Posted 11:17 a.m. Wednesday, May 5, 2021

UWL Senior Vanessa Mbuyi Kaja raises the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the first time on campus during a December 2020 ceremony. The flag’s addition to the group of international flags on Badger Street was among the many accomplishments for the International Education & Engagement Office, which has received the state’s 2021 Hong Rost Memorial Leadership Award for Innovation in International Education Student Services.

UWL International Education & Engagement Office earns top honor

Those who work with international students at UW-La Crosse have been recognized statewide for their work in the past academic year. And that award has a special meaning on campus.

The Wisconsin Association of International Educators has awarded the UWL International Education & Engagement (IEE) Office the 2021 Hong Rost Memorial Leadership Award for Innovation in International Education Student Services. The annual award recognizes an outstanding professional or group in Wisconsin who embodies the dedication and passion of Hong Rost.

Rost came to La Crosse from China in 1991, graduating from UWL with a master’s in 1994. She worked on campus as assistant director of International Education from 1995-2010, then she became the director of international Education at UW-Stout. She was killed in a car accident in 2014.

Rost was known as an energetic and innovative leader who dedicated her life to promoting international education and sharing that enthusiasm with her students, colleagues and peers. Heavily involved in state and national-international student organizations, Rost was energized by change and continuously asked her staff to think about ways to improve. No UWL staff or groups had received the award since it was established in 2015.

Karolyn Bald, interim director of UWL IEE, says the honor was welcome news following a tumultuous year that saw her take over the reins at the beginning of the year. With a pandemic and declining international numbers due to changes in U.S. policies, staff was reduced and they developed a stronger recruiting partnership with international admissions counselors.

Despite all the changes, Bald says her staff continued to deeply care about students and global experiences. She says the office had to quickly shift to expand global learning despite an inability to travel due to COVID.

“Having known Hong and the tremendous energy she exuded, she would have been very proud of your commitment, drive and perseverance this year,” Bald told her staff. “Despite a challenging year, you all pulled together and re-imagined international education programs, student support and recruitment.”

 Among the highlights recognized in the award nomination were:

  • a partnership with Academic Programs International to offer the first Virtual Global Community Engagement Lab, which grew to 41 students from nine universities and 15 different countries working together in an interdisciplinary program that impacted local communities worldwide.
  • new welcoming efforts on campus, providing small care packages and handwritten notes of support to all international students.
  • fulfilling a Democratic Republic of the Congo student’s dream to see the flag of her home country fly over campus. In a December unveiling ceremony, an alumnus and his family were invited to also witness the flag’s first flight in the campus’ new area for international flags. See:

Bald says IEE and the international admissions staff united to achieve a goal, support one another and most importantly inspire change in a new, virtual environment.

“Having known Hong Rost many years ago, I know she would be very proud of the resiliency and energy of the office in which she helped to create and grow,” says Bald.

See more information about the Hong Rost Memorial Leadership Award for Innovation in International Education Student Services at: