Pioneer Spotlight: Donna Anderson

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Pioneer Spotlight
Donna Anderson
May 26, 2017

Donna Anderson, director of International Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, has had an interest in the field since she was young. As a child, Anderson’s parents hosted international students from Germany and France in their home, which sparked the passion she has today. In middle school, Anderson started learning German, and in college, she decided to major in German in addition to sociology. In between her freshman and sophomore years, Anderson participated in a short-term summer program to Germany and Austria, led by her German professor. As a result, she returned to Germany as an exchange student during her junior year. Anderson has worked at the university since 2003. She is instrumental in helping UW-Platteville internationalize by providing opportunities for students, faculty and staff to engage with the university’s international students, partners and programs as well as helping international students from 30 different countries develop and succeed at UW-Platteville.

How do international study experiences strengthen academic learning, promote intercultural understanding and heighten students' global perspective and personal growth? 

Education abroad experiences can have a tremendous impact on a student’s development. Assessment data at UW-Platteville shows that students who participate in this high impact practice experience gains in feeling comfortable interacting with people from different cultures; being open and adaptable to new experiences; understanding the impact a global experience can have on their future careers; having knowledge of global issues, trends and news; comparing and contrasting characteristics of their own culture and other cultures; communicating ideas effectively while interacting with others; recognizing different cultural perspectives to think critically and solve problems; being aware of who they are as a person (beliefs, values, meaning); valuing relationships with those from different cultures; and understanding the significance of volunteering and giving back to society.

The university has recently formed new partnerships with several institutions in China. Can you explain why these strategic international partnerships are so important and why expanding our partnerships in China will help prepare students for their future careers and lives?

Strategic international partnerships have become a key element of higher education today. Active engagement with the rest of the world is necessary to prepare our students for the larger world in which they will live and work. Expanding our institutional partnerships in China will help us meet this need. The increase in collaborations with institutions in China comes partly as a result of the Chinese government’s recent emphasis on the internationalization of its higher education institutions. The key to international institutional partnerships is finding ways to make them mutually beneficial to both institutions. Without mutual benefit, the partnership is usually not sustainable.

In your position, you often travel to other countries to recruit international students. Can you list some of the countries you have visited and explain what is most challenging and rewarding about this part of your job? 

Most recently, I have traveled to Vietnam, Nepal, Nigeria and China to recruit international students and build institutional partnerships. The flights to Asia are very long, usually 13-15 hours, and total travel time one-way can exceed 24 hours. It can be very grueling, combined with the jetlag. The work days can be long, sometimes starting early in the morning with high school visits followed by a recruitment fair in the afternoon and a business dinner in the evening or flight to the next city. That being said, it is rewarding work meeting students, parents and partners in their home country and getting to see the culture through their eyes. I am constantly learning about different cultures – what they value, how they do business, why they do things the way they do. I love to learn, so this is a perfect environment for me.

Outside of your career, what are you most passionate about? 

I am currently a third-year doctoral student in the Higher Education Leadership Ph.D. program at Colorado State University-Fort Collins. I am focused on finishing my coursework this month and writing my preliminary exams this summer. My dissertation research topic is International Student Identity Development, and I plan to conduct a qualitative study looking at how international students at UW-Platteville make meaning of their identity. To unwind, I love doing puzzles (Sudoku, crosswords, KenKen) and fitness activities like Aundra Shields’ kickboxing class in the Pioneer Activity Center and running. My husband, Rick, and I vacation most summers in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota or Quetico Provincial Park in Canada. It’s not a real vacation unless you are without cellular service!

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

That it could be an equitable place with equitably shared resources. That it could be socially, economically and environmentally just. A world where everyone could see blue skies and drink clean water. A place where all people could be valued regardless of their identities. Is that asking too much?

Interview conducted by Laurie A. Hamer, UW-Platteville College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email


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