International Impact: Millikin International Enrollment Director Carmen Aravena retires after 20-plus years

Serving as Director of the Center for International Education and International Enrollment in her career, Aravena made Millikin a more global campus.

Carmen Aravena

DECATUR, Ill. – An important component of Millikin University’s Strategic Plan, is for the university to actively engage with our global community.

In her time at Millikin, Director of International Enrollment Carmen Aravena has had an immense impact in that mission to build Millikin’s global community. During her more than 20 years at Millikin, Carmen also served as the Director of the Center for International Education (CIE), helping to build and grow the presence of international students on campus and providing global travel opportunities to Millikin’s students.

Friends and colleagues gathered in the President’s Dining Room in the University Commons on Thursday, February 29, to celebrate Carmen’s retirement and salute her long career. 

Carmen Aravena

“As I bid farewell to Millikin University and a career which has provided me with a strong sense of purpose and great pride, I reflect on the joy of building, promoting, and enhancing our community’s international education reach and impact,” she said. “My charge to my Millikin colleagues is that we continue to welcome and champion international students who enrich our campus with global perspectives and unique diversity. As I retire, I carry with me cherished memories and a hope for Millikin's enduring commitment to this cause.”

Carmen, who is originally from Chile, joined the Millikin faculty in the fall of 2003 as a professor of Spanish, and when the Center for International Education was founded in 2007, she was asked to be part of the inaugural group of staff of the CIE.

“My heart was very divided because I was a faculty member for a long time, but it was a big need at Millikin to have a Center for International Education. So when the Provost proposed to Assistant Director of the CIE, and eventually Director, I hoped I could still teach, but it was impossible as the CIE grew very fast.”

The international footprint on Millikin’s campus was very small at that time, but as the CIE started, students were getting more opportunities through short-term immersion programs. 

International cupcakes

“Before the CIE, we were really doing nothing with international education. We had two or three international students, and studying abroad was just London and nothing else,” Carmen said. “The CIE had a lot of support from the administration. Everybody was behind it and what we needed to do. Immersions were born out of having a CIE that supported faculty to go abroad for short-term programs. The London program caught fire, and 20-25 students were going to London.”

Recent immersion programs included visiting Eastern Europe and Scandinavia in a Politics of Borderlands class and a health-care-focused immersion trip to Costa Rica

The construction of the University Commons and a generous donation from the Caterpillar Foundation gave the CIE a new home there, and Carmen had a new position as Millikin’s first Director of International Admissions. That position has had her traveling the globe, expanding Millikin’s place as a destination for international students considering studying in the United States. 

“People sometimes ask, who would want to come and study in Decatur? They come to Millikin and fall in love with this community and attending an American-style university. Our students come and are surprised by their large apartments and our big buildings because university facilities are very small in Europe. They love the total Americana experience, and it is interesting to see their reaction,” Carmen said. “They also bring their culture and their language here. They are rooming and becoming friends with American students, and they have brought so much to our campus.”  

Carmen will enjoy her reduced travel schedule following retirement, allowing her to focus on her creative interests as a poet and soon-to-be-published children’s author. The book is titled “Soledad” and features a story that has been with Carmen for many years. 

Soledad cover

“About 20 years ago, I was on a plane flying from Chili with my daughters, and I always have a piece of paper with me to write poetry because you never know when something is going to escape your brain, and you need to write it down. I started drawing about this little girl and talking about the relationship with her family, and I kept going back to that,” she said. “It follows the story of a little girl who lives on a farm and becomes friends with a little family of mice. I'm very jazzed about it because it's totally new for me. It's different, and we will launch the book in Chile in two weeks. I am very excited about that, and then we will see what I will do after that.”