After her studies abroad junior year of college, Alisha Lombardi was motivated to pursue a career in international education. A pivotal summer in Costa Rica was just the beginning for Lombardi, who has recently begun her new position as Gonzaga Center for Global Engagement’s (CGE) director of study abroad.
“I journaled, I wrote a blog and just recorded all the experiences I was having,” Lombardi said. “It was Alisha on her own doing what she loved without the pressures of my family, the pressures of church, my friends and living up to this expectation that I thought people had of me.”
Originally from Texas, Lombardi completed her undergraduate studies in 2005 at Texas A&M University in international studies, a major she pursued primarily for its study abroad requirement.
“I ended up going to college in the town that I grew up in, but I always had this inkling to explore other places,” Lombardi said. “The desire to explore other cultures was definitely there.”
After consulting with a study abroad advisor and sorting out her remaining Spanish credits, Lombardi was directed to pursue a summer internship program in Costa Rica. While abroad, she volunteered at a children’s hospital in San Jose, where she would volunteer on weekday mornings, independently explore the city in her afternoon free time and travel in the weekend.
Lombardi said that her experience living with a host family and volunteering at the hospital, significantly strengthened her Spanish proficiency. After lunching on volunteer days, her supervisors would send her and other volunteers to the hospital laundry room for their remaining hours.
“We would have these huge piles of children’s hospital gowns to fold, and we just talked and folded clothes,” Lombardi said. “My Spanish proficiency skyrocketed. I remember the first time I dreamt in Spanish and I thought: this is what I wanted to accomplish.”
Lombardi said that facing the challenges and thrills of independence abroad convinced her that study abroad was an opportunity that all students should experience.
“It was such a transformational experience for me being able to be a part of a culture that was not my own and do things in ways that I would have never thought of,” Lombardi said. “But it worked, and I learned that just because it wasn’t the way I would typically do, it doesn’t mean other ways were incorrect. That was what really ignited my interest in continuing with international education.”
After applying to various study abroad positions and additional private companies post-graduation, Lombardi was offered a position as a study abroad advisor at Texas A&M University in 2008. She said that this opportunity with Texas A&M was her beginning.
Lombardi had previously networked and kept in touch with Richard Menard, past director of study abroad at GU and current director of operations and strategy at Bowling Green State University, before he worked for GU CGE. Shortly after starting his position at GU, Menard personally reached out to Lombardi about an open position with CGE.
“It was always his hope that I would become a director,” Lombardi said. “Richard is an amazing mentor. He really did a phenomenal job of developing my skills and providing me with opportunities to grow, in grooming me for a director position.”
For her first two years at GU, Lombardi worked as the assistant director of Gonzaga in Florence.
“It [Gonzaga in Florence] is our flagship crown jewel at GU,” Lombardi said.
At the time, study abroad was rapidly growing, and many changes were implemented to create the highest quality study abroad program at GU. Lombardi and Menard sought a top-quality, nationally ranked program.
After about two years, Lombardi transitioned into advising students interested in semester long programs beyond Gonzaga in Florence. She strategized the tasks of adding new programs, eliminating programs with lower enrollment and networking new partnerships that would expand GU’s portfolio of study abroad opportunities.
An integral part of her work was in curriculum integration, as she collaborated with different academic departments to match up course requirements with similar courses offered by host institutions. This resource is available for GU students to view when visiting the ‘Study Abroad’ section of the CGE page on the GU website.
Menard said that this tool has significantly impacted the number of students who are willing and able to study abroad in their time at GU, as it allows them to see which classes, depending on their major, are available in all programs GU study abroad offers.
“It doesn’t seem like a very big thing,” Menard said. “But it’s very time consuming to be able to do that correctly and personally, I attribute this to be one of the reasons why we’ve seen such great successes at GU.”
Menard said that Lombardi has also influenced students training to become peer ambassadors, helping them to gain the confidence and experience to take a leap of faith and get a job anywhere beyond GU.
As GU study abroad continued its upward progress, the program eventually added a second advisor to the team, Katuska Kohut, who serves as the associate director of study abroad. When Menard moved from director of study abroad to director of CGE, Lombardi and Kohut co-led the study abroad office as he worked higher-level administrative projects.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Alisha,” Kohut said. “From the beginning, Alisha has been an integral part of our team.”
When Menard left his position last November, Lombardi said both the Provost Office and Enrollment Management agreed to reorganize. It was apparent that having separate study abroad and International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) sectors was far too complicated, so they were combined and reverted back to the old director model. From December until now, Lombardi served as CGE interim director.
After Lombardi's interim period, Julie McCulloh, associate provost for enrollment management and supervisor to Lombardi, offered her the position of director of study abroad.
"I’ve just found myself in the right place in the right time, knowing the right people,” Lombardi said. “I feel really lucky that I’ve been given this opportunity and very blessed to serve in this role. Just being able to take my work a step further is really exciting for me.”
During her time at GU, Lombardi has transformed study abroad into one of the premier programs in the U.S. Menard said he is both thrilled to see the ways Lombardi will continue to enhance study abroad and impact student experience at GU.
“She has been nothing but amazing,” Menard said. “I am thrilled that Alisha gets to be the next director and carry on the work that we have started together,” Menard said. “She has more than earned this opportunity.”