Liane Constantine working collaboratively to strengthen UMSL’s international mission

by | May 18, 2020

UMSL Global's new interim executive director has spent her career building global partnerships and knows firsthand the impact being abroad can have on students.
Liane Constantine

Liane Constantine is working to show international students all that UMSL has to offer in her new role as UMSL Global’s interim executive director. She has spent her career building global partnerships and knows firsthand the impact being abroad can have on students. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Liane Constantine admits she didn’t know much about St. Louis when she moved here seven years ago with her husband and young son.

But Constantine – who grew up in Germany and has lived all over the globe, including a three-year stint in Japan before relocating to the United States – quickly developed an affinity for the city’s friendly people, rich cultural institutions and green open spaces.

“It didn’t take us long to realize what a hidden gem St. Louis would be for us with education everywhere from kindergarten to college amid lush, green neighborhoods and free of the traffic jams notorious in many larger cities,” Constantine said of her and her husband, originally from Washington, D.C. “I often tell newcomers to St. Louis that it’s pretty simple: At first no one wants to come here, and then they realize that they don’t want to leave.”

The fondness she’s developed for the University of Missouri–St. Louis, even before she began working at the university in 2016, is just as strong.

“I was trying to understand how universities in the region were structured regarding their international engagement because I was focused on finding a landing spot close to where I had left off with my previous work in Asia and Europe,” she said. “UMSL stood out to me because of its unique history and its success in campus internationalization.”

Besides the classic scope of international admissions, student services and study abroad opportunities, she was drawn to UMSL Global’s portfolio, which now includes five internationally focused endowed professorships that provide international programming to on- and off-campus communities in a fashion that no other university in St. Louis offers. It is also a founding partner of Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait and Modern College of Business and Science in Oman.

“I knew I wanted to be a part of this program,” Constantine said. “I was so fortunate to get my chance.”

A major part of her new job as interim executive director of UMSL Global is to share all the city and the university have to offer for international students whose instincts might have had them looking elsewhere.

“I see a bigger challenge for Midwestern universities to be a destination for students than the more known, cosmopolitan areas on the East or West Coast of the United States just because of location,” Constantine said. “If students want to go to the United States, they usually want to be in California or they want to be on the East Coast or they want to go to those big name universities.

“But St. Louis is beautiful, and I think that UMSL has a really strong portfolio of very good programs that they might not find in their home countries.”

She pointed specifically to the International MBA program and degrees focused on cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, supply chain management and computer science as being particularly helpful for attracting international students. But she’s seen growing interest in forming partnerships around liberal arts or education.

“I would like to make sure we identify all of UMSL’s potential for fruitful international collaboration and provide structured support to those who have international ambitions and needs,” Constantine said.

“Internationalization is very much like academic research: Teamwork and systematic hard work are the keys to success.”

A course in all UMSL has to offer

Constantine learned all about UMSL’s program offerings and the other ins and outs of the university in her previous roles as international liaison and assistant director overseeing partnerships and global engagement. Initially, she worked exclusively with UMSL’s partner institutions: GUST in Kuwait and MCBS in Oman.

“Through that role, you have a lot of intersections with our campus community,” she said. “There is the academic part with academic program building, accreditation questions and general institution building, but then we have another part of the partnership that includes GUST’s summer scholarship program, which brings GUST students to UMSL’s classrooms and a fellowship program that connects GUST’s faculty to UMSL peers.

“In addition, there are a lot of specific questions we answer, such as: How does the university senate work? How does your promotion policy work? How do you organize your graduation? That helped me see the whole bandwidth of the institution when I started. I found myself knocking on many UMSL doors and making valuable professional and personal connections.”

As an International Liaison, and more recently in her role overseeing international partnerships and global engagement, Constantine quickly determined opportunities UMSL might have to distinguish itself from other institutions.

“Where UMSL sticks out is the quality of how we take care of our international students,” Constantine said. “Many bigger universities with larger international student populations don’t have the same focus on student support. Rather, students are expected to figure out on their own how to blend in from Day One. Our International Students and Scholar Services team provides the highest standards of care for our international campus population.”

The current pandemic has provided ample opportunity to demonstrate that. UMSL made sure to allow international students to remain in university housing and continues to provide them with services and the support needed in these difficult times.

Self-discovery far away from home

Constantine knows how important that support can be from her own life-changing experience of living and studying abroad.

She had grown up in a rural town of about 2,000 people in what was then East Germany. She described the community as very safe, protected and warm. But that didn’t stop Constantine from realizing by middle school that she wanted to explore the world beyond that insulated environment.

“Luckily, the Berlin Wall came down in time for me,” she said. “Doors opened for free, self-determined higher education and on top of all that I was blessed with a set of parents who supported their kids’ education. I am forever grateful.”

Constantine loved languages, and they came easily to her, so she decided to major in linguistics – German, American and comparative. She studied and became fluent in English, Russian and Swedish while learning the mechanics of Latin, Sanskrit and Ancient Greek at Rostock University, located in the northern coastal city of the same name. She also minored in American literature.

As a young student, she set off even farther, at the time becoming the only undergraduate from the Western world studying at the University of Pune, India. She recalls the homesickness she felt during those first few weeks in a strange land.

“I learned early on what it means to stick out, to have all your values, everything that you have known until the day of your arrival at your destination, put up in a box,” Constantine said. “Everything you do is different.”

But she remembers even more everything she gained by sticking it out with the support of faculty members and a host family, with whom she remains well-connected.

“Luckily, I have always found wonderful people around me,” Constantine said. “It came with a lot of challenges, but from that experience from that full year that I spent there, I was a different person after I returned to Germany.

“It was a boost to my self confidence. It was a boost to my language abilities. It was a boost to my view of the world.”

She hopes UMSL students today use of the study abroad opportunities available to them all around the globe.

Creating and strengthening global networks

After completing her master’s degree at Rostock and a teaching certificate in German as a second language at Ernst-Moritz-Arndt University in Greifswald, she landed a position as a visiting lecturer with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) – the world’s support organization for international academic cooperation.

The DAAD took her to Gwangju, South Korea, where she joined the German Department of Chonnam National University. There she taught linguistics and German culture while promoting German study and research opportunities within the region.

“I learned about my passion of building networks, working with people, working hands on in international affairs,” said Constantine, who more recently helped establish an UMSL partnership with Chonnam National University that continues to grow.

Constantine ended up spending eight years on and off in South Korea, immersing herself in the culture while never losing touch with Germany. She moved to Seoul and led the DAAD’s Information Center and its team that was tasked with promoting Germany as a place to study while serving the entire country with systematic information.

She was later promoted to oversee Germany’s research marketing campaign to South Korea for the German federal government and held the position of First Secretary for Scientific Affairs at the German embassy in Seoul. Besides government entities, her main clientele were numerous sci-tech innovation clusters in Germany and Korea, covering everything from nanotechnology to oceanic research.

After returning to Germany, she worked as a consultant for the German government and for the same innovation clusters.

“Establishing purposeful networks for and with great people has been my biggest passion and joy,” Constantine said.

That’s now her focus at UMSL Global as she works to expand its reach.

“We’re a key support unit that interfaces with almost everyone on campus,” she said. “We are all looking forward to establishing even closer collaborations. Good relationships thrive with frequent interaction, information exchange and structured feedback.”

She’s proud of the work UMSL has done to build its international recruiting operations, which was prepared to see a 27 percent increase in international admissions before the pandemic hit.

Constantine is hopeful that will be a temporary setback. She remains committed to fostering internationalization for the benefit of both American and overseas students.

“I think the world is a better place when we have true international programming,” Constantine said. “No one country has it all, and strategic collaborations are key for all of our success.”

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