ISA at 25 Interviews: Summer Resident Director to Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs

Each week we will be featuring interviews with ISA staff members as part of our 25th Anniversary. This week we’re talking to Rafael Hoyle, Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, who is based out of the ISA Austin Office. Rafael has been with ISA since 1995 (full-time since 1997).

Tell us a little bit more about your background, and how you came to work at ISA.

In the mid-nineties I was teaching Spanish at the University of Texas while completing my doctoral coursework. Several colleagues of mine at the Department of Spanish had worked with ISA and introduced me to [President/CEO] Gustavo Artaza. Shortly thereafter I accepted a position with ISA as a summer director and teacher of Spanish in Guanajuato. When I accepted the job I didn’t intend for it to become permanent. Nonetheless, one successful summer led to another and I ended up taking a full-time position with ISA in July of 1997, working at our Austin headquarters as Director of University Relations. I believe we had eight people working in Austin at that time. It was a good group. Six of us are still here after nearly 15 years!

Before becoming a member of Executive Management, you were a Resident Director. How does this experience help you at ISA?

I could say so much about this. In a nutshell, I feel my experiences during those three summers in Guanajuato gave me a good understanding of the demanding nature of the Resident Director position. As a result of my work there, I feel I am better able to see the study abroad experience from a resident director’s perspective, to connect with our staff abroad, to help them solve problems, and to develop policies, protocols and programs that our directors support and believe in. Our incredible resident directors represent one of the main pillars of ISA’s quality programming, and it makes me proud to know that I came into my career in international education through that particular path of work.

Tell us a little more about your department, Academic Affairs.

Academic Affairs is relatively new as an official department at ISA, and the words “Academic Affairs” didn’t appear in my title until a few years ago. However, from the day I began working at ISA, I’ve always devoted a great deal of my time and attention to academics. Today, I work with an incredible team of six here in Austin that devotes full time attention to the complex array of affairs we define as “academic”. I must also mention, however, that our small department relies heavily on the time and energy that dozens of other colleagues at ISA devote to academic matters. In fact, some of these people focus primarily on academics in their day to day job, but are not in our department.. Take for example, Pedro Pérez Polo in Spain, who works as the Academic Coordinator for European Programs. His work is invaluable to what we do at Academic Affairs in Austin. We also work closely with people from just about every department here at the headquarters, including ISA site specialists, university relations representatives, and our colleagues in Research and Program Development. Our connection to so many other departments is not surprising, of course, considering that nearly everyone’s job at ISA requires some attention to academics. So, our long list of “go-to” people outside of our department are ones that I really consider to be part of the Academic Affairs team. We couldn’t do our work without them.

ISA has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 25 years. From your perspective as the Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, what are we doing right?

We’re continuously trying to understand and meet the needs of all the stakeholders in study abroad. Think of all the different people who typically have an interest in one student’s study abroad experience: the student’s study abroad office at their home institutions, the student’s parents, the student’s financial aid office, the student’s host institution etc. etc. However, our efforts to understand and meet the needs of all who have an interest in the student’s experience does not take away from our main focus, which is THE STUDENT.

Describe how the field of international education has changed since you joined ISA in the mid 1990s.

International Education has matured and developed significantly as a profession. As evidence of this process of maturation, I would point to the numerous professional standards and guidelines of good practice that have been written and published in the last 15 years. Another huge change has to do with the constant and massive use of technology by study abroad professionals and participants alike. When I started at ISA, we were still faxing memos to our offices abroad, and our system in Austin for informing U.S. staff of new policies was to tape a print-out on our bathroom door. (One bathroom for all of us!) And think about how the student experience has changed in the last 15 years with cell phones and e-mail and Facebook, which allow students to stay connected to their home culture and community during their time abroad. Students were still using paper letters and postcards extensively to communicate with their friends and family at home when I first started. I could go on and on with examples but I better stop because I’m starting to feel old.

What things do you like to do when you’re not working?

My wife and I are dedicated to our three boys right now. I spend most of my time outside of work trying to keep them on schedule and supporting them with their schools and extracurricular activities. It’s my second job but I love it. And now that my oldest boy is in high school, he’s more independent and I’ve loved watching him represent his school in football, basketball and baseball this year without having to coach him. All I have to do is grab my popcorn and sit and watch!

Finally, what do you like about working here at ISA?

I love being part of an organization that is constantly evolving and improving. ISA is so much better than it was when I started 15 years ago and I know it will be even better next year and the year after that!