Fisher students in Portugal

As countries around the world reacted in real-time to the rapid spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, staff and faculty members working with Fisher’s Office of Global Business (OGB) quickly found themselves leading responses that would directly impact the safety and educational well-being of dozens of students.

To Europe and back

Keira Williams knew time wasn’t on her side when the U.S. government suddenly announced plans to close its borders to air traffic from Europe in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

As a program manager in OGB and the only staff member on the ground in Lisbon, Portugal, Williams’ focus immediately turned to the task of getting 20 graduate students back to Columbus as quickly and as safely as possible.

Keira Williams

“I’ve been a resident director for education abroad programming for five years, and in that time, I have had many university-led training and have handled my share of incidents abroad,” she said. “When the unexpected happens, you know what resources you have at your disposal and feel a sense of calm about that. The real challenge is communicating next steps to our students in a way that keeps them calm and confident in our plans.”

Working throughout the night and with assistance from Dru Simmons, international risk manager, and Tim Hornsby, program manager, at Ohio State’s Office of International Affairs, Williams successfully re-booked students on return flights to the U.S.

Less than 24 hours after Williams first received word about the travel restrictions, every participant in the Global Business Expedition arrived home in the U.S. and began a 14-day self-quarantine.

“From a programmatic standpoint, I wanted to make sure they felt like they achieved the professional, academic and global competency goals they had set for themselves,” Williams said. “On a more personal note, I wanted the students to feel like we were communicating to them in a way that made them feel safe. Our students had known from day one that we were taking things day by day, and we were doing our best to communicate our thoughts and changing plans. If students had uncertainty or fear, I wanted them to feel like it was something they could bring to us.”

Despite confusion and ambiguity surrounding President Trump’s announcement, Williams’ quick action prioritized the safety and well-being of every student, said Joyce Steffan, senior director of the Office of Global Business.

“We didn’t know at the time that U.S. citizens were still able to travel, but there were two international students in the group who would have been stranded in Europe and unable to return if it weren’t for Keira’s work,” Steffan said. “She did an amazing job of remaining calm and poised while going above and beyond for our students in a very stressful situation.”

Study abroad comes home

Kozue Isozaki’s work as assistant director for student exchange in OGB began in earnest once it became clear that the 21 Fisher students who were studying at institutions throughout Europe would be returning home for the remainder of the semester.

Along with directing the administrative tasks associated with bringing the students home, Isozaki has continued to serve as a key point of contact for the students as their study abroad experiences have been suddenly shifted online. This means proposing, creating and implementing new program policy and procedures around the COVID-19 impacts in collaboration with the exchange partners/college/university, communicating with partners on institutional updates and new academic procedures related to the transition to online learning, advising students on COVID-19-related questions and additional record-keeping and reporting.

Kozue Isozaki

Like Williams, Isozaki leaned heavily on the office’s foreign exchange partners, including Ohio State’s Risk Management team, the Office of International Affairs, International Student Services and Fisher’s undergraduate academic advisors.

“My goal throughout this entire situation has been to keep students safe and healthy, to continue to communicate to students (even if we don’t have answers right away) and to try to make sure we are sharing accurate information” she said. “I want to be as honest and consistent as possible and to be an advocate as much as I am able to.”

Isozaki’s hard work has also helped support and advise a number of students who are studying at Ohio State from exchange partners abroad.

“When a student has to return from a semester abroad that they have dreamed about for years, Kozue’s hard work and dedication has helped soften their disappointment and made their transition back to Ohio State just a little easier,” Steffan said.

Flexibility in Panama

Flexibility amid changing circumstances was key for the seven students and two faculty members who spent their spring break in Panama as part of a Global Business Expedition. Although the group was able to complete the global experience, news of the pandemic forced many in-person company visits to be cancelled.

Faculty members Steve DeNunzio and Terry Esper quickly adapted and arranged for virtual company visits with several of the country's multinational companies, including DHL. Additional gaps in the group’s itinerary were filled with interactions with other Panama-based companies.

The work continues

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact upcoming global experiences, and OGB staffers are busy adjusting summer global internships and global projects. Program Manager Dominic DiCamillo has been working to help as many of the 252 students whose summer internship plans were cancelled in March.

In keeping with the college’s commitment to global experiences, DiCamillo has worked diligently with corporate partners to transform existing global internship and project offerings from in-country experiences to virtual ones.

Likewise, the curriculum for the 20 Ohio State students currently participating in the Ohio Export Internship Program has been adapted to address the current circumstances. Crisis management and flexibility are new aspects of the program that highlight the challenges facing many small businesses in Ohio as they struggle to survive, let alone expand their export efforts.

I wanted the students to feel like we were communicating to them in a way that made them feel safe.

Keira WilliamsProgram Manager, Office of Global Business