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Week of May 2, 2011

Staff Spotlight

Coordinator welcomes international visitors 
to campus

As a teenager growing up in the 1950s near the University of Cologne in Germany, Brigitte Maassen visited with people from all over the world. Her brothers often brought home Iranian classmates who had come to Cologne fleeing political upheaval. Seeing her parents welcome them with open arms left a strong impression.

“I grew up in a family that was so inclusive of people of all different religions, races and backgrounds … so I’m very grateful,” says Maassen, international visitor coordinator for the International Center.

Photo by Austin Thomason, U-M Photo Services.

Maassen immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, following in her brothers’ footsteps. One brother was staying in Dearborn, so she took a position with a family in the area as an au pair.

Eventually she met her late husband in Detroit, and lived there with their three children until 1979 when they moved to Ann Arbor.

In her work for the International Center, Maassen still interacts with international visitors, since she is the university’s liaison with the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. With positions like university administrators, researchers and city officials, these visitors come to U-M from all across the globe for intellectual exchange. It’s Maassen’s job to set up the professional appointments during their visit.

Building on her parents’ example, Maassen often volunteers much of her personal time to making visitors feel more at home. She invites them into her home and cooks them dinner, answers their phone calls after hours if they have any questions.

“I think sometimes, depending on where they’re from, they feel like I understand them more and are more open to talk than if I were a native born American. They think ‘She knows what I’m talking about,’” Maassen says.

One of Maassen’s most memorable visitors was a provost from the University of Baku in Azerbaijan. Years after her visit this provost was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to do research in the Women’s Studies Department at U-M.

“It made me feel good to know that she wanted to come to U-M because she met me and knew she would have support here,” Maassen says.

The provost secured housing for herself and her son online, but upon arrival found it was an open studio apartment unsuitable for their needs. Maassen helped them find a new apartment and hosted them in her home until they could move in.

The provost’s son now attends U-M as an undergraduate, and Maassen credits much of his decision to the connection she and his mother made.

In addition to setting visitors’ appointments, Maassen’s role includes serving as a representative on Ann Arbor’s Sister City Committee. When the committee was formed in 1983 the city sought representation from U-M, and Maassen was recruited.

She helps coordinate student exchanges between Ann Arbor and two sister sites in Tubingen, Germany, and Hikone, Japan. She communicates with the sister councils and even hosts the exchange students in her home.

Outside of working with international visitors, Maassen’s greatest passion is music. She has always loved classical music, and began attending University Musical Society concerts with her husband 30 years ago. She then became involved with the Ann Arbor Symphony.

For the past 10 years Maassen has been on the board of the Ann Arbor Symphony, assisting with programming, fundraising and event planning. She appreciates the deeper connections she’s made with other music lovers by volunteering with the board, she says.

“It’s a labor of love. I love the people I work with, the staff, the volunteers, the conductor, the musicians. It’s a great community to be involved with,” Maassen says.

Though she just turned 70 years old, Maassen doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon. She says that she loves her job, and the community and connections it provides. It keeps her active and involved, especially now that her husband is gone, she says.

“I enjoy what I’m doing, I’m alive and active. Being here, it’s like having the whole world walking through your door every day,” Maassen says.


The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at urecord@umich.edu.

 

STAFF SPOTLIGHT

Brigitte Maassen, international visitor coordinator, International Center, on her youth, and the influence of international culture: “I grew up in a family that was so inclusive of people of all different religions, races and backgrounds … so I’m very grateful.”

EVENTS

Gifts of Art presents “The Tie that Binds: Book Arts Group Show,” featuring School of Art & Design student works through June 13 in the Taubman Health Center South Lobby, Floor 1.

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