New frontiers have never frightened Juliet Youngren, who has worked in the Undergraduate Admissions Office since being hired at the U. of I. 13 years ago.
Whether it's producing immigration documents for a transferring student from China, spreading the joy of French Celtic music and 1970s-era radio drama to the masses, or volunteering at an annual anime convention in Chicago - Youngren likes going where few have gone before.
"There are times when my job involves a lot of detective work," said the senior admissions specialist, who works in the international admissions department. "There are days when you come in that you could be assigned a transcript from a country you've never dealt with before."
Youngren said her workflow is cyclical in nature (she calls them seasons), rotating strategically ahead of the academic calendar. She and four others in her department evaluate documents for freshman applications and transfer applications, and all other international applications in between.
"Everybody in the department either comes from another country or has experience in another country," she said, noting she has a degree in French from Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., her hometown.
"My dad spoke French and my grandmother was a world traveler," she said. "There was always an encouragement to think internationally in my family; I declared my major out of desperation."
That led to her love of French Celtic music, which she says is produced in the Celtic-influenced Brittany region of northwest France. Now she hosts an occasional Sunday night radio show on WEFT-FM (90.1) in Champaign, featuring her favorite music from the region.
Youngren moved to Urbana after she graduated and progressed through a string of unsatisfying private-sector clerical jobs before landing at the U. of I. as an admissions clerk on the international side. She was promoted in 2006 after trying a two-year stint in domestic admissions, returning to international work after finding she liked it better.
"I've bounced around a little between the two departments," she said. "But I jumped at the chance to get back into international. Being out of it made me realize how much I loved cross-cultural education; it's something I believe is valuable to the world."
Youngren said she likes tracking down information for international applications because it's a process that can change as countries change. Challenges include verifying documents for students from war-torn countries with diminished institutions; as well as fast-growing countries like China, whose universities have consolidated with such frequency that it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint a document's origin.
"Luckily, I was familiar with the documents by the time I was ready to complete an evaluation myself," she said. "A lot of it is learn as-you-go, and keeping up with China right now is a full-time job."
Admissions employees consult online databases for some research, attend National Association of Foreign Student Advisors training to keep up on the latest rules and regulations, and, yes, use Google frequently to find leads and verify information.
"Before the Internet, I don't know how they did it," she said, adding that her unit's move to a paperless system years ago has reduced the amount of extra hours employees have to log to keep caught up with the workload.
When she's not on the radio, Youngren attends anime gatherings, plays fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and hosts Star Wars games for friends - though those aren't facts she has always readily shared because of the "geeky" connotations those hobbies bring.
She said she enjoys the leap from internationalism to intergalactism because it's a fun diversion that has led to a multitude of friendships.
"Over the last few years I've become a little more open about my inner geekiness," she said.