"Meet the AACRAO Staff" is an occasional Connect feature. It's one way for members to get to know some of the folks hard at work in the AACRAO office. Another way? Come see us in D.C. -- we'll roll out the welcome mat for you!
This issue, accidental parachuter and international education services director Dale Gough. A great storyteller with a dry sense of humor, Dale definitely has a way with words.
What is your role at AACRAO, and when did you start?
I am the Director of International Education Services (IES), and I have been at AACRAO since 1991.
What does IES do?
Briefly put, IES evaluates foreign credentials for college and university admissions, professional licensure, and employment, among other things. IES also conducts training for international credential evaluation and transfer credit practices in the Summer and Winter Institutes, by doing in depth country studies in conjunction with the Electronic Database for Global Education (EDGE). I and other senior staff do on-site consultations when it is more cost-effective for the institution than sending select staff to the institutes. This includes making suggestions on how to improve the efficiency of international admission processes and conducting in-depth training for the staff.
In your 23 years (give or take) working in this capacity, can you tell us about some of the more interesting events or challenges that have surfaced?
This is extreme, to say the least, but my work with Dickinson State College a couple of years ago comes to mind. I ended up doing a general session about it at the 2013 Annual Meeting in San Francisco with some of DSU staff who were righting the ship over there.
For context, Dickinson State was experiencing a drop in enrollment. Dickinson had international students, but enrollment there was also relatively low – maybe 125 students, or roughly 5%. So the school president decided to ramp up international recruitment to boost revenue, which, in and of itself, is not bad. But they developed these “Special Programs” for international students, most of whom were Chinese, where they could take classes towards a degree for a specified amount of time, then head back to China and get a degree from both institutions. As an international credential evaluator, this makes me cringe – it is not good practice. To make matters worse, they engaged commission-based agents, who were paid by the number of students they brought in. It turns out Dickinson was also paying specific schools in China to entice students into the program.
As things veered out of control, the president left and Dr. D.C. Coston came in and immediately ordered an audit of operations, and all this information came out. He brought in Lisa Johnson to help in this process. I give them both a lot of credit for fixing this situation rather than letting the university and its reputation fold. Anyhow, I knew there was trouble in River City, and when Lisa did contact me, I remember saying “I was wondering when you were going to call.” Wading through the mess that was left to us, and then finding solutions to help bring the school and its reputation back to life was something I won’t soon forget.
Aside from that specific event, what issues do you see day-to-day in your job? What do you find interesting?
I would say the most common one is that, from a credential evaluation perspective, you must treat international students and American students differently. This sounds obvious, but many professionals are not aware of the educations systems in place abroad; many European countries have exit examinations which are basically the end all, be all for students. Every grade leading up to that point is meaningless in comparison – they could have all satisfactory grades, but if they do poorly on the exit examination their chances for admission should drop accordingly.
As for something interesting and related, some countries are starting to adopt the American community/associate college model. Leaders there are realizing that there are some smart young people who may have done poorly on those exit examinations. By adopting similar models to our own, those students will have the opportunity to get into higher tier universities and different career tracks.
Can you tell me something interesting about yourself, outside of work?
I do nothing outside of work… But I can tell you something interesting about how I got started in this business. I was in the first graduating class at University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC). Right after I finished, I got a letter from Nixon – “Greetings, You will be drafted.” This was the spring of 1970.
I had this premonition of dying in a jungle, so I went to the local Army Recruiter and tried to work something out. He told me I might qualify for Military Intelligence, to which I said great – I took the test they had, was accepted, and did my basic. I learned how defend locks against picking, which is to say, I learned to pick locks, I learned to find valuable information from photographs, and other useful skills for clandestine work. I shipped to Panama, where I was first assigned to the 8th special forces group.
There wasn’t much to do there, so we often got odd jobs. One day, I was sent to the air strip. Military intelligence doesn’t wear any insignia, just a small insignia pin, so it wasn’t immediately clear what rank I was. We started getting assigned, and an officer pointed to me and said, “get on the plane.” It was one of those big cargo planes, and as I got on someone asked me, “where’s your parachute?” I told him I didn’t have one, so he handed me one, but I of course had no idea how to put it on properly, so he helped me.
I take off, sitting against the bulkhead at the front of the plane. After a while a yellow light comes on. The cargo door starts to open and all the guys sitting there jumped to attention. I remained sitting. Then a green light comes on and they all start jumping out. A slow realization dawned on me, but I refused to acknowledge it. The officer came up to me and said, “What’s the matter? Time to go!” Again, military intelligence doesn’t have insignia, and I was with a Special Forces detachment, so I guess they assumed I was also Special Forces, and therefore had parachute training. I stood up and tried to explain this. “If you think that I am going to jump out of that door” I said, as I pointed to the gaping maw at the back of the plane, “then you-” And then I was falling. When I turned to point, he simply kicked me out of the plane, and the rest of my sentence was lost in a gasp.
What I didn’t know was that he had hooked my parachute up to the static line during our brief encounter, so the parachute deployed without my having to pull at anything. By the time I landed, my legs were jelly, and I fell in a crumpled mess, uninjured.
As soon as I was discharged, I went back to the Registrar at UMBC and told him I didn’t want to be kicked out of planes anymore, and that I needed a job teaching. Maryland has some required certifications that would have made it difficult to get a job quickly, but he did mention a job that involved evaluating records for international students seeking graduate admission. So I applied, despite my apparent lack of qualifications, and got the job.
A few years later, I ended up handling undergraduate admissions as well. All told, I was there for 18 years before joining AACRAO in 1991. So now we have come full circle.