The Director of International Student Services, Scott Parillo, never expected to end up in Ashland. After graduating with a degree in fine arts and printmaking from a small public college in New Hampshire, he took a position in 1996 as a Resident Director at Ashland University. Three years later, with plans to return east to follow what he believed was his career trajectory, he instead met his wife Rebecca–Ashland University’s current Director, Study Abroad Program–and decided to see where the relationship would take them.
The pair traveled to Japan a year later and spent two years teaching English.
“It was during this time,” Scott says, “that I fell in love with teaching.”
Upon returning home, the experience inspired him to go back to earn another undergraduate degree–this time in education. When his wife was offered her previous position at Ashland University, they returned to Ohio, where he split time teaching in Ashland’s Access Program and at Ashland High School.
“It was truly a series of fortunate events,” he says about finding his calling and settling into the local community. “It wasn’t a straight line at any point.”
While he taught students and worked on finishing his M.Ed degree, he also took a position in the International Student Service Office. As he got deeper into designing and implementing programming, solving problems and engaging directly with Ashland students, the need for capacity in the office grew.
“The transition from teaching to a staff role at the university happened pretty seamlessly,” he says. In 2013, he took over the Director position, a role he’s held for almost a full decade.
“My main job is related to immigration and compliance,” Scott says. “We currently have 165 international students enrolled, and for each of them, there are a lot of regulations that need to be met to keep them and the university compliant in the view of the government.”
The global pandemic made his role even more complex. Before schools worldwide began closing in early 2020, 350 international students were enrolled at Ashland. Two years later, this number would be cut in half. But the years in between created a wide range of new problems Scott and his team were forced to confront.
For students enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, online and seminary programs, once COVID travel restrictions went into effect, the whole system broke down almost overnight. Many international students were either unable to leave the country or, for those who were back home, couldn’t make it back to campus.
“It was scary,” Scott says. “You have all these students living away from home for the first time–and not just away from home, but in another country, as well. And almost overnight, everything changed.” One of his interns at the time, in fact, was from Brazil. Because of travel restrictions, it took three semesters before she could travel back to Ashland.
In response, Scott and his team adapted the way they engaged with students who stayed and updated their communication tactics, even while programming was put on the back burner.
The mission during that time, however, didn’t change. Building community, he says, is his team’s top priority. And while the university invests heavily in ways to enhance the student experience across the board, Scott says that he couldn’t do his job without support from the community.
“We have individuals and organizations, especially churches, who have a real heart for international students. The relationships were there before the pandemic, and we relied heavily on their heart for these students during that time.”
Ashland Theological Seminary alumna Dr. Dolly Dong, for example, hosts a Tuesday lunch in Lower Chapel for students from China and other countries. First Presbyterian Church in Ashland also holds a variety of international celebrations, including the Chinese Lantern Festival and Chinese New Year.
“We live in an incredibly welcoming, generous community,” he says, “in terms of both the university and the city of Ashland.”
As his department–along with the rest of the world–works to find a new normal after two years of chaos, engagement is critical to ensuring the best possible educational experience for each international student.
“Getting to know new students and reconnecting with those who are coming back,” he says, “that’s the best part of my job. It’s an incredible opportunity. And we’re always working to make their individual student experiences as rewarding as possible.”