U alumnus receives first Global Engagement Award

Josef Mestenhauser was honored for his work in international education.

Elizabeth Giorgi

Some say it is difficult to find a comparison to international education innovator Josef Mestenhauser.

The University awarded its first Global Engagement Award earlier this month to Mestenhauser, a University alumnus and retired faculty member.

The award is intended to honor faculty and staff members who have played a role in bringing international education and global awareness to new levels at the University, said Eugene Allen, director of the Office of International Programs.

The University plans to give the award every year at the end of International Education Week to two or three employees at the University, he said.

The University gave the 2005 award to one recipient because it seemed proper to highlight the inaugural recipient, he said.

“(Mestenhauser) is a very large name in international education not just in the United States, but in the world,” Allen said.

Mestenhauser has served in international student affairs, the Office of International Programs and the College of Education and Human Development, as well as other associations on campus.

Nationally, he has worked with the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs, the Association for International Educators and the Minnesota International Center.

When the board was considering a recipient, it seemed “obvious” to give the award to Mestenhauser, Allen said.

Kay Thomas, director of International Student and Scholar Services, has worked with Mestenhauser and was one of three speakers at the award ceremony.

Thomas said she was excited to speak about Mestenhauser’s achievements at the University and hopes others look to him as an example.

“Joe was so incredibly instrumental in growing the international program here at the University,” she said.

Mestenhauser said he was surprised he was the only person receiving the award in its first year and had mixed emotions about the award.

“I was elated but also wondering whether I really deserved it. I have worked with a lot of international-oriented people who have deserved it as well,” he said.

Mestenhauser came to the United States from Czechoslovakia. In the United States, he studied in Washington state and eventually relocated to Minnesota to pursue a graduate education at the University.

Refugees are sometimes considered the “lowest of the low,” he said, and the people who were helpful and kind created a sense of gratitude and compassion for his life and motivated him to help others.

International education is not easy to explain to people, and it can be a difficult process, he said, but it is important to continue on.

Mestenhauser said he views the award as a multidimensional opportunity to highlight people who are working hard to go beyond their own culture to help the University develop.

“This is a very significant step forward because there simply hasn’t been anything that awards anyone in the field,” he said.

Mestenhauser served as a graduate student adviser for University alumnus Kevin Gormley.

Gormley said the award truly speaks to Mestenhauser’s character, and few people realize how influential he has been in contributing to international education in the United States.

“He has a wonderful way of helping people to continue moving forward, and he is a real innovator,” Gormley said.