Brenda Hawkins is the international immigration and advising coordinator at Pittsburg State University and has been part of the PSU family for 14 years.
Hawkins grew up in Southern Illinois, and first pursued a career as an elementary school teacher. She also worked for a non-governmental organization for many years, taking groups of students abroad. Hawkins eventually decided that she would take high-school and college students abroad to various countries around the world. Struck with the students’ excitement and the hospitality she was welcomed with in the Dominican Republic, she knew that she was inspired to pursue a path with international students full time. She began at PSU 14 years ago in a different role under International Programs and Services, but then pursued her masters here at Pittsburg State in human resource development just a couple of years ago.
“The thing about travelling overseas is the amazing hospitality that is extended on almost any continent that we went to.” Hawkins said. “People welcomed us and took care of our needs. They wanted us to have a good experience, and they made sure we were comfortable. I remembered that wonderful hospitality, and when I came here, I felt like this could be a piece of a way we could return it. When we have all the international students coming here, it’s a great opportunity to welcome them like I had been welcomed overseas.”
As immigration and advising coordinator, Hawkins handles a large portion of the technicalities of an international student’s time here regarding their immigration. One of her main responsibilities is to make sure that those students are staying in legal immigration status as well as handling the orientation that they experience when they first come to PSU.
“Some of my favorite times are at graduation.” Hawkins said, “At the end of their semester and their time here, when I see that they have not only done well and succeeded in their academics, and in opportunities, and that they have just become a great student that’s ready to get out there and change the world with their job. I see that they’ve grown culturally and have really adapted and really embraced the culture here, and how they use that to make them a better person and a better employee for the future.
For any student interested in helping get the international students acclimated to Pittsburg, or to just get involved with the international students, a program called Pitt Pals was started to help international students make friends by pairing one international student with one American student, and get used to daily life in a place they have never been before. Many times, these pairings turn into lifelong friendships. Students can also get involved in the International Student Association, which helps students share their culture with others as well as adapt to American culture too. ISA will also be holding an International Food and Culture Fair at the Bicknell Center on March 5, 2022, which will give students the opportunity to share their music, dance, food, and more with other students and the community.
“My experience abroad opened my eyes to the great things about different cultures and as people around the world we all have a lot of similar things, we have unique things about our culture that makes life just very interesting, and makes you want to learn more,” Hawkins said. “Being in this particular role makes me want to just be able to give back more to the students that come here so far away from home and their families.”
Brenda Hawkins can be contacted for more information regarding Pitt Pals or the International Student Association at firstname.lastname@example.org, or in the International Programs and Services office of 118 Whitesitt Hall.