Alum Dr. Lauren Nehlsen, Ph.D. ’18, feels most at home when she’s far from her own.

Having visited over 25 countries, her passion for travel is topped only by her desire to help others enrich their lives through worldly adventures. And no, she’s not a pilot or even a vacation specialist. She’s a leader in higher education.

At Elgin Community College (ECC), Nehlsen’s title is Director of International Education and Programs. Over the past 14 years, she has had a huge hand in internationalizing the campus. That includes building partnerships with organizations in over 35 countries to facilitate study abroad, research/service experiences for students, faculty, and staff, and international student recruitment. Through her guidance, ECC has also become a more welcoming and academically prosperous environment for international students and employees.

“I am a strong advocate of educational diplomacy, the joy and value of education to bridge cultures and disparities, and of higher education being a path to a more peaceful world,” she said.

When Nehlsen arrived at Illinois State, she wanted her research to provide some perspective to others in the field on the value of these connections. Her dissertation demonstrated how community college faculty developed their global citizenship after participating in an international exchange program.

Nehlsen found that those experiences changed the educators’ teaching and research in ways irreplicable without being a part of an immersive international environment.

“The topic was important to me because very little research and exploration existed into how community colleges are creating and developing global citizens through campus internationalization efforts.”

The EAF effect

While she previously earned degrees focused on international relations, Nehlsen said Illinois State’s Ph.D. program empowered her to make a difference as a leader and an innovator.

“EAF has taught me to think critically, to consider nontraditional solutions to issues facing higher education, and to appreciate different perspectives and opinions,” Nehlsen said.

ECC colleague Dr. Gregory Robinson, Ph.D. ’19, said Nehlsen’s professional growth shows in her ability to move initiatives forward and provide new opportunities to all members of the college community.

“One notable initiative developed under her leadership is the Bill Pelz Global Speaker Series,” Robinson said. 

“The speaker series provides an opportunity for all ECC students, employees, and community members to learn about various global-related topics including, but not limited to, the value of global citizenship and studying abroad, global pandemics, and the history and social impact of other pandemics, and changes in international relationships under a new administration.”

Nehlsen lauds the highly transferable skills that serve as the foundation of course work in EAF’s education administration Ph.D. program. Those tools have fueled her confidence and competence to be an effective leader.

While students in the program receive individualized attention from faculty, the cohort model of the program created a community of support.

“My advice to new students in the program would be to take advantage of the support offered by your cohort and faculty. It is so important to make connections and find the support you need to be successful in the program.”

On the horizon

While she remains enamored with her work at ECC, Nehlsen aspires to lead higher education communities in new ways as her career progresses, whether that’s as a senior-level student affairs dean, a vice president, or a senior-level international officer at a major university.  

“EAF afforded me different paths outside of my career specialization for future work as a senior-level higher education administrator,” she said. “But whatever my future path may be, I know it will involve advocating for student success, diversity, and inclusion for all.”

This article was part of EAF’s 61st anniversary series. To highlight an educator, or have EAF write a professional bio about your career, visit