Notable Women of Austin: Melodee Morem

Published 2:45 pm Tuesday, July 2, 2024

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Melodee Morem’s 22 years as the International Student Advisor at Riverland Community College has changed her whole outlook. She said she has grown from a “single focus person” to a person with a wide world view.  

Mel has met so many students from other countries and has heard their amazing stories, and she knows she is a changed and better individual. Person to person experiences have made her come to know that people everywhere have the same needs and often the same goals.

Melodee Morem

In her 20 years, she has served 600 students in countless ways. Mel’s job description involved the facets of recruiting, admission and advising each foreign student. 

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Mel had worked in the Mower County Court Administration Office for 23 years prior to taking this job at Riverland. She had dealt with government rules and regulations and their interpretation in that setting. However, she had no background in international education and visa laws. 

When she started this job, she was given a two-inch-thick manual of “rules and regs.” She studied diligently and took advantage of many inservice programs that were widely available, as this area of regulation had undergone major changes after the 9/11 attacks. Learning on the job, student case by student case, is how she gained the knowledge to support these students. 

This past year, Riverland had students from 15 foreign countries, including Japan, Brazil, Vietnam, India, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Dominican Republic, and the ABC Islands of the Netherlands Caribbean. 

Mel explains that students hear about Riverland in many ways. They may search online for colleges with on-campus housing, or the cost per academic credit. It may be by word of mouth from someone they know or have met, or some educational connection may know of Riverland.  

Once they are accepted to be a student at Riverland, they must have a passport from their country and apply to the U.S. embassy for a student visa. The U.S. government wants them to return to their home country after their studies, so proof of ties at home is required, as well as a financial sponsor here. There is a huge denial rate for these visas. 

Mel has had to review all the complicated paperwork of each international student to be sure all the paperwork is in order. Housing and transport to Riverland also had to be worked out in her capacity as advisor. Then there is registering for their classes. For their full two years, she served as a resource for them for any academic or personal problem. 

Her overall goal has been never to advise a student in any way that would harm their legal status with the American government. The laws are very strict concerning the conditions of being here as an international student. On a student visa, they must carry a specific number of in classroom credits, not online classes. One of Mel’s challenges each semester has been to be sure the students know they cannot drop a class, even if they are failing it. Carrying fewer than the required number of credits can lead to deportation. Also, students cannot work for pay unless they have the correct paperwork.

Obviously, Mel has given much during her tenure in this job. However, she says this job has given her huge rewards. Her joy has been meeting so many different people and hearing their life stories and then watching them grow and succeed. 

Mel Morem, you have done your small bit toward international understanding both for the citizens of Austin who have met your students, and for those students who went out from Riverland to places around the world. Thank you!