Don Robertson Helps International Students Feel at Home in Minnesota

Published Tuesday, December 05, 2017
Don Robertson
Don Robertson

As the semester comes to a close, Southwest Minnesota State University students will be enjoying three-plus weeks of winter break. If home and family are far away, how do students spend that time? Dr. Don Robertson, Director of International Student Services, has been helping international students feel at home in Minnesota for over fifteen years.

Some international students travel, whether to their home countries, to visit relatives in the U.S., or to see new countries altogether. However, many stay in the Marshall area, where the campus and community offer a variety of winter activities.

“We work with several student support programs such as Bridges International and the Campus Religious Center to provide opportunities for fellowship during the winter break. Students can gather for meals or a day of sledding and other outdoor activities,” Robertson said.

Several international students work on campus during the break, and many welcome the opportunity to stay up late, play video games, and sleep in, Robertson added.

A 1984 alumnus, Robertson followed his SMSU Sociology degree with a master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Wisconsin-Stout and a Ph.D. in Sociology from South Dakota State University.

He worked briefly with a Native American health program in Alaska following his doctorate, but after his first child was born, he decided to return to Minnesota. Southwest had an opening for a guidance counselor, so he applied and in 1992 began the position in the Counseling and Testing area. Robertson became the Director of Cultural Diversity in 1994, a position he held until 2008 when he assumed his current position, Director of International Student Services.

SMSU’s International Student Services office provides ongoing individual support to international students in social and academic areas, along with coordinating a variety of cultural programs presented to the university and community.

“My role as director includes a lot of government paperwork,” Robertson said. “I help students get VISAs and arrange travel to campus, then help maintain their status and compliance with immigration and student exchange policies.”

“I admire international students’ courage, many don’t go home for years. It takes a remarkable effort from students and families,” he said.

The biggest change over the years has been the availability of the internet throughout the world. “People are much more connected than in the past, especially to their families at home,” Robertson said. Students also come to campus more prepared to experience another country.

Several students find SMSU through internet searches, but many hear about the University through personal connections with family and friends. “One comes here and has a good experience, then they tell their family and friends back home about it as well,” he said.

“My favorite part is by far the students,” Robertson said. “I really appreciate the opportunity to learn something new every day, and to assist when I’m able to do so. I’ve learned so much, from cultural traditions to spirituality to culinary arts. There are many differences, but a tremendous amount of similarities.”