For many international students visiting Cranwell International Center over the past four years, their first interaction would have been a friendly greeting from Savannah Nelson, a senior in criminology who has worked as an administrative and programming assistant at the center since her first week at Virginia Tech.

Jessica Littreal, an international student advisor at Cranwell International Center, hired Nelson. “She stood out, as she already had extensive work history coming in as a freshman, so I knew she was looking to gain experience and not just a paycheck.”

Nelson’s commitment to Cranwell went beyond her work at the front desk. She also applied to be a Global Ambassador during her sophomore year, so that she could help acclimate incoming international students to campus. Growing up in a small town in Fluvanna County, Nelson did not have many opportunities to interact with people from other countries. As a Global Ambassador, she “learned more about language, culture, and lifestyles in two weeks than I had in my entire life.”

Being a Global Ambassador also solidified Nelson’s commitment to helping international students succeed at Virginia Tech. Coming to the U.S. is challenging for many international students — the process of getting immigration documents can be confusing, the educational system is often very different from the one they had at home, and even everyday things like banking just work differently. Nelson decided to continue working at Cranwell in order to help as many international students as she could.

“Part of what kept me here was the relationships I made, the people here, and every year it’s almost been a different job,” said Nelson.

Savannah Nelson assisting an international student at Cranwell International Center in desk area.
Savannah Nelson assisting an international student at Cranwell International Center. Photo by J. Scott Parker

During the first year, she learned the essentials of responding to student inquiries in the office. Her second year leaned more toward marketing and communications efforts. During the third year, the office switched to a new document processing system, and she assisted in implementing it. In her senior year, she has played an important role in hiring and training new administrative student staff members.

Nelson, who graduates this May, will have left her mark on campus in a variety of ways, which are all woven together with a thread of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). In addition to working for Cranwell International Center, she was the secretary and chief of staff for the Student Government Association during her junior year, was president of the Pritchard Hall Council her first year, and was an active member of the Serve Living-Learning Community. She was also a recipient of the Henry Decker Student Leader Award and the Edward Cooke Estate Scholarship.

Nelson showed her support of international students while serving as the chief of staff and secretary for the Student Government Association. “Student government has a lot of potential to serve the undergraduate population, to hear and express concerns. Underrepresented groups can come to student government to say how they are not represented or misrepresented.”

One issue Nelson was particularly concerned about was the need for accommodations for students whose religion required fasting during exam periods. “Students told us they hadn’t eaten for hours before taking an exam, and they just weren’t able to do their best.” The Student Government Association lobbied the university on behalf of these students.

Another major initiative she supported in student government was the recognition of the importance of Native peoples at Virginia Tech. On Feb. 18, 2019, University Council approved a resolution to observe Indigenous Peoples Day.

Nelson’s extracurricular activities played into her decision to choose criminology as a major. In her career, she hopes to influence governmental policies in order to benefit underrepresented groups. What she liked most about her coursework was that “at some point in the semester, we’d always come to a point where we’d talk about the same topic but from a different perspective in each class. It’s been amazing to see how everything relates in an interdisciplinary way.”

The experiences Nelson has had at Virginia Tech connect to one another in her vision for the future — a vision that came to full fruition this semester. While practicing social distancing and staying in her Blacksburg apartment, she has had plenty of time to apply for post-graduation employment. She was recently offered a position with All Native Group, a subcontractor of the U. S. Marine Corps. Nelson will be “a logistics analyst at Quantino ... an absolute dream!” Her team will be developing infrastructure projects for the Winnebago Tribe.

Having worked with Nelson for four years, Jessica Littreal is excited about her path forward: “She's a shining example of taking in all the valuable knowledge many pass by while in college and projecting it into a positive force for good.”

As she moves on from Virginia Tech, Nelson will keep making connections between fields of knowledge and finding new ways to have a positive impact on the communities in which she lives.

Written by J. Scott Parker