She calls it "one of the best programs Mason can offer." Meggan Ford, newly-promoted director for academic services in George Mason University's School of Management, recently returned from a trip to Germany as the first Global Professional Staff Exchange award winner. The award is sponsored by the Office of Global and International Strategies.
Ford visited Hohenheim University in Stuttgart for a week in November 2013. She was the only representative from an American institution among the 50 participants in the international exchange program. The participants shared ideas about new research, courses, study abroad programs and global initiative curriculums.
"This new knowledge in and of itself made the trip more than worth it," Ford says. "I also have a new group of professionals abroad whom I now consider friends, and I hope to go back and visit someday."
Among her assignments: participating in an international staff week for European colleges and universities.
"I was not only able to learn much about the German higher education system," Ford says, "but also a great deal regarding how all European universities operate exchange programs both within Europe and abroad with the United States."
Ford sat in on several conversations about accrediting boards for European colleges and universities with representatives of the European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, also known as ERASMUS, a European Union student exchange program created in 1987.
"Overall, it was an incredibly valuable learning experience and a wonderful opportunity to share information and ideas with colleagues abroad regarding global initiatives," she says.
Ford says the experience was challenging and surpassed her expectations.
"The exchange itself was a lot of work and required a lot of time to meet with affiliates and colleagues at the university as well as faculty and students. I was impressed with the hospitality of Hohenheim and I had no idea I would be in communication with so many other European universities, which was certainly an added bonus to the trip."
Rita Rowand, global relations specialist in the Office of Global and International Strategies, created the exchange to give George Mason staff members a unique professional development and international experience.
Rowand says Ford was selected based on suitability, her written project statement and the impact her participation would have on her department, her colleagues and Mason. "Meggan exemplifies the ideal candidate for the Global Staff Exchange Program. She is an enthusiastic ambassador for Mason ... eager to learn new things, share experiences and promote international education opportunities."
Ford's initial reaction to her selection? Shock and gratitude. "At first when Rita and everyone came into my office I thought I had done something wrong on paperwork and thought 'Oh no!' When she told me I was selected, it was like winning the lottery. I couldn't believe it and was so incredibly excited about the opportunity and the fact that my application had been selected."
Originally from Virginia, Ford earned a bachelor of arts degree from Christopher Newport University and a master of science in education from Old Dominion University. She's working on a PhD in education at Mason, with a concentration on higher education. Ford previously worked at Syracuse University.
She has advice for current students. "If they have a desire to go abroad, do it! The knowledge learned from simply being immersed in a culture completely different to your own is invaluable and one that I believe is necessary for any student desiring to be an effective business leader."
Ford extended her trip to Dec. 1 to do some traveling. In addition to Stuttgart, she visited Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Munich and some smaller Bavarian villages, where she toured a fabled castle. She describes Germany as "an absolutely amazing place to stay" and the German people as "incredibly welcoming." Ford also visited Prague in the Czech Republic.
In 2013, Mason hosted a staff member from Hohenheim University as part of the same exchange program, and hopes to welcome more in the future. By July, Rowand says, the Office of Global and International Strategies, with the help of the Staff Senate's Global Committee, plans to choose one, and possibly two, Mason employees to send overseas. More information is available at masonglobal.gmu.edu/opportunities/global-professional-staff-exchange-program/.
"This program is truly a way to offer staff members a chance to take part in a global experience, which benefits them personally, their department and Mason at large," Rowand says. "At the same time, we are able to advance new and existing international partnerships through this new initiative by exploring further ways to work together."