When students study abroad, Mason says safety first

Chad Harmon

Chad Harmon.
Photo by Bethany Camp.

Ensuring the safety of students and faculty studying and working abroad is a priority at George Mason University. Chad Harmon, hired in January as the international health and safety officer in the university’s Global Education Office, is in charge of that effort.

“I have to take appropriate steps to make sure students and faculty are getting the same level of attention and care as they would on campus,” Harmon said.

Harmon’s position, though new, is crucial to the Global Education Office. His responsibilities are wide-ranging and include everything from managing itineraries, passports and emergency contact information, to monitoring global security trends, communicating with U.S. embassies and responding to crisis situations. He also has been instrumental in revising and implementing policies and training, and the response procedures the office utilizes to protect the university’s travelers.

“He is a very important addition; Mason is being very forethoughtful,” said Rebecca Fox, the academic program coordinator of Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning.

Fox, with another faculty member and two students, travelled to Lahore, Pakistan, in March to work at the University of Management and Technology. The collaborative partnership between the universities was designed to further understanding of effective pedagogical practices and expand research capacity. It was funded by the U.S Department of State.

Harmon provided the travelers practical information as to the role of religion in the country, and made sure the parameters of safe and respectful travel were understood. He also worked with the group to develop a security plan that included safe cars, drivers, and bodyguards and helped them check in with the university upon arrival.

“We are a university for the world and if we are indeed that, we need to provide the services and support so people can get out and do things,” Fox said.

For senior communication major Fareeha Rehman, studying abroad was a childhood dream. She spent July in Milan, Italy, learning about Italian media and culture.

“It makes you aware that there are other ways to live outside of the American way,” Rehman said. “The more we can understand people who are different than us, the more we can empathize and absorb different ideas.”

Although Rehman hasn’t had direct interactions with Harmon, he is available 24/7 through an emergency phone line.

Harmon himself has studied abroad and understands the importance of immersing into another culture to learn. During his undergraduate years, he spent time in Costa Rica in a Spanish language immersion program.

“Some experiences are just not possible in a classroom,” Harmon said.

Harmon has a BA in political science from Georgia Southern University and a master’s degree in international affairs from Texas A&M. Before coming to Mason, he worked as a risk analyst at Penn State. He was one of three analysts at the university. At Mason, he does his job solo.

Harmon said the Global Education Office hopes to triple Mason’s study-abroad numbers by 2020.

“We’re preparing students for jobs and futures. We can’t limit their experiences,” Harmon said. “My job is to make those experiences possible.”