO. Young worked at WIT for no more than 18 months, but stayed at GEO for seven and a half years, surpassing her own expectations.

“I think ultimately, what I imagined was that I was going to be there for three years, but my career just kept happening,” Young said.

When they inevitably had a difference in opinion, Young had to gather data and present it to explain her reasoning. After a lengthy discussion, they reached a compromise. Young said that in conversations with Jackie, both parties feel as if they won.

“I knew [Jackie] was well-established in Plattsburgh, so if I was going to make a name for myself, I had to go somewhere else to do that. For me, I knew that there was that moment when I wanted what she had, but I didn’t want to outshine her because I didn’t think I could do that,” Young said. “I knew I had to go out and do it by myself, but that’s because I had so many years of having her with me that I felt confident enough to do that.”

Vogl’s staff appreciates the organization and structure she brings to the office. The groundwork that Vogl has laid is likely to ensure efficiency in GEO’s work after she retires. Although the GEO staff will miss Vogl, she has prepared them for a new director’s arrival.

“I’m just a hopeful and optimistic person. So will I get a Jackie? Probably not, but I’m grateful for all she’s taught us, I’m grateful for her legacy and I know that whoever inherits this office is going to inherit a team that’s been so well prepared because of Jackie’s leadership,” Suriel said. “Whoever gets us is lucky because they’re going to have so much to look forward to in what she’s left behind.”

Layhee likes to think other departments at the college look up to Vogl’s leadership model. Whenever Friedrich interviewed for other institutions’ admissions offices as a graduate student, she found out they knew Vogl and wanted to “learn Jackie’s secrets.”

After orientation, GEO has “disorientation,” where the team unwinds with drinks. They do dinners together and celebrate each other’s birthdays. Every first Friday of the month, GEO staff members meet for coffee. Young recalls spending “many a Friday or Saturday night enjoying wine and conversation.” 

Vogl coaches a women’s running group called Sole Sisters with eight to 10 members now training for a half-marathon, which St. Onge is part of. In winter of last year, GEO started Soup Club, where staff members take turns providing the team with soup, also extending the offer to domestic admissions. This year, with the arrival of warm weather, Soup Club transitioned into Salad Society. 

“We laugh hard, we eat a lot and we love coffee,” St. Onge said. “It’s the best office to work for on campus.”

Layhee feels there is a healthy relationship between the GEO staff members, and many current and former staff members feel “blessed” and “lucky” to have known and worked with Jackie. Carolina De la Rosa Bustamante, the director of the Oldenborg Center for Modern Languages and International Relations at Pomona College in California, feels “so lucky” to have worked for GEO as her first job after graduate school. Friedrich feels “blessed” to have experienced a few “satisfactory” offices for international education before arriving at GEO and having the “best boss you’ll ever have.”

Photos provided

Vogl takes care of her staff. Greenhaw has never had a boss who would tell her to get up and stretch. Vogl’s staff successfully avoids burnout — none of the GEO staff members ever mention the phenomenon. Friedrich said longevity is important in supporting international students, and St. Onge said the consistency of the staff is what allowed the office to “build relationships around the world.”

“GEO’s a fantastic place to work, really. It always has been and I think it always will be,” St. Onge said. “Jackie’s been a big part of that, and it’s now the challenge passed to all of us to maintain that amazing work environment with a new leader, or without Jackie, whichever way you want to put that.”

Family connects GEO staff. St. Onge met Vogl in 2006, and their children have grown up together. Greenhaw, who has known Vogl since 2010, talks with her about the struggles of raising two teenage daughters. When Friedrich became a parent, Vogl taught her how to do “high-quality work” while being a “high-quality parent.” Vogl knew Suriel’s family are Yankees fans and gifted them an old baseball cap with the team’s logo she had. Many refer to GEO as a “family,” and nobody sees their relationship with Jackie ending when she retires.

Jackie’s own family — her husband, Steve, and Aidan and Sean, two of their three sons — are involved with GEO’s activities and the international student community. Most recently, they donated a 25-pound bag of rice for students to make into stress balls or cook for iftar, dinner during Ramadan. Steve, who Jackie joked is a “GEO staff member by marriage,” and Aidan have driven orientation vans. The family has hosted international students at their home and baked brownies and muffins for them. 

Recognizing her contributions to the campus, Steve said he wants to start a scholarship in Jackie’s name.

While Jackie would love to continue to be involved, like driving the orientation van, showing students around the city and hosting them for dinner at her house, she struggles with the boundary she must maintain with the new GEO director.

“It’s very hard for me to step away, and yet I don’t want to be intrusive,” Vogl said. “I want to still do some of the things that I find fun.”

Vogl’s retirement evokes bittersweet feelings. Those who know her agree it is well-deserved, but will miss her deeply.

“When she leaves campus, she could just leave quietly, but I feel like there will be a big gap in GEO,” St. Onge said.

Vogl’s last day in the office is May 26. She will have packed up her collection of gifts from the students she’s made an impact on, some of whom graduated 20 years ago, and stowed away her collection of hats from all around the world. 

Jackie met Steve while volunteering for Vermont Public Radio in 1994, and they went biking for their first few dates. Almost 30 years later, they continue volunteering and biking. After retiring, Vogl hopes she can travel at a “leisurely pace,” either returning to her favorite international destinations or exploring more of the United States, by visiting her extensive “family of friends” — connections she made through her work. 

“There are things that bring tears to my eyes, and one of those things is missing students and missing my staff,” Vogl said. “[The office will] definitely have a different flavor with a different director, and that’s how it should be. I just hope they love it as much as I do.”

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