Meet Jennifer Blair

From Iowa to Ireland to Ohio, this ISSS advisor has traveled the road less taken

Jennifer Blair joined Global Initiatives last October as an international student advisor. With a background in history and law, she brings a unique perspective to her role.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I grew up in Knoxville, Iowa, which is a small town in southern Iowa. My younger sister teaches biology at St. Ambrose University in eastern Iowa. My parents also live in eastern Iowa and spend the winters in Florida, so we always have a nice, easy winter vacation destination!

The cats share space in a Yahtzee box

Sugar and Daisy taking their rightful place at the table

I'm married and have three amazing step daughters. Two are in college and one is a junior in high school. I'm an unapologetic cat person and have two very spoiled American Shorthair sister kitties.

Did you study abroad in high school or college?

Yes! In high school I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil, the UK, and Japan. As an undergraduate, I spent a summer studying German in Munich. My earlier study abroad experiences definitely piqued my interest in a longer-term experience like I had in Ireland.

Where did you study for college and graduate school?

With Herkey at U. of Iowa (Swoop says hi!)

I graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in History. I always loved international travel and the idea of living abroad. After graduation, I received an Ambassadorial Scholarship from the Rotary Foundation to earn an M. Phil in International Peace Studies at Trinity College Dublin.

I loved my time abroad and decided to stay to attend law school in Ireland and eventually qualified as a Solicitor. Law school in Ireland follows the British system and is quite different from our JD programs: for three years, students alternate 6-month rotations of study and interning at a law firm. After completing the training, I was added to the Roll of Solictiors at the Law Society of Ireland, which is the qualification required for practicing law in Ireland.

Law Society graduation

London phone booth

Tell us about some of the places you have traveled. Do you have a favorite?

During my years in Ireland, it was pretty easy to travel to other parts of Europe, and I especially loved Assisi in Italy and Montserrat outside of Barcelona. In my time at St. Ambrose I was fortunate to travel to India and hope I have the opportunity to go back again. I've traveled to London a number of times and had the opprtunity to accompany a winter study abroad program there just before the pandemic. I think if I could retire anywhere (with an unlimited budget!) it would be somewhere walkable to Kensington Gardens.

Visiting the Howth Cliffs, Ireland, 2001

Hyderabad, India, 2012

Day trip to Bath with class, England, 2019

What are some of the highlights of your professional life?

After qualifying to practice law in Ireland, I worked as a solicitor in the Private Client department of a corporate law firm in Dublin. My work included advising clients on trusts, estate planning, tax planning, and non-profit law.

After 10 years abroad, I moved home to eastern Iowa in 2009, where my sister had recently taken a faculty position at St. Ambrose University. I initially worked as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the service learning office at St. Ambrose. I then stepped into the International Student Advisor role on campus.

I quickly realized that I'd found my professional home! St. Ambrose had a small international student population, and I was responsible for advising international students from their initial admission inquiries all the way to graduation. It was a remarkable opportunity to combine my interest in law with my love of international education, and I appreciated the opportunity to make an impact in students' lives.

After a few years at St. Ambrose, I moved to the University of Iowa, where I worked with a much larger international student population at the Tippie College of Business, creating programming and initiatives to support international students and connect the international and domestic student populations. Again, the students were a tremendous source of energy and inspiration.

What brought you to your new role at Miami?

Over the years at Iowa, my work evolved from direct work with international students to more academic advising for both international and domestic students. I was delighted to have the opportunity to return to work focused on international students on the ISSS team at Miami. It was also a chance to jump back into immigration regulation advising, which I had really enjoyed at St. Ambrose. Regulation advising is really a world unto itself, and I appreciate the chance to be challenged by my work and to gain knowledge that helps students navigate the complicated immigration system in the US.

Painting mugs at exchange student orientation, Jan. 2022

What are some of the things you like about working with international students at Miami?

In addition to international student advising, I oversee the admissions process for our exchange students and provide support to them while they are here. It's a relatively small number of students, and I enjoy the opportunity to get to know them and learn from their unique perspectives. I recently completed mid-semester check-ins with them and am so impressed with all they have done so far this semester - from joining Global Buddies and Global Neighbors programs to trying out an escape room in Cincinnati. A number of them have just returned from a spring break trip to New York City. Their enthusiasm is infectious!

Do you have any "fun facts" to share with us?

When I moved home to Iowa in 2009, I had a strong desire to reconnect with home. While living abroad, I found that I spent lots of time reflecting on my culture and thinking about what made me "me." In April 2009, I started at the Missouri River on the western side of Iowa and walked across the state in 28 days, averaging about 12 miles per day. I ended at the Mississippi River in Muscatine. I camped, stayed in strangers' homes, and met up with family along the way. Except for the perpetual blisters, it was a remarkable opportunity to live life at a slower pace, talk to people without any sense of urgency, and appreciate the understated beauty of the Midwest.

The road ahead, Central Iowa, 2009.

Pausing by a farm pond in western Iowa

With my great aunt and uncle in central Iowa

Visiting the "Bridges of Madison County" in Iowa